If you want an object lesson in reading too much into any one weekend of college football, just look at how South Carolina and LSU played a week ago -- and how each of them played tonight. Because many of us took away too much from that those two games, and this week is a useful corrective that could also be overanalyzed.
After all, LSU was unable to establish a coherent offensive gameplan or rhythm against Florida last week, and the Florida defensive line was certainly not as great as the might South Carolina front four. And South Carolina had obliterated Georgia 35-7, showing that they were a team to be contended with no matter who they played.
But LSU had been on the road and South Carolina had been at home. And every team loses one every once in a while, and we're still not sure how good Georgia really is this year. And when you take all of those factors and mix them together, you sometimes get the kind of gloom that LSU fans had going into this game and the glee South Carolina fans had at the prospect of toppling one of the conference's titans and cementing their team's No. 3 ranking.
Instead, the South Carolina offense that had been ruthlessly efficient against Georgia looked uneven and, at times, lost in the Baton Rouge evening. They generated just 211 yards. And the much-ballyhooed rushing attack managed a meager 1.4 yards a carry, ending up with 34 yards on the night, which was far from enough for the win.
And that Gamecocks defensive line, the one that was seen as potentially the best in the country? It got mauled by a reshuffled offensive front for LSU, thrown off-balance by the Tigers' short passing game and a brutal, bruising running game that churned out 258 yards. South Carolina had trouble getting to Zach Mettenberger much, in large part because LSU came with an offensive gameplan that was designed to never give the Gamecocks the chance.
Put bluntly, the Tigers needed this one. If LSU had lost this game after losing to Florida, their SEC West hopes would have been dashed, and any outside shot at a national championship would have evaporated. The Tigers have a daunting schedule over the next month that gives them very little room for error; a loss to South Carolina would have taken away even that. LSU now has a puncher's chance, if only that.
And of course, losing to LSU by two points in Baton Rouge is nothing to be ashamed of. If South Carolina had to lose one of the next two games, it was far better to lose the one that would provide little more than style points in the division standings, then try to win next week's tilt in Gainesville that will likely serve as the de facto SEC East Championship Game.
But this game was critical to proving that South Carolina was really the dominant team we thought we saw a week ago in Columbia, and not simply the Top 10 team with a solid chance at winning the SEC East that we thought we saw in the preseason. For now, it seems like the latter is the more accurate reading. And it will take more than one more strong night to prove that there's still a chance the Gamecocks could be the former.