There are times when sports can be a refuge from the world, a way to get away from the realities of life. The most extreme examples of this might be the rallying around New York teams after 9/11 or the way that Louisiana fans pinned their hopes on local teams following Hurricane Katrina. But even less dramatic natural disasters or examples of human cruelty have caused communities to look to their on-field heroes for distractions when reality is difficult.
That's the situation South Carolina fans are in now as the state struggles to recover from a 1,000-year flood. The waters, the damage left behind to area roads and other general safety concerns eventually led to this game being moved from Columbia to Baton Rouge, where South Carolina will be the "home team" (and wear the white uniforms usually associated with LSU) despite being several states away from Columbia.
Whether the game will provide much relief to the battered residents of the Palmetto State, aside from Clemson fans, is a more dubious proposition. The Gamecocks were heavy underdogs against LSU even before the contest was moved to the bayou, and for good reason; South Carolina has not given any indications this year of being a good football team, and LSU has made its way into the national championship conversation. Still, looking at an on-field disaster for a few hours should be a diversion from the very real and much more serious one that South Carolinians have had to deal with over the last several days.
1Thank You. A personal note here: On behalf of South Carolina fans (and I think, based on what I've seen on social media, I'm speaking for nearly all of them here): Thank you to LSU fans and the Baton Rouge community for the way you've handled this unusual situation. From "Geaux Gamecocks" billboards to playing the South Carolina alma mater and fight song before the game, LSU and many of the school's supporters have gone above and beyond to make a road game feel like a home game. If any state knows the toll of historic floods -- though their example was obviously far, far worse -- it's Louisiana, and they've put that knowledge to good use and followed the Golden Rule. You have our gratitude. Now, back to the football.
2How Many Records Will Leonard Fournette Break? In case you haven't heard, Leonard Fournette is good at running the football. Superhuman levels of good at running the football. And the South Carolina defense is bad at stopping other teams from running the football -- very bad. The Gamecocks are 13th in the SEC in rushing defense, allowing almost 4.9 yards a carry through their first five games. So rather than say something obvious like, "Fournette should have a good day," or something stupid like, "we'll see if the South Carolina defense can step up," let's look at some records that Fournette could break or even shatter today: The LSU record for running yards in a game is 250, set by Alley Broussard against Ole Miss in 2004.The most rushing yards South Carolina has allowed to a single player in a game is 321, courtesy of Arkansas' Darren McFadden in 2007. The FBS record for rushing yards in a game is 427, set by Samaje Perine last year. And, finally, Cartel Brooks holds the overall NCAA record with 465 yards. All of those numbers are in play today.
Derick E. Hingle -- USA Today Sports
3(Please Don't) Air It Out. Don't expect to see much in the way of passing success today, though one of the teams is probably going to try. South Carolina and LSU both rank at the bottom of the barrel in the SEC in yards per attempt and passer rating. LSU has the good sense not to even try very much, averaging just 15 attempts per game, which is pretty easy to do when you have Leonard Fournette in the backfield. South Carolina is coach by Steve Spurrier, and so keeps chucking the ball with reckless abandon, throwing it an average of 26 times a game, despite the fact that the Gamecocks are at least average in the running game, and that running the ball would bring miserable games to an an end more quickly. Trailing every opponent heading into the second half makes a team do desperate things.
4Motivation. Yes, intangibles are not the best way to look at any football game, but there's a reason to keep an eye on how fully South Carolina's players seem to be participating in this: Some Gamecock fans see growing signs that Steve Spurrier is starting to mail it in this year. A perceived lack of effort on the part of his players will lead to speculation that the Head Ball Coach has "lost the team" and add jet fuel to the chatter that Spurrier is on his way out of Columbia. Given what has happened to their state over the last week, it would be understandable for South Carolina players to come out either flat or on fire, but one is likely to increase the distractions for this team headed forward -- regardless of whether it's actually connected to Spurrier. On the other hand, the 1 percent chance for South Carolina to win this game (if it's even that high) relies on something bizarre or unexpected happening, and playing to give their state a reason not to worry about the waters for a few hours might fill that bill.
5Looking Ahead? The Tigers, meanwhile, will have to avoid getting too far ahead on their schedule. A week from today, a surprisingly good Florida team heads to Baton Rouge in what might once again be an event game in the SEC. If LSU comes out looking a little flat -- in which case they're likely to only win the game by a couple of touchdowns, instead of three or four -- that will likely be the explanation given for why, and there might be a little bit of truth to it. Again, given all the distractions around this game, it will be hard to take away too much from how the game is played, but this college football, so we're all going to try no matter what.
THREE TO WATCH
Leonard Fournette, RB, LSU: About the guy who might break all of those rushing records: Fournette is now averaging 8.7 yards a carry, running the ball 99 times for 864 yards and 11 touchdowns. In four games. Even if LSU just makes it to a bowl game and doesn't play in Atlanta or go to the playoffs, Fournette is on pace to rush for 2,592 yards. On his own, Fournette would be tied for 55th in rushing yardage among FBS teams. The running back is coming off his third consecutive 200-yard game, having run for a piddling 159 yards against Mississippi State to open the season.
Davon Godchaux and Lewis Neal, DL, LSU: Missouri got to South Carolina's quarterback four times last week, and with a less-mobile passer set to start the game in Baton Rouge, there's no reason to think that the Tigers can't do the same. Especially with Godchaux and Neal, who each have three sacks this season. Godchaux also has two tackles for loss and Neal has a pair of additional quarterback hurries. Barring unexpected improvement from the South Carolina offensive line, several players from LSU could spend some time in the Gamecocks backfield this week, and Godchaux and Neal could lead the way.
Perry Orth, QB, South Carolina: With Lorenzo Nunez feeling "gimpy," Steve Spurrier has decided to start Perry Orth at quarterback against LSU. Orth has looked uneven this year, at times raising questions about why he wasn't chosen to start in the first place and at times answering those questions within the space of a few snaps. On the season, he's 23-of-47 passing for 283 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Like Nunez, Orth has shown flashes of solid play but perhaps even more examples of head-shake-inducing poor play.
Dale Zanine -- USA Today Sports
If you're a "30 for 30" producer or someone who thinks that intangibles win football games, then you might want to go for South Carolina. Otherwise, there's no reason not to pick LSU to win and win by a fairly sizable margin in this game. Les Miles was rather polite to Steve Spurrier in 2007, when the Tigers only beat South Carolina 28-16 en route to a national title, but that would be the only reason this game doesn't turn into a blowout. At home against a bewildered team hammered by natural disasters and a wrecked season, the Tigers coast. LSU 45, South Carolina 17