Countdown to Kickoff: Revisiting 2012 LSU vs. USC
Disclaimer: For the next several weeks, the Out the Box columns will be focused on memorable LSU games in the last 10 years. The last three seasons will be excluded from this series as the 2021 and 2022 seasons have been completely unremarkable to the fan experience and the 2019 season was so memorable that my retelling is unnecessary.
We’ll begin in the year 2012 with a familiar start to many LSU football stories–Saturday night in Death Valley.
Southeastern Conference and NCAA football legend Steve Spurrier was the head ball coach of one of his strongest South Carolina teams, and the Gamecocks were arriving in Baton Rouge as the No. 3 team in the country.
The Tigers were coming off of their first loss of the young 2012 season to the Florida Gators in Gainesville, but LSU was holding a steady rank in the top 10 at No. 9.
As was typical of college football in the 2010’s, the game was being billed as a war of attrition between a Tiger and Gamecock defense that would finish the season as the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in total defense, respectively.
With a capacity crowd on hand, the defenses did not disappoint. South Carolina’s first offensive drive stalled out on their side of the 50-yard line, but it was LSU’s offense led by quarterback Zach Mettenberger that looked prepared to take over the game.
After a big gain from a play-action pass to Tiger running back Spencer Ware, LSU sat in striking distance on the Gamecock two-yard line. On a third and goal play, Tiger running back Kenny Hilliard was stuffed at the one, and the Tigers opted for and converted the field goal to take a 3-0 lead.
The LSU defense responded with another stop, and the Tiger offense would take the field looking for momentum and scoreboard cushion that was rare in the Les Miles era.
On a pass to LSU wideout Kadron Boone, Mettenberger threw an interception that was returned to the LSU two-yard line. South Carolina’s Shaw would throw a touchdown strike to Ace Sanders, and LSU found itself on the short end of a 7-3 score.
Hilariously, 7-3 is where the score would still be entering halftime. If you had somehow forgotten how dreadful LSU’s offenses could be at moving the football in this era of college football, this game is certainly worth a revisit on Youtube.
The Tigers started the half with the ball and once again drove their way into Gamecock territory. Inside the 10-yard line, Miles went with his patented, yet silly, toss dive play, but LSU running back Jeremy Hill found the end zone in spite of the nonsensical offensive play call. LSU now led 10-7.
South Carolina responded with another touchdown pass, and the Tigers answered with yet another failed red zone conversion and a field goal.
With about nine and a half minutes remaining in the game and the Gamecocks leading 14-13, hope of LSU’s chances to win the game was dwindling.
That was until Shaw threw an ill-advised pass into no man’s land that found its way into Tiger safety Eric Reid’s hands. 92,000 fans leapt to their feet hoping against hope that LSU would make the most of this new opportunity.
The Tigers answered with their bread and butter– stalling in the red zone and kicking a field goal.
Fortunately, Carolina’s Shaw became well-acquainted with LSU defensive end and South Carolina native Sam Montgomery who sacked Shaw on third and long.
Miles dialed up another toss dive on offense, and Hill made him look like a genius with a 50-yard touchdown scamper and a 23-14 lead. The rest was history.
That last bit is actually a game of two truths and a lie. Miles did call a toss dive, Hill did take it the distance, but the rest was not history. There were still five minutes left in the game which was an eternity to fail in Miles time.
The Gamecocks drove down the field and scored a touchdown and two-point conversion. With just under two minutes left in the game and down 23-21, Spurrier opted for an onside kick which Carolina did not convert.
“Surely, the game must be finished now,” my future grandchildren will ask. When I respond to that question by gazing into the distance with a thousand-yard stare, maybe then my hypothetical relatives will understand what it was like to witness these LSU teams live.
The Tigers needed to pick up 10 yards to win the game, and obviously failed as there were only so many variations of the toss dive in Miles’s playbook. The Gamecocks received the ball back, and Spurrier was looking to pull off the comeback of the season.
Thankfully, LSU defensive back Craig Loston caught a deflected ball in the air for the game-winning interception.
With the “thrilling” victory against the No. 3 Gamecocks, the Tigers kept their Bowl Championship Series hopes alive and would vault themselves to the No. 6 ranking in time for next week’s matchup against perennial little brother, Texas A&M.