Holtz still questions last year's free fall

Updated: October 17, 2003, 3:40 PM ET

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- LSU coach Nick Saban sees much to admire in South Carolina's Lou Holtz -- from his college education to his college football success.

"The first thing is he's a Kent State graduate," said Saban, who has his bachelor's and master's degrees from Kent. "I think there's only two of us in the world who do this."

Those two face each other Saturday night when No. 10 LSU (5-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) takes on the Gamecocks (4-2, 1-2).

Saban says Holtz has been a wonderful example of how to remain true to overall philosophy while adapting to a changing game. Holtz went from his option teams at Arkansas and Minnesota to a more balanced attack at Notre Dame to his current spread offense with the Gamecocks.

"One thing has always remained constant with him as a coach, he always has a disciplined team and they always stay in the game and have a chance to win the game in most cases," Saban said. "That's the sign of an outstanding coach."

And then there's the humor and quick wit that steals the spotlight wherever Holtz goes.

"He's by far the most entertaining coach in our SEC coaches meeting, which need a little spirit, you know," Saban said.

If there's an area where Saban doesn't take Holtz seriously, it's when he poor-mouths the Gamecocks and pumps up an opponent to Super Bowl levels. All week, Holtz has warned anyone who'll listen that South Carolina must be better than perfect to slow the Tigers.

"His team obviously understands that and it doesn't bother them," Saban said. "And it is a little entertaining."

Holtz respects what Saban's done in four seasons at LSU. "I've followed his career over the years, and he's had success wherever he's been," Holtz said. "His teams play hard and play physical."

The two Kent alumni might have a good show on their hands Saturday night, too.

Holtz says he fears "a wounded Tiger," which LSU became when it lost its first game of the season last week, 19-7 to Florida, in a poor offensive performance.

Even worse for Saban's Tigers, injuries to runners Joseph Addai and Shyrone Carey could mean they rely on three freshmen in the backfield. And that's after gaining just 56 yards rushing on the Gators.

"The lack of a running game was totally our fault," LSU senior tackle Rodney Reed said. "It's not the backs. It's the things we did."

Freshman Justin Vincent could start for the Tigers, while fellow freshmen Barrington Edwards and Alley Broussard also will see time.

"It doesn't change anything," Reed says. "They are talented power guys. We have to do a better job of blocking and help them along."

If South Carolina's defense has had a weakness, it's been against the run. The Gamecocks rank sixth in the SEC in rushing defense. They are much more dominant against the pass, leading the league and permitting just 155 yards a game -- about 100 fewer than LSU averages through the air.

And Holtz says the Gamecocks have done it without much of a pass rush. Defensive end George Gause may miss his second straight game with a knee sprain, forcing Moe Thompson to play some inside.

Whoever lines up for the Gamecocks will have to give maximum effort, Thompson says. Often there will be one or two in full pursuit, he said, but seldom are all of them converging on the quarterback.

"We don't have that, it's maybe just one or two in the backfield and it's not all four," he said. "We have to have that on a consistent basis."

The Tigers hope to prove they can rebound from the loss. They played poorly on offense, their only points coming on Skyler Green 80-yard punt return touchdown.

In 12 possessions, LSU punted eight times, had two interceptions, a fumble and failed to convert on a fourth-and-2. The Tigers also committed 13 penalties for 99 yards.

"We beat ourselves with all the mistakes," receiver Michael Clayton said. "It was nowhere near our team or what we're capable of doing."

That's exactly what worries Holtz. His team last played Oct. 9, giving him a few more days to prepare. The Gamecocks had two weeks a year ago to get ready for LSU then gave up a 14-3 lead in the second half to fall 38-14.

"That really helped at halftime," Holtz said.

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index