No. 13 LSU ekes past South Carolina with second-half rally

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- LSU's defense wasn't going to let this one get away.

The No. 13 Tigers held South Carolina to minus-7 yards in the fourth quarter and sacked first-time Gamecocks starter Stephen Garcia six times in a 24-17 victory Saturday night.

With LSU (5-1, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) down by seven at halftime after allowing two touchdowns in the last 3 minutes of the second quarter, end Kirston Pittman said the defense resolved to stiffen and not collapse like it did in allowing Florida to score 31 second half points in a 51-21 loss last week.

"We just put it in our minds that they couldn't score any more," Pittman said.

And the defense did just that, holding South Carolina (5-3, 2-3) to just 42 yards in the second half, forcing Garcia into a fumble and forcing an interception with 3:57 left that sealed the game.

"There was an edge this team had," Tigers coach Les Miles said. "A toughness they needed to vent."

Miles said the offense was tough, too. After failing to get a first down in its first two drives of the second half, LSU finally got going late in the third quarter as Andrew Hatch, who usually comes in for running plays, rolled right, then threw back to a wide-open Ricky Dixon for a 6-yard touchdown play that tied it at 17 with 44 seconds left in the third quarter.

After the next drive stalled, redshirt freshman quarterback Jarrett Lee led the Tigers on a grinding, 83-yard drive that took more than 6 minutes off the clock, ending with Charles Scott's 2-yard touchdown run with 4:16 to go that put LSU ahead 24-17.

Curtis Taylor picked off Garcia's pass two plays later, souring an otherwise remarkable game for the freshman, who accounted for 230 of 254 yards for South Carolina in his first career start.

The Tigers still control their own destiny in the SEC West and haven't lost back-to-back games since 2002. The defending national champions host No. 10 Georgia next week and a showdown with No. 2 Alabama looms on Nov. 8.

"If we play like that -- offense, defense and special teams -- we will play with anyone in the county," Miles said.

Lee went 16-of-26 for 189 yards. Keiland Williams led LSU with 72 yards on 15 carries, while Scott, the SEC's third-leading rusher coming into the game, ran for 61 yards on 16 carries. Demetrius Byrd caught three passes for 65 yards.

It was another frustrating loss for Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks. South Carolina is 2-9 at home against top 25 teams in the coach's four years in Columbia.

The loss snapped a four-game winning streak for the Gamecocks, who have lost at least three SEC games in each of Spurrier's seasons. Only once in his 12 years in Florida did his teams lose three league games.

South Carolina's offense struggled to control the line. The Gamecocks rushed for just 39 yards and Garcia rarely had time in the pocket, especially in the second half.

"They adjusted and started bringing a pretty big blitz," Garcia said. "I never checked out of it, didn't call time-out. I got hit way too many times."

South Carolina had only one first down in the fourth quarter, and it pushed the ball into LSU territory. But Taylor broke through on third down, sacking Garcia for an 11-yard loss and prompting Spurrier to drop his headset on the ground and kick it.

"It was a tough night," Spurrier said. "We had our chances."

Garcia was 14-of-26 for 215 yards with a touchdown. He also carried the ball 19 times for 15 yards. Kenny McKinley caught four passes for 77 yards and tight end Jared Cook had five receptions for 74 yards.

With LSU up 10-3, South Carolina scored two touchdowns in the final 2:28 of the first half. Garcia led the Gamecocks on a four-play drive highlighted by the freshman's 41-yard throw to McKinley and a 26-yard TD pass to tight end Weslye Saunders.

On LSU's next play, Lee threw an interception that Carlos Thomas returned 46 yards to the Tigers 8. Mike Davis then barely fell into the end zone on fourth-and-1 to give the Gamecocks a 17-10 halftime lead.

Then cam the quiet locker room, where the LSU players challenged each other to save their season.

"The defense had a lot of swagger," Miles said. "They were awfully strong that second half."