BATON ROUGE, La. — Steve Spurrier lightheartedly, if not dismissively, shrugged off questions this week about the mystique of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, even though he knows from experience how hard it can be to win there.
“That is THE Death Valley, isn’t it? Or is there another one? There’s two of them. That’s right. There’s two Death Valleys,” the colorful coach of No. 3 South Carolina said in a two-pronged jab at both Saturday night’s opponent — LSU — and the Gamecocks’ in-state rival, Clemson. “We know it’ll be loud and crazy and all that kind of stuff, but we’ve won in front of 90,000 before.
“The tiger doesn’t play defense or offense for them, not yet anyway,” Spurrier added, referring to LSU’s Bengal tiger mascot, Mike. “They keep him caged up, I think.”
Spurrier has his best team in his eight seasons at South Carolina, which is now ranked higher than any time since climbing to No. 2 in 1984.
The coach has had plenty of victories at LSU, both as Florida’s quarterback and coach, but also had one of his worst upset losses there, a 28-21 setback in 1997, when he was coach of the No. 1 and defending national champion Gators and the Tigers were ranked 14th.
This time it won’t technically be an upset if South Carolina (6-0, 4-0 Southeastern Conference) fails to make it out of Louisiana’s version of Death Valley with its record still unblemished. No. 9 LSU (5-1, 1-1) has been listed as a slight favorite by odds makers, even after losing for the first time this season last week at Florida.
Although LSU’s offense stagnated in a 14-6 loss, the Tigers have one of the top defenses in the country and can still win the SEC West by winning their remaining league games. Such a run would put them right back in the national championship picture.
The Tigers have also won a school record 21 straight at home. They haven’t lost in Tiger stadium since Oct. 10, 2009, against then-No. 1 Florida, led by Tim Tebow.
“We can’t lose any more or our national championship hopes are gone. We’ve got to buckle down and just get to it,” said LSU linebacker Kevin Minter, whose 20 tackles and forced fumble at Florida earned him SEC co-defensive player of the week honors. “South Carolina — they’re such an incredible team. If we win this game it would give us a little more momentum going into the rest of the season.”
The Gamecocks are looking pretty good on offense, too, after rolling past then No. 5 Georgia 35-7 last weekend. Marcus Lattimore rushed for 110 yards and a score against the Bulldogs, while dual-threat quarterback Connor Shaw passed for two TDs and ran for another.
That game was at home, though. LSU will pose a tougher test. The Tigers rank third in the nation in total defense, second in pass defense and eighth in scoring defense.
Shaw isn’t even sure how much his foot speed will help.
“Those guys are just as fast as me,” Shaw said. “I don’t think I’m going to get out of the pocket like I usually do. I’m just going to have my eyes downfield and get the passing game going.”