In front of a hostile away crowd in a game that they need to win to stay in the SEC East race, the Gamecocks' managed to gut out a close, 14-12 win over Mississippi St. off the heels of a late TD pass from Connor Shaw to Alshon Jeffery. However, the win may come at great cost for Carolina, as the Gamecocks' star tailback, Marcus Lattimore, went down with a very ugly knee injury during the game-winning drive. Lattimore has yet to be ruled out for the season, as his MRI will come Monday. However, based on what's being said right now, Gamecocks fans should brace themselves for a torn ACL, necessitating surgery and long-term rehabbing. Needless to say, if Lattimore is out, it will be a major blow to Carolina's chances for repeating as SEC East champions.
That's not to say that it can't be done. If Lattimore is out, it will be a baptism by fire for Shaw, who will take over the role of leader of the offense in the most adverse of circumstances. However, based on what we've seen the past two weeks, I think that Shaw can help us score points through the air. It was up-and-down for Shaw today, but a lot of his struggles owed to (1) poor receiver play and (2) poor playcalling. Shaw threw the ball fairly accurately today in his first start on the road in the SEC, and he also made some big plays with his feet. And perhaps most impressively, when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and he had to be the hero, he manned up and made the plays that needed to be made. That's something we haven't seen from a Carolina QB in a big game in a very long time. That Shaw was able to do it after Lattimore went down made it all the more impressive. Like I said last week, I think this kid is a big-game player who wants the ball in his hands and has the confidence that he can make plays. He can be a leader for this team in Lattimore's absence.
Shaw will also have the best asset any young QB could hope for: a great defense. The secondary allowed some disappointing third-down conversions to MSU, but overall, it was another magnificent performance for the defense, which held the Bulldogs to 10 points; stood tall a few times with its back to its endzone; and came up with some key takeaways. With the open date coming up, the defense should be able to get healthy, and it will look even better when it takes the field again against Tennessee in two weeks.
This is all to say that if Lattimore is down, I'm not giving up hope. It will be on everyone else to pick up the slack and the coaches to put them in a position to win, but it's possible.
More thoughts after the jump.
--I was miffed by Spurrier's gameplan this afternoon. Despite the fact that we were consistently getting yards on the edge because State was focused on stopping up the middle, we continued to go to Lattimore on the inside reads and draws, getting nothing almost every time. And then on one of the times when I thought we should have gone straight to Lattimore, after the Reggie Bowens INT, we don't give him a single touch. And worst of all, Spurrier went for it on fourth-and-one when we could have kicked a mid-range FG to go up by three. IMO, you always take the FG in that situation. The defense was playing well in a close game--take the points and then get the ball back.
--To stay on the same topic, and I'll have more to say about this after we find out the truth about Lattimore, but I think it will be very important for Spurrier to get creative if Lattimore's out. We need to get the ball in Bruce Ellington's hands more, we need to keep running the Emory-and-Henry spread formation, and we need to allow Shaw to push the ball deep more. I never thought I'd be saying this after watching all of our passing problems early in the season, but we should be throwing deep more often now that Shaw is in. He's much more accurate than Garcia and can hit those passes. The ones he missed today were due to drops. That won't always be the case if we keep trying.
--As we discussed, amidst much cursing and gnashing of teeth, the officiating in this game was some of the worst I've seen in a long time, and that's really saying something considering all the crap we've had to put up with this season. First of all, to be honest, I thought we should have gotten both reviewed plays. The worst, though, was that State held, blocked in the back, and more or less used every illegal offensive tactic in the book all afternoon, yet not a single time were they called for their shenanigans. Whether due to stupidity, bias, or something more sinister, it was a simply disgusting show.
That's a wrap on this one. There's obviously much more to discuss, and I'll be back tomorrow. Until then, we can chat in the thread. In the meantime, go 'Terps!