For the second time this season, South Carolina got an impressive-looking win on a day in which their play wasn't always impressive, beating Mississippi State 34-16 on homecoming weekend in Columbia. The victory keeps the Gamecocks firmly in the race to win the SEC East, and South Carolina now gets to watch the scoreboard for the next two weeks before playing its final SEC game against Florida on Nov. 16.
Mississippi State was never more effective than it was on its first drive (another common thread from the Arkansas game), which saw them march the ball 60 yards down the field on 9 plays before Dak Prescott plunged into the end zone to open scoring. But that was approximately the last good thing that Prescott did all day long. The Bulldogs' quarterback was responsible for 3 interceptions, a lost fumble, and several incomplete passes thrown to offensive linemen.
What's worse than Prescott constantly throwing the ball to his offensive linemen is that they keep trying to catch it— Brandon Larrabee (@TeamSpeedKills) November 2, 2013
The 22 Bulldogs on the field didn't get much help from the man calling the shots from the sideline. Dan Mullen made several curious decisions not to go for it on 4th-and-short when Mississippi State was facing a multi-score deficit and continued to run the offense at a snail's pace even when MSU found itself down three touchdowns and three two point conversions midway through the final frame.
But enough about what Mississippi State did to lose this game. Let's talk about what we saw from the Gamecocks.
Aside from the long drive on the Bulldogs' first possession, the defense played perhaps its most complete game of the season. After giving up that first touchdown, the Gamecocks held the Bulldogs to 154 yards on their next 48 plays (3.21 yards per play) and forced four turnovers in 11 possessions. Mississippi State was only able to muster 3 points during those 11 offensive series and didn't get back into the the end zone until they were down 24 points with less than 6 minutes left in the game. This was all despite the South Carolina defense being on the field much more than they usually are, thanks to the offense only converting 1 of 11 third downs.
Victor Hampton had what was easily his best game of the year -- and perhaps his career -- after being the subject of criticism from fans and coaches for his "freelancing" during the Kentucky and Central Florida games. Vic's final line on Saturday included 8 tackles and 3 pass break-ups, and he ripped the ball right out of Robert Johnson's hands when the Bulldogs were threatening to score late. Coach Spurrier said after the game that Hampton was rewarded a game ball for his efforts.
Skai Moore, Chaz Elder, and TJ Holloman (seen above) each came away with an interception, primarily due to being #blessed to be in the vicinity of Dak Prescott when he was getting ready to do something incredibly stupid. Sharrod Golightly had a pair of critical tackles for loss that put Mississippi State behind schedule early in the game, when Mississippi State scoring a lot of points was still a concern. Jadeveon Clowney came away with 3 tackles and a pass break-up and another handful of almost-sacks.
The Gamecocks went three-plays-and-out on 8 of 14 offensive possessions and still managed to hang 36 points on the board. A lot of that is thanks to five Mississippi State turnovers, but South Carolina was able to come through with some explosive plays on the handful of drives that did not end in punts. Connor Shaw hit Shaq Roland for a 43-yard touchdown to give South Carolina a 14-7 lead that it would not relinquish, and Mike Davis ripped off a 43-yard run followed by a 30-yard catch on a third quarter touchdown drive that put the game on ice.
Mike Davis' 128 yards rushing put him over the 1,000 yard mark for the season, and he became just the third running back in Gamecock history to rush for more than 100 yards in 7 games during a single season.
Connor Shaw's 10-of-20 performance was uncharacteristically inefficient, but four of his completions found their way into the end zone (in that sense, he was very efficient). Shaw's 4 touchdown passes moved him into second place all-time at South Carolina, passing Stephen Garcia (47) and Todd Ellis (49), leaving him 12 short of Steve Taneyhill's 62.
There was only one horrible mistake. For this unit, that should be taken as a compliment. Landon Ard's misfired 17-yard kickoff to open the second half, giving Mississippi State the ball near midfield, was the only real true catastrophe. Other than that, Ard was excellent (5 of 7 kickoffs went for touchbacks) and the rest of the unit played relatively mistake-free.
Elliott Fry knocked home a pair of field goals from 44 and 37 yards. The 37-yarder was probably his shakiest make of the 2013 season, just sneaking in past the right upright.
Tyler Hull punted 8 times for an average of 40.4 yards, pinning one inside the 20. His first one only went for 34 yards, but the results from that point forward were, let's say, acceptable.
South Carolina's young defense appears to be rounding into form after struggling against some excellent offensive teams during the first half of the season. How the Gamecocks fare when they are tested by good teams down the stretch will depend on which offense shows up and the special teams unit's ability to avoid disastrous plays. Overall, there were a lot of positive signs in this game, and South Carolina should feel pretty good about its chances of winning its last three games against Florida (currently getting torched by Georgia), Coastal Carolina, and Clemson.