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South Carolina Gamecocks vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs: Game Balls

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Spotlighting some good performances (and there were a few) from last night.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

When you have less than 100 yards in the first two quarters and are trailing 24-0 at halftime, the best you’re hoping for in the second half is a silver lining.

What we ended up getting was that and then some, all things considered, with the South Carolina’s 27-14 loss to Mississippi State.

Game Balls

Brandon McIlwain

A seemingly ho-hum stat line at first glance (11-22, 126 yds, 2 TDs), the true freshman signal caller made his presence known well beyond the box score.

The offense couldn’t get anything going with redshirt senior Perry Orth under center in the first half, but showed some serious signs of life once McIlwain took the reins.

The Pennsylvania native spread the ball around, showed his elusiveness and took care of the ball - zero turnovers and adopting a very obvious two-hands-on-the-ball approach when running.

Yes, the Gamecocks bring a loss back with them to Columbia, but they’re also returning with a lot of promise for the future thanks to McIlwain’s encouraging performance in Starkville.

Note: Pretty cool to see the all frosh backfield of McIlwain and Turner. When can we start calling the offense the Baby Gamecocks?

Hayden Hurst

All the 6’5 tight end did was have the best game of his young (well, in college football terms anyway) career - hauling in 8 balls for 68 yards. Hurst’s previous high for yardage was 47 against Texas A&M in 2015.

It seems like every offseason under Spurrier we heard about how USC is going to work the tight end into the offense more - then the season would roll around and the tight ends would perform well when thrown to, but were rarely a first, second or even third option.

Hurst received a lot of pub this summer and his 2-catch, 17-yard game vs. Vandy made it look like he wouldn’t get the looks his offseason work deserved - continuing this theme from the Spurrier era. Alas, the former minor leaguer seemed to buck the underutilized tight end trend with a standout performance.

We had three (!) tight ends catch passes tonight. But the tight end love aside, a shoutout to all the pass catchers tonight - great seeing all those names in the box score (Edwards, Deebo, Crosby, Davis, Googer and August).

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Defense

Yes, things looked bleak at halftime. The Bulldogs, led by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald, scored touchdowns on two of their first three drives and were rolling up the yards (and points) at halftime with a 24-0 lead.

With the Carolina offense posting a buckshot and 90 yards at halftime, no one would’ve blamed the defense for putting things on cruise control. But give defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson’s crew a lot of credit, they stayed noticeably motivated and focused.

We’ve seen the defensive staff and players go into the locker room at halftime and make real adjustments that yield actual results on the field - two games in a row. That’s what we call a trend, people.

Even without a lot support from their offensive counterparts, the defense’s continued efforts helped turned a first half Gamecock shutout into an actual game.

GOAT

Slow Start

It started similar to last week. Gamecocks look shaky early. Fall into a hole. Make some adjustments at halftime and start to crawl back in it. Unfortunately, a 10-point deficit is a heck of a lot easier to overcome than a 24-point one.

What we’ve seen in the first two weeks of the Gamecocks’ season is two halves of complete football. The catch being they’ve been the respective second halves of the two games.

It looks to be only a matter of time before the Garnet and Black put together a complete four quarters, but to do that, they’ll have to stop with the slow starts.