Much like yourself, I took a 55-yard trip to cloud nine after Elliott Fry kicked the Gamecocks into victory last Thursday. But, let’s just say for fun, he misses that field goal, Vanderbilt retains the ball near mid-field, they get into field goal range of their own, and we wind up on the other side of a 13-10 score.
Thankfully that didn’t happen to the Gamecocks, but as you probably already know, similar circumstance struck our current opponent once a 28-yard attempt clanged off the post. My point, you ask? There’s a very fine line between the unbound optimism of a win and the dumpster fire of fear for what’s to come with a loss.
So, what will define that line of separation in the second game of the season for South Carolina and Mississippi St.? Here’s some thoughts.
Three Keys to the Game
- The Gamecocks defense forces Mississippi St. QB Damian Williams into a one dimensional threat. Over the course of the past two seasons, the South Carolina defense hasn’t really been able to stop one running threat from the opponent’s backfield, let alone two. That’ll most likely change under the Muschamp regime, given the head coach’s defensive pedigree. How soon, though, is a question that might get answered Saturday night. Williams proved he’s a bigger playmaking threat than fellow QB Nick Fitzgerald in the Bulldogs’ opener against South Alabama, as he threw for 143 yards and ran for just under 100 in a albeit early, but still relief appearance. The versatility to break down defenses with his arm and legs may help him hold onto the starting job he’s recently overtaken. But after one game, he hasn’t proven he’s capable of opening defenses up solely with his arm with a down-field passing attack. If South Carolina’s defense can contain both Williams and whatever running back Dan Mullen throws out there, and forces the relatively inexperienced QB to try to beat us with his arm, I think the chances of a 2-0 start drastically increase. If they can’t contain him, though, and let his legs sustain drives and pickup first downs, it could be a much longer night for every Gamecock involved.
- Another poor performance from the Bulldogs’ secondary. The Mississippi St. defense fell apart in the second half against South Alabama, giving up touchdown drives of 99 and 71 yards. The secondary was the main hinderance on the defense’s inability to slow down QB Dallas Davis and the USA attack. Davis picked apart the Bulldogs secondary for 285 yards as Jaguar receivers continually beat out MSU defenders, especially as the game wore on. Gamecock QB Perry Orth will need some similar fortune this time up. After last week, it’s pretty clear the passing game rests on Orth’s shoulders, but he’ll need a better showing out of his receivers (cough, cough Jamari Smith) and their ability to hold onto catchable balls thrown their way. This may be the best matchup Gamecock pass catchers are dealt with the rest of the SEC schedule, so they’ll need to take advantage of it should the Bulldog secondary lay another egg.
- Known names make known plays. I’m looking at you Deebo Samuel and David Williams. At some point this season you, the reader, may get tired of me including one or both of these guys in this piece, but are they not two of the Gamecocks’ more vital skill players? As of now, we don’t have an explosive offensive game to brag about. Sure, there’s some younger guys who looked really nice against Vanderbilt, but you can’t rely on true freshmen to survive in the SEC and make it to a bowl game. While Samuel wasn’t absent from the Vandy game, scoring the game changing touchdown, I need to see big games out one or both of these guys Saturday night to entirely buy in to what Muschamp is selling. We overhyped Samuel all off-season and read about Williams’ newfound focus after a slow start to camp. Now’s a good a time as any to see some production from either.
Sure, maybe I picked against the Gamecocks at one point or another this week. It doesn’t matter, I was just making Mississippi St. fans feel bad for losing to a Sun Belt team we can even beat. I’m gonna ride out this undefeated wave as long as I can.
In another barn burner that lights up the scoreboard, I’m thinking:
South Carolina 16 - 14 Mississippi St.