The South Carolina Gamecocks dropped to 1-1 after a 27-14 defeat in Starkville to Mississippi State. The offense started out slow again, but this time the deficit was too much to overcome on the road.
Another Slow Start on Offense
QB Perry Orth got the start after a second half comeback in Nashville last week. Orth couldn’t get anything going with Mississippi State’s defensive in the backfield regularly. The offensive line struggled mightily. MSU defensive lineman A.J. Jefferson led the charge for the Bulldog defense looking to prove a point after the debacle vs South Alabama last week. Everything up the middle was stuffed. The Gamecocks were only able to muster one decent drive in the first half, ending with Elliott Fry’s missed kick. The stars of last week were held in check - RB A.J. Turner and WR Bryan Edwards couldn’t get anything going against the Bulldog defense. Turner was held to 32 yards rushing on 16 carries and Edwards didn’t register a catch until the fourth quarter. Turner also fumbled in the second quarter. The Gamecocks failed to reach one hundred yards until halfway through the third quarter.
Poor Tackling Shows up Again
The Gamecocks defense once again failed to wrap up tackles. With countless broken tackles, the Bulldogs racked up 485 yards of offense, with 290 on the ground. 195 of those yards were racked up by QB Nick Fitzgerald, setting an MSU record for rushing yards by a QB. Fitzgerald ran all over the Gamecock defense. Many of his runs were aided by missed tackles. On his 74-yard run in the first quarter, Fitzgerald was hit at the line of scrimmage by two Gamecocks, but he broke the two tackles with ease and went down the sideline and broke another tackle to add another 20-30 yards. The defense was able to make some stops, though, including forcing MSU to turn it over on downs inside the ten. T.J. Holloman intercepted a pass at the goal line. Had it not been for those two stops by the defense, it could have gotten even uglier. The defense also had no help from the offense as they were put in bad situations with two first half turnovers. They were also on the field most of the second quarter with the offense unable to sustain a drive. After the half, the defense played much better, forcing punts often and only allowing a fourth quarter field goal.
McIlwain Improves on Vanderbilt Performance
With the score at 24-0 at the half, and a long weather delay, Coach Muschamp brought in Brandon McIlwain at QB. The first drive was a disaster as a snap was launched well over the freshman QB's head, effectively killing the first drive of the half. After that, McIlwain produced two scoring drives in the second half. He missed high with a lot of throws, but was able to spread the ball around much better than Orth in the first half. He made a few nice reads on runs, picking up two first downs on pitch-option plays. He bought time in the pocket and found A.J. Turner on the sideline for the first touchdown. Then, late in the fourth quarter, McIlwain found K.C. Crosby on a short touchdown toss. McIlwain finished with 126 yards and two touchdowns through the air, an improvement from his showing in Nashville last week.
Even though the Bulldogs dropped the game to South Alabama, a win in Starkville was going to be hard to find for Carolina. While the first half was tough to watch, the second half provided some positives. Hopefully heading back home will provide a confidence booster for the offense. The QB situation is still unclear with both Orth and McIlwain only having one decent half under their belt. The defense is playing well, especially in the red zone, but the tackling must improve.
Next week the Gamecocks welcome in East Carolina, who moved to 2-0 with a tight win over North Carolina State. The Pirates' offense has been very efficient so far, as QB Philip Nelson has completed 61 of 75 passes through the first two games. The Gamecocks' offense needs to start fast next week and help out the defense. With only 27 points scored through two games, they may need more than that on Saturday to defeat the Pirates.