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South Carolina 14 … at Mississippi State 12

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Oct 15, 2011


Week 7 CFN Fearless Prediction & Game Story - South Carolina at Mississippi State


2011 Predictions & Game Story 

Week 7 - South Carolina at Miss St

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Oct. 15 South Carolina 14 … at Mississippi State 12
CFN Analysis: Connor Shaw wasn’t asked to bomb away down the field, and he threw a few picks and wasn’t always on, but when he had to throw the one pass needed for a big play, he came up with the scoring lob to Alshon Jeffery for the game-winner. With Marcus Lattimore hurting with a sprained knee after running for just 39 yards and a score, it was up to Shaw to win the game, and he managed to do it. The defense did a nice job against the MSU running game and kept the inconsistent passing attack under wraps, and the USC offense came through when it had to. The D should be enough to get by Tennessee in two weeks, but to have any shot against Arkansas, the offense has to figure out how to get points against a decent D. Shaw hasn’t looked like the quarterback to do it … yet.

Mississippi State needs to reestablish its identity. The problem is that Chris Relf is just a runner and Tyler Russell, despite his eight runs for 18 yards, is just a passer, and MSU decided to go the passing route and Russell didn’t come through under the pressure from the South Carolina defensive front completing just 11-of-29 passes for 165 yards and a touchdown with two picks. If Relf isn’t in, Vick Ballard needs to get loose, and he wasn’t able to with everyone keying on him. Fortunately, Kentucky and Tennessee-Martin are up next to get the offense on track before Alabama, but at 3-4 and with the Tide and Arkansas still up, the disappointing season will pick up again in a few weeks unless the offense can find something that consistently works.

(AP) STARKVILLE, Miss. -- Struggling against Mississippi State's defense all afternoon, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier finally found an indefensible play.

Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw lofted a 4-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery, who stretched his 6-foot-4 frame over two Mississippi State defenders for the game-winning touchdown.

When the three players jumped for the ball, Jeffery was simply the tallest and best athlete, plucking the ball from the sky with 3:50 remaining in the fourth quarter to lead No. 15 South Carolina to a hard-fought 14-12 victory over Mississippi State.

"Somehow or another Connor found Alshon on the jump ball," Spurrier said. "We had been trying to get the jump ball thrown all day and he finally threw it perfect."

In his third career start, Shaw struggled for much of the afternoon. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 155 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 28 yards on 16 carries.

South Carolina's Marcus Lattimore came into the game averaging an SEC-best 129.8 rushing yards per game, but managed only 39 yards and a touchdown against the hard-hitting Bulldogs. He left the game in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury that could make the Gamecocks' victory a lot less sweet.

Spurrier said he was told Lattimore's injury is a sprained knee, though a full evaluation hadn't been done.

Mississippi State was driving late in the game, but Tyler Russell's pass was intercepted by D.J. Swearinger with 1:45 remaining. From that point, the Gamecocks were able to run out the clock, and Shaw ran out the back of the end zone on the final play for a Mississippi State safety.

"We needed to make one more play," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "When you play top-15 teams you've got to make a lot of plays. They made one more play than we did."

The low scoring was caused by a mix of dominating defense and missed opportunities on offense.

South Carolina and Mississippi State started inexperienced quarterbacks, and it showed for much of the afternoon.

The Gamecocks played their first game without senior Stephen Garcia, whose suspension-riddled career ended abruptly after Spurrier dismissed him from the team earlier in the week. Shaw replaced Garcia last week before the dismissal, throwing four touchdowns against Kentucky in a dominating win.

Mississippi State's defense proved a much more difficult challenge. The Bulldogs were especially good along the defensive line, with Fletcher Cox making four tackles for a loss, including two sacks.

The Gamecocks had chances to score in the first half, but Shaw threw two interceptions, including one that was caught in the end zone by Johnathan Banks and another that was caught right at the goal line by Nickoe Whitley.

But Shaw came up big when it mattered, throwing the ball where only Jeffery could catch it. The Gamecocks' leading receiver had been quiet up until that point and finished with five catches for 24 yards.

Jeffery's catch came on a rare third down conversion. The Gamecocks were just 2 of 14 before Jeffery's touchdown catch quieted the crowd at Davis Wade Stadium.

"We kept trying to run for those third downs," Spurrier said. "I guess we should have been passing on them."

South Carolina has won six straight against the Bulldogs. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen falls to 2-11 against ranked teams in his three-year tenure.

MSU's Russell earned his first start at quarterback, replacing struggling senior Chris Relf. The sophomore threw a 19-yard touchdown to Chris Smith late in the first quarter to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. He had some good moments, but struggled with his accuracy against a swarming South Carolina defense, completing 11 of 29 passes for 165 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

He led the Bulldogs down the field late in the fourth quarter, but his pass was picked off by Swearinger, a safety who flew across the field. Swearinger led South Carolina with 12 tackles.

"Our offense is in great debt to our defense," Shaw said.

Mississippi State outgained South Carolina 296-289. Vick Ballard rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries. LaDarius Perkins added 46 rushing yards on nine carries.

Spurrier said it "wasn't a real pretty game for us," but it didn't make a road SEC win any less sweet.

"Guess what -- we're 6-1, we're bowl eligible," Spurrier said. "We're going to go in there and celebrate becoming bowl eligible. That's something we're never going to take for granted. That's an accomplishment."

South Carolina (5-1) at Mississippi State (3-3) Oct. 15, SEC Network/ESPN3

Here’s The Deal … Lost in the craziness and the soap opera that’s been South Carolina football over the last few weeks is the simple, basic fact that it’s probably going to play for the SEC championship.

The long and rocky road of Stephen Garcia appears to have really and truly come to an end, and now the offense will sink or swim with Connor Shaw against an interesting three-game road run at Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Arkansas, before facing Florida in the SEC finale that’ll probably decide the East in one way or another, either for USC or for Georgia.

The Gamecocks have the best defense in the East, the best ground game in the division, and enough athletes and talent to beat LSU or Alabama on the right day. What they don’t have is any semblance of consistency thanks to a flakiness in the passing game that’s doing its best to kill a dream season. Last year’s team was good in a lousy division. This year’s team should be great in a lousy division.

Mississippi State has a mess of its own at quarterback. Chris Relf hasn’t gotten things moving, and Tyler Russell has been getting a few chances. Arguably the biggest disappointment in college football over the first half of the year, MSU needed overtime to beat Louisiana Tech, and the other two wins have come against two of the worst teams in America, Memphis and UAB. Worst of all, things might get even worse with Alabama and Arkansas left to play. With a slew of layups against teams like Kentucky and UT Martin to help the cause, the Bulldogs will almost certainly go to a bowl, but for a team that had dreams of an SEC title, just getting a 13th game isn’t anything to chirp about.

The two teams haven’t played since 2007 and Mississippi State hasn’t beaten the Gamecocks since 1999, a 17-0 win over a team that finished 0-11.

Why South Carolina Might Win: The defensive front has found its groove. Mississippi State should be able to run the ball a little bit, but it’s not going to throw a lick against a USC secondary that’s stopping everyone cold ranking third in the nation allowing just 128.5 yards per game while ranking fifth in the country in pass efficiency defense. MSU threw the ball against Memphis and UAB. That’s it. The offensive line has been a disappointment and the pass protection has been an issue; South Carolina will exploit the weakness in jarring fashion.

It took a little while but the pass rush has become special when it’s needed to be. There wasn’t any pass rush last week against Kentucky, mainly because there was no need whatsoever to try to get into a backfield against quarterbacks combining to completed 4-of-26 passes for 17 yards with four picks. Because of the pressure from the front four, and the play of the secondary, USC has intercepted eight passes in the last two games and has allowed one touchdown pass in the last four.

Why Mississippi State Might Win: Which South Carolina team will show up this week? Will it be the one couldn’t get the offense rolling against Auburn and Navy, or will it be the one that came out focused and fired up to stomp on Kentucky and roll offensively against Georgia? The loss of Garcia isn’t necessarily a plus, and it could be a distraction this week. As inconsistent as he was, he had a strange habit of balling his way into keeping the team alive in tough games while also providing an occasional spark. Steve Spurrier has wanted to go with Connor Shaw for a while, and now he doesn’t have Garcia to fall back on.

Yes the South Carolina defense is awesome athletically and yes the secondary is awesome, but there have been lapses against good ground games. Navy’s magnificent attack rolled for 274 yards and three touchdowns, and Auburn, thanks to Michael Dyer, ran for 246 yards and a score. Georgia was able to run when needed, cranking out 188 yards and a touchdown. MSU’s running game hasn’t worked nearly as well as expected, but it’s had just enough good moments to provide hope it could pound away and take control early on. In a perfect world, MSU is able to get up early and force the Gamecocks to start throwing. And then the biggest SEC X factor kicks in when …

What To Watch Out For: Connor Shaw has to make plays. Last week, the sophomore completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards against four touchdowns, while running for 42 yards, in a magnificent performance against Kentucky. Kentucky is awful.

Shaw was a disaster in the season opener against East Carolina, and he didn’t show anything last year to suggest that he has the tools or the goods to be a star, and now MSU has had a full week to prepare for him and now he has to show he can produce as The Man. It’s his offense now, and there’s no backup plan meaning Marcus Lattimore will be the main focus of the offense as much as possible while the defense will have to pick up the slack if and when Shaw makes any big mistakes.

For the first time in a long time, South Carolina’s quarterback situation is totally settled. Mississippi State is trying to figure out who’s the best option to jump-start an attack that’s been suddenly stale. Chris Relf didn’t move the offense last week against UAB, completing 6-of-10 passes for 46 yards, while Tyler Russell connected on 11-of-13 throws for 166 yards and three touchdowns to bail the team out. Relf has just one touchdown pass in the last four games and hasn’t run well since taking off for 106 yards against Auburn. Russell was a top-shelf recruit with great passing skills, and now he’ll get more and more of a shot to show what he can do. He’s the future, with Relf done after this year, and he’ll factor into the present.

What Will Happen: Connor Shaw will go back to being Connor Shaw. Mississippi State is just desperate enough to pull out any and all stops to come up with a huge game on the ground against a USC defensive front that’ll have its moments, but will give up enough yards to have problems. Shaw will throw three picks against a MSU secondary that’s come up with nine interceptions so far, and the Bulldog offense will take advantage of all the mistakes for the huge, season-changing win. The Gamecocks will rally late and will drive for the game-winning score, but Shaw will get picked off.

CFN Prediction: Mississippi State 24 … South Carolina 23
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