One sequel was bad enough and a second was entirely unforgiveable. As is the case with so many films, sequels, made to squeeze every last penny out of every decent idea in Hollywood, often kill a franchise.
When the South Carolina Gamecocks (6-2) welcome the Mississippi State Bulldogs (4-3) to Williams Brice on Saturday, there will be a moment of collective breath holdings, as 80,000+ wait to see if the emotional overtime win against Missouri last Saturday spurns this South Carolina football team to greatness or distracts them from the game at hand.
Except for the Bulldog faithful in Starkville, no one wants to see a lackluster South Carolina team take the field on Saturday. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, they will finally be back at home and in front of an adoring crowd that has missed having them around for the last month. While it is unlikely that Steve Spurrier’s team will be anything but explosive on Saturday, if they come out flat, as they have so many times this year, this is the SEC and even an underachieving Mississippi State team is capable of pulling off the upset.
Dan Mullen’s group has had a bit of a disappointing year, as their only wins have been against non-BCS opponents Troy, Alcorn State, and Bowling Green, and their lone conference victory was against struggling Kentucky. Mississippi State’s losses have all come to opponents that were ranked—except the Auburn game, although Auburn is now No. 11 in the BCS standings. LSU and Oklahoma State won comfortably while the Auburn game on the road was a bit closer, though in total, the Bulldogs have been outscored 104-49 in their losses this year.
Offensively, this Mississippi State team is balanced, averaging 250 passing yards per game and 205 rushing yards per game. After being sidelined for three games with a concussion, veteran quarterback Tyler Russell, who is only 30-43 this year, for 391 yards, began sharing the job with Dak Prescott, who filled in admirably in Russell’s absence and to this point is completing 57% of his passes for 1158 yards.
Russell injured his ankle on the first series of the Kentucky game last week, but he is expected to be healthy enough to play this weekend. Quarterback Dak Prescott is the Bulldogs leading rusher with 490 yards on 80 carries, meaning that the Gamecocks will have their hands full trying to Prescott when he is on the field. Ladarius Perkins is their main running back though he only has 67 carries on the season for 338 yards. Josh Robinson and Ashton Shumpert also figure into the running game with a combined 64 carries on the year.
Depending on how healthy Russell is, this could be a tricky game to scheme for Lorenzo Ward. When Prescott is in the game, the Gamecocks will have to get pressure with their front four, in order to free up the linebackers to clean up any broken plays, as Prescott
will make some plays on the ground. Russell is not as much a threat to run and only has 17 carries this season, though he has missed significant time.
The Gamecocks are healthy defensively, and after a stifling performance against an explosive Missouri offense last weekend, Ward’s group will be looking to carry that momentum with them. While this offense is not as multiple as the Tigers’, South Carolina understands as well as anyone how frustrating it can be to play a good dual-threat quarterback.
Offensively, though South Carolina has been dynamite all year, seven of the last eight quarters have been miserable. The entire Tennessee game and first three quarters of the Missouri saw minimal production from the offense and far too many mistakes. After three consecutive road games, the Gamecocks should be excited to finally be back home and hopefully will use their offensive explosion in the fourth quarter last week as a catalyst to finding their rhythm again.
Following a gutsy performance on a bad knee last Saturday, Connor Shaw missed the first two practices this week with an illness but returned Wednesday and is the projected starter for Saturday. At 22-5, a win on Saturday will put Shaw within one of Todd Ellis’ 24-16-3 mark, which is the current South Carolina record. Shaw is completing almost 65% of his passes with 14 touchdown passes to just one interception this year and has made more plays with his feet that can be counted.
Despite having a frustrating game last week, Mike Davis, who only rushed for 51 yards against Missouri, is still the leading rusher in the SEC with 930 yards—Jeremy Hill of LSU is second with 922. The bigger frustration for Davis however, was the issue with ball security. His two untimely fumbles however, will not discourage him nor will they knock him off the top of the pecking order. Even with those fumbles, which are perhaps the only blemishes on his otherwise outstanding sophomore season, Davis still played an integral role in the comeback, as he caught ten passes for 99 yards, none more important than a 19.00000001-yard catch on third-and-19.
Look for Davis to return to form this week against a slower and less athletic Mississippi State defensive line that is allowing 148 rushing yards per game, including 286 yards against Oklahoma State and 223 yards to LSU.
Although senior right guard Ronald Patrick did play last week, he was less than 100% as he battled an ankle injury. He should be healthier than last week and will start again this weekend, bolstering an offensive line that did an admirable job of slowing down the Missouri pass rush last week, which is tops in Southeastern Conference.
Also back from injury is Brandon Wilds, who has been sidelined with a dislocated elbow since the Central Florida game. Wilds says that he could carry the ball 40 times if he needed to, and while he will be healthy and ready to play, running backs coach Everette Sands said that Wilds would only play in an emergency (per Gamecockcentral). For the time being, Davis and Shon Carson will look to get the majority of the carries on Saturday.
South Carolina has a chance to put pressure on Missouri and can still win the East if the Tigers slip up in any of their next four conference games, but first, they will have to take care of business at home. The Gamecocks have won 14 straight at home and barring a major collapse or horrendous hangover from last week’s emotional win, they will make it 15.