The South Carolina Gamecocks enjoyed a comfortable 34-16 victory in their homecoming to the tune of 307 yards of offense, their lowest total of the season. Connor Shaw threw four touchdown passes and Mike Davis eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but the story in this game was the defense.
As a unit, the South Carolina defense endured a great of deal of scrutiny, especially early in the year as they struggled to finish games. The past few weeks however, has seen complete and utterly stifling efforts lead the Gamecocks to victory. After allowing just 17 points to an impressive Missouri offense on the road, Lorenzo Ward’s group encore with a five takeaway game that masked an underwhelming offensive performance.
South Carolina is on pace to shatter the school record for average total yards per game, and Saturday was a good example why. Although it was the Gamecocks’ worst offensive game in terms of productivity, they gave a microcosm of what has made them so multiple on offense this year.
Mike Davis, who is the SEC’s leading rusher, ran for 128 yards on 15 carries while Connor Shaw threw four touchdown passes with no interceptions. The fact that they barely passed the 300-yard mark was a result of their poor third-down execution. Going into this weekend, the Gamecocks were one of the best teams in the Southeastern Conference in converting third downs, before converting a woeful 1-11 on Saturday.
Shaw and Davis got their numbers, but inability to sustain drives plagued the Gamecocks all afternoon. Their longest drive of the day was eight plays and they had seven three-and-outs—eight if you count a three-play touchdown drive.
Following a quick three-and-out, Mississippi State marched down the field, putting together a 9-play 60-yard touchdown drive. The Gamecocks responded with what may have been the closest thing to a ‘nice drive’ they had all game. Five plays and 71 yards later,
Connor Shaw was connecting with Shaq Roland for his first of four, and Roland’s first of two, touchdowns.
After exchanging punts, the Gamecocks were able to capitalize on a Skai Moore interception at midfield, as Shaw found Roland for a second time. On the ensuing possession, Dak Prescott threw his second interception of the game, this time to T.J. Holloman, giving the Gamecocks the ball back at the Mississippi State 25-yard line, leading to an Elliot Fry field goal.
With 4:15 to go in the half, the Bulldogs’ Evan Sobiesk managed to knock in a field goal to cut the lead to seven at the half.
The second half saw much more of the same, as the Bulldogs continued to turn the ball over, and the offense continued to capitalize on short fields. Dak Prescott had his third of four turnovers two plays into the third quarter when he fumbled on a design run. Sharrod Golightly, who played an excellent game and received a game ball, scooped up the fumble and set up the Gamecocks for another Connor Shaw touchdown, this time to Damiere Byrd.
Another Bulldog punt gave the Gamecocks the ball on their own 14-yard line, but Mike Davis decided that he would rather have the ball on the Bulldog side of the field and carried the ball for seven yards and 43 yards before catching a 30-yard pass from Shaw. The ensuing touchdown pass to Jerrell Adams saw Shaw move into second place in the career passing touchdown list in South Carolina history, surpassing Todd Ellis, whose all-time wins record (24) should also be eclipsed by Shaw by the end of the year.
Except for a 15-play touchdown drive, the Gamecock defense continued playing lights out, as the forced two more turnovers and two more punts over the final quarter and a half, while the offense added an Elliot Fry field goal to seal a comfortable win.
This South Carolina football team has had unprecedented success on offense and continues to get better as the defense continues to gel. This is bad news for Florida and Clemson, who have to visit Williams Brice in the next month, a place where the Gamecocks do not lose. South Carolina tied a school record 15 straight wins at home and have a chance to break another school record in two weeks when the Gators come to town.
Although they do not control their own destiny, there is still a great deal that the Gamecocks could potentially accomplish this year, and they seem to be clicking at just the right time to do so.