This, That and the Other: Mississippi State
So how do you follow up The Comeback?
We'll find out on Saturday.
The Gamecocks finally, after a month-long absence, get to return to the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium for a four-game home stretch to close out the 2013 college football season. It's hard to believe it's already November and time for the final stretch of games but this is where we are today.
Up first is the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mississippi State rolls into Columbia this weekend sitting at 4-3 on the season and 1-2 in the SEC. The Gamecocks are the series leader at a record of 8-6 over the Bulldogs before this Saturday's 15th meeting. South Carolina does have a six-game winning streak over Mississippi State since 2000 and won the last three matchups between these two at Williams-Brice.
The Bulldogs have lost a few close games to solid football teams in Auburn and Oklahoma State. They do have an embarrassing 59-26 loss to LSU though. If South Carolina wants to be another loss for the Bulldogs, they'll need to slow down the Bulldog offense. Currently, they are averaging 456.0 yards per game through a pretty balanced attack, picking up over 200 yards on the ground and through the air. The unquestioned leader is quarterback Dak Prescott. He's a dual-threat player that can run and throw the football extremely well. Prescott has picked up 490 yards on the ground with eight rushing touchdowns and 1158 yards passing with five passing touchdowns. His other two weapons on offense is LaDarius Perkins at running back and Jameon Lewis at wide receiver.
Defensively, the Bulldogs are allowing 358.9 yards per game. Benardrick McKinney (46 total tackles) and Deontae Skinner (45 total tackles) lead the team in tackles and Preston Smith leads the team with 2.0 sacks this year. Nickoe Whitely had a team-lead three interceptions as the Bulldogs have five total as a team. They've given up 52 points in the fourth quarter this year, which is generally when you want to be extra tough on defense.
South Carolina will have their hands full with this Mississippi State offense but are hoping that a renewed effort on defense will be able to contain Prescott and hope the Gamecock offense gets back to its strong play from earlier this season.
Now, as we focus on this weekend's game, let's take a look at this week's This, That and the Other.
This game will let South Carolina try to build on last week's win. We all know that South Carolina struggled the past few weeks on the road and went 2-1 on this three-game road trip in the SEC. The offense failed to do anything of value early in the Tennessee and Missouri games and it nearly caused them to be 0-2 during the last two weeks. If South Carolina was unable to pull off the victory last week, you could have kicked this season to the curb. But now? There is life in these Gamecocks and an opportunity that didn't seem likely is now a real possibility.
We seem to talk each week about building on the previous week and being a better football team. But this week, it's all or nothing. South Carolina has to win this Saturday in order to keep them alive in the SEC East race. The focus should be there this weekend and the team is returning to fairly decent health led by quarterback Connor Shaw, who will start this Saturday for South Carolina.
Returning to Williams-Brice will be a much needed kickstart for this South Carolina team and I believe we'll see an improved start to this game for South Carolina against Mississippi State. The season is now week-to-week and this week is the most important game of the season. Let's see South Carolina treat it that way.
That Connor Shaw gets a chance to march towards the record books at home is an awesome thing to see. Shaw, who looked like he could be lost for the season against Tennessee, returned to action against Missouri in relief and is now returning to the starting lineup in hopes of picking up three more wins to break the record of wins held by Todd Ellis at 24.
Shaw has been quite an amazing player for South Carolina during his career. He's been a solid player that has a knack for the big play. His ability on the ground and improvement in the passing game has been a joy to watch over his career. There's something said about a player who is a hard worker and just gets the game of football. That's Connor Shaw in a nutshell. You don't see all the flash you see from a player like Johnny Manziel or Jameis Winston, but what you do see is a guy who just knows how to win.
Being able to watch Connor Shaw over the next weeks make his way into the record books will be a special moment for all Gamecock fans. They likely won't realize just how good he is till he's gone so hopefully the appreciation will be there this Saturday and we'll get to see Connor Shaw be the player we've grown to love.
The other part of this game to watch will be to see if the defense can hold MSU's offense below its season scoring averages in this contest. South Carolina has been able to hold six of its eight opponents below its season scoring average and even held four of those opponents to double-digits below their scoring average. It's a tough task as this offense can put up some yards and has scored an average of 30.1 points per game. Just last week, the Gamecocks held Missouri to 17 points in regulation as they were averaging over 40 points per game. They've done a good job this season keeping opponents in check even though it hasn't been pretty. However, there has been improvement the last few weeks and this defense is starting to come around.
A big part of that improvement is a renewed Jadeveon Clowney. Ever since the Arkansas game, he's been energetic and acting like a team leader on defense. It seems that the team has responded to his leadership and are playing like the Carolina defense of old. Some fresh faces in the lineup have also added some value. Guys like Chaz Elder and Skai Moore continue to be impressive in their time on the field and are working their way into a permanent starting role. These players will be leaders on this defense for years to come.
Dak Prescott brings the dual-threat to Columbia this weekend. South Carolina will need to rely on its defense to rise to the challenge and limit this MIssissippi State offense. They've been doing it all season long. So, what makes us think it won't happen this weekend?
It's about time we came home. This season has been interesting like Spurrier said when talking about this schedule. It feels like we lived at Williams-Brice for a little bit and then got kicked out for a few months. Now we're back. And we're back for good. This stretch will obviously determine what South Carolina's season means for them in the long run. There's a chance to win 10 games in the regular season. There's a chance for the SEC East title. There' s a chance at an SEC Championship and a BCS bowl game.
The point is, there is still meaning to this season and winning last week gave us meaning for this week. South Carolina needs to understand this and show up on Saturday instead of coming out lifeless giving this team a hole that it's hard to dig out of.
I'd like to think they will. The home crowd will be ready to go this Saturday. It's homecoming for alumni and, in a sense, homecoming for the football team.
I think they're ready.
And so are we.
Let's go Cocks!