Although South Carolina leads the series 8-6, and the Gamecocks have won the last six in a row over Mississippi State, two of those victories do not evoke the most pleasant memories for me.
The 2001 game was on a Thursday night in Starkville. It was the first major college football game after the 9-11 terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Imagine being able to hear a pin drop in a stadium with over 43,000 people, but when they unfurled a huge American flag and asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims, you certainly could have.
No. 18 USC defeated No. 17 MSU, 16-14, on the strength of a 97-yard performance by running back Andrew Pinnock, and a 3-of-3 field goal night from place kicker Daniel Weaver. Weaver's second field goal was set up by an interception return to the Bulldogs 18 by cornerback Andre Goodman, now USC's Director of Player Development. Linebacker Kalimba Edwards had an outstanding game with 14 tackles and three quarterback hurries to lead the defense.
The 2011 game was another two-point, 14-12 win by the Gamecocks, also in Starkville. That victory was tarnished by a season-ending knee injury to running back Marcus Lattimore. I remember that his mother, Yolanda, was on the field almost as fast as the trainers.
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Quarterback Connor Shaw connected with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery for a four-yard touchdown with 3:50 remaining for what turned out to be the winning points. Safety D.J. Swearinger sealed the victory with an interception on the Bulldogs’ next possession.
What I also remember about the last time the two teams met was that we got a glimpse of how important two freshman would become to USC's program. Jadeveon Clowney had two sacks that both resulted in fumbles. Bruce Ellington rushed for 25 yards and completed 2-of-3 passes for 24 yards out of the Wildcat formation and caught four passes for 32 yards as a receiver.
My favorite game in the series was a 65-39 beat down of the Bulldogs on their home field in 1995. Quarterback Steve Taneyhill had the best day of his career with a 38-of-44, 473-yard, three TD passing performance that earned him Sports Illustrated's National Player of the Week honors. Running back Stanley Pritchett caught 12 passes for 113 yards, and Zola Davis had 185 yards receiving.
Another indication that it was Carolina's day was the play of running back Duce Staley, who was involved in four scoring plays – two rushing, one receiving, and one passing. The TD pass, a two-yard throwback to Taneyhill, was a first for both players.
Mississippi State comes to Columbia with a 4-3 record, but the losses have come to quality opponents -- Oklahoma State (21-3), Auburn (24-20) and LSU (59-26). However, the Bulldogs have struggled to win their last two games, 21-20 over Bowling Green, and 28-22 against Kentucky, both home games.
I guess, the question is, can the Gamecocks put their stunning comeback win over Missouri behind them and play a solid, four-quarter game. This season's team has been, as coach Steve Spurrier said in his Tuesday press conference, “inconsistent.” It's a 12:20 kickoff, homecoming, and an opportunity with a win to remain in the race for the East Division title. Which team will show up?
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!