I don't make score predictions, never have. I always believe the Gamecock are going to win, but trying to predict by how many, or in some rare cases, how close they're going to come, has never interested me. The 22-21 win over Clemson (on a do-over extra point, I might add) in 1984 was one of the most memorable games of my life. I'll take a one-point victory any time.
Now, the other guys on the website, and several fans on my Friday chat, all had Carolina winning over Mississippi State by 15 to 20-point margins and the Gamecocks did beat the Bulldogs by 18, but not in the way the predictors imagined.
All the picks had Mississippi State scoring at least 14 points, thinking that the defense would play well, maybe give up a big play, and as usual, a Connor Shaw-led offense would have a big day. Mike Davis would score three touchdowns, and the Cocks would win going away. As one of our favorite announcers, Lee Corso, would say, “Not so fast, my friend.”
You omit two categories from the final stats, hand them to 10 people who know football, and I guarantee you, nine will say Mississippi State won the game. The only category the Bulldogs didn't win was rushing yards (150, 160), but they had more first downs (23-12), more passing yards (235-147), ran 24 more plays (78-54), had more total yards (385-307), and a more than seven-minute advantage in time of possession (33:46-26:14). And the most telling stat of all, third down conversions (6-of-13, 1-of-11).,
Who is going to believe a team wins, much less dominates, a game 34-16, with only one third-down conversion? Last week, Carolina had an improbable win at Missouri. I think the Mississippi State game was also an improbable win, because it was the defense that played the dominant role. The lines added to USC's stats are: interceptions 3 and fumble recoveries 2.
Carolina entered the contest 10th in the conference in turnovers, with just 11 forced on the season and the Gamecocks' turnover margin of -4 ranked 12th in the league. But a season-high five turnovers turned into 20 points against the Bulldogs.
Coach Spurrier put it into perspective when he said, “Sometimes you need to win the game (with defense). We're a pretty good team. It was neat to see our defense rise up and really do some very good playing here today.”
A testament to just how different this game was is that the Gamecocks put 34 points on the board, and yet, the Head Ball Coach lamented over how poorly the offense had played in his post-game remarks. This in light of the fact that Shaw threw four TD passes and Davis reached the 1,000-yard plateau with 128 yards rushing.
For me, it was a perfect Homecoming game. And here, let me thank fellow Union native and former Gamecock football letterman, Wilbur Hodge, for inviting me to watch the game from his box in the Champions Club with him, wife Pitsy (Carolyn) and daughter Emma. It was so enjoyable to be able to sit back in the third quarter and know there wasn't going to be any late-game drama.
I've been asked by fans during the season, and again this past Saturday, if I thought (defensive coordinator ) Lorenzo Ward will make it to end of the season (before being fired). First of all, I remind them that USC won 11 games with Whammy in charge of the defense this past season, and the Gamecocks have seven wins this season and the defense has played its part in those victories.
The game is seldom about the coaches, it's about the players executing what they've been coached to do. The difference-makers against MSU? Victor Hampton had, without a doubt, his best game in a Carolina uniform. He finished with a team-high eight tackles and was credited with three pass breakups. There were also a couple of other passes which he influenced. Then, late in the game, he took away a Bulldog opportunity when he stripped the ball from receiver Robert Johnson. He was where he was supposed be the entire game and he made the plays which were expected of him.
Sharrod Golightly certainly had the best performance of his young career as a Spur. He blew up the Bulldogs’ bubble screen the first two times they tried it. On Mississippi State's opening series of the third quarter, Chaz Sutton forced a fumble from QB Dak Prescott. Golightly recovered and returned it for 24 yards to the MSU 23. Four plays later Carolina had a 14-point lead. Golightly finished with four tackles and set the tone for the defense early.
Skai Moore got his first career start at weakside linebacker and ended the third MSU drive of the game with his first career interception off a Hampton deflection. Moore finished third on the team with six tackles.
While he might not have gotten a lot of notice, Brison Williams had a solid game at safety. He was second on the team with seven tackles, with five solo stops. He also had a pass breakup on a long attempt in the fourth quarter in a one-on-one situation.
What I'm saying here is that on a day when their offensive counterparts struggled, the defense responded with an outstanding, game-changing performance. My hope is, that players on offense and defense have an even greater confidence in the ability of either side to carry the day.
I think the week off comes at good time. Hopefully, it will be a time to heal some bumps and bruises and for the players to have a weekend off from football. In my mind, that “best game of the season,” is still to come. I would love to see it be against the Florida Gators.
It's a great time to be a Gamecock!