David Cloninger looks at the highs, lows and in-betweens of South Carolina’s win over Mississippi State.
NO. 14 SOUTH CAROLINA 34, MISSISSIPPI STATE 16
TAKE WHAT YOU’RE GIVEN: South Carolina didn’t play near its best on either side of the ball, but it hardly had to when Mississippi State gave the Gamecocks five turnovers. USC scored 20 points off them. Connor Shaw only completed 10 passes, but four were for six points each. Mike Davis only touched the ball 17 times, but one was a 43-yard run and another a 30-yard leaping catch. Shaq Roland only caught two passes but was dancing into the end zone after each of them. USC didn’t have to be dominant because it made the big plays when it had to make them.
THERE YOU ARE: The potential of Victor Hampton is so vast that it would take approximately 82 rolls of Bounty to soak up a quarter of it. His instincts and natural feel for the game, the hips and feet when turning in coverage, have “future NFL star” stamped all over them. It is just mind-bogglingly frustrating to watch him play sometimes, with the woofing (after he has just been beaten on a play) and the sometimes-petulant attitude. Then he’ll do something great and be Mr. Wonderful all over again. Saturday was a whole lot of the latter. He led the team with eight tackles, forced and recovered a fumble where he just straight ripped the ball from Robert Johnson and broke up three passes. Two of those breakups were on throws to the end zone, and another was tipped in the air and intercepted by Skai Moore. That performance has SEC Defensive Player of the Week written all over it.
YOU KNOW, HE’S KINDA GOOD: Trying to preserve a 17-10 lead, USC handed the ball to Davis, and he got 17 yards on his first two second-half carries. Then he was stood up, but USC scored a passing touchdown on the next play. Davis then ripped off runs of 7 and 43 yards, followed by a 30-yard catch, leading to another score. He became just the fifth USC back since Heisman to post a 1,000-yard season. It’s almost like he should be carrying the ball more.
LOOSE BALL: USC got five turnovers, with three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Considering they are the biggest reason for the win, they merit a mention in the “Good.” Just a tad. Moore, Sharrod Golightly (who played an outstanding game), Chaz Elder, Hampton and T.J. Holloman each had sticky fingers on a ball that had no desire to get close to an all-white uniform.
ATTAQ: Roland beat his man and caught a slant from Shaw for one score, then snared a sideline route and watched Nickoe Whitley sail past him as if he spied a cowbell without an owner on the sideline. He strolled in for another score. The kid’s awfully, awfully good, easily possessing the most raw talent of any receiver on the roster. It’s just waiting for it all to come together game after game.
YOU DON’T TALK TO WHAMMY LIKE THAT: Lorenzo Ward, the man they call “Whammy,” has certainly received his share of abuse this season from the fan base (or “vats of owl excrement,” in the parlance of the day). His defense has actually played pretty well, despite some glaring breakdowns in fourth quarters and on big plays, and compared to a month ago, this defense is about 200 percent more fundamentally sound. Still, no matter how good a defense is, it needs a few breaks every now and then, and those heavily played into the Gamecocks’ success over the past three years. USC got another one on Saturday, when MSU was driving for a score just before the half. J.T. Surratt nearly separated Dak Prescott’s head from his body, and Prescott tried to dump off a pass and was called for intentional grounding. That knocked the Bulldogs out of field-goal range, and after they somehow chose to run a middle-of-the-field pass with 13 seconds to play, they couldn’t get set to spike the ball and preserve clock for another play. Even a field goal there and the game is much more interesting.
WELCOME BACK: If nothing else, USC showed Arkansas and Missouri what a Homecoming game is supposed to be (credit to Justin King on this one).
MOVE!: Anybody else notice USC’s linebackers? Very active on Saturday, playing their assignments, filling gaps and creating pressure on Prescott. I thought it was the group’s best game to date.
IN IT TO WIN IT (LIKE YZERMAN): USC is still in the SEC East race. The Gamecocks may be playing Clemson over Thanksgiving weekend not knowing if they’ll be playing the next week, but they’re still in it. They just need Missouri to lose and get into that tiebreaker format, or just simply get closer to finishing ahead of the Tigers and Georgia.
NOT A STRANGE CONCEPT: It obviously turned out fine after the adjustments. It happens to everybody. I just thought it weird that Prescott was running through USC’s defense early in the first quarter. He had a 15-yard rush, then a 21-yarder. The Gamecocks practice every day against a rushing quarterback. This can’t be that difficult to grasp.
BUFFET OR VALUE MEAL: Except for one six-play drive, USC either went three-and-out or scored. Still trying to figure that one out.
WASN’T THAT, BUT: So I asked about the squib kick to open the second half. Steve Spurrier corrected me, saying that wasn’t a squib kick, that was a line-drive kick, and Landon Ard just caught it wrong. My question is, what was that? Why is he even trying to kick a line-drive kick, when it’s been proven he can knock one out of the end zone? What was the strategery (love that term) behind it? It seems like USC, especially on special teams, is just coaching itself out of what it knows it can do. The old theory of “Well, this is working. Let’s do something else.”
WHAT?: SEC-leading rusher Davis didn’t touch the ball on the Gamecocks’ first possession. In a 14-7 game on a short field, SEC-leading rusher Davis didn’t touch the ball. In a 17-7 game in the shadow of his goal post, MSU knowing very well that USC was going to run, SEC-leading rusher Davis got two carries and not surprisingly, got stuffed. In a 17-10 game, SEC-leading rusher Davis got one carry – on third-and-9. Again in a 17-10 game, SEC-leading rusher Davis didn’t touch the ball.
In a 17-10 game, SEC-leading rusher Davis carried for 3, 14, zero and then Shaw hit Damiere Byrd for a touchdown.
In a 24-10 game, SEC-leading Davis carried for 7, 43, caught a pass for 30, carried for 2 and then Shaw hit Jerell Adams for a touchdown.
See where this is leading?
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