David Cloninger

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Mississippi State



Looking at the schedule before the season, many thought South Carolina would be 1-1 going into its first home game. Unknown team, two straight conference games on the road … 1-1 seemed a hopeful or safe bet.

The Gamecocks are 1-1 going into their first home game. Proceed.


It was by design – there were 30 minutes of football left to get 24 points or more, and the first-half approach sure didn’t work, so why not let somebody else (Brandon McIlwain) show what he could do? He has a lot of room to grow, but he still led two scoring drives to make the score respectable (to folks who didn’t watch the game, anyway).

USC’s coaches could have let Perry Orth finish and saved McIlwain for the “surprise” element next week. They could have mailed it in and not shown East Carolina the McIlwain playbook. Instead, they went down swinging and being aggressive.

In a game where your ears are removed without anesthesia in the first quarter, one has to find the little things.


The Gamecocks have allowed three points in the second half this season.


USC’s tight ends are as strong as advertised. Of 20 completions, tight ends caught 12, led by Hayden Hurst’s eight for 68 yards. If the offensive line continues to struggle as it did Saturday, those 8-10-yard routes are going to be vital to USC’s success.

And when the guy catching it can take that first hit and keep going, so much the better. Hurst, K.C. Crosby, Jacob August and Kyle Markway each look like they’re toting 2x6s in their shoulder pads.


There were some good plays. T.J. Holloman’s interception, big third-down catches for the second straight week, seven tackles for loss.

The sparks never got the oxygen or the fuel to become a flame.


Not sure why, with a 24-0 lead and knowing your defense has completely dominated all game, you’d fake a punt on the first series of the second half. Of all the things that can happen there, all but one are bad.

Didn’t end up mattering, but boy, was that a strange call from a guy who’s had his share of strange calls.


Lot of season left. It ain’t over …


A reminder that basketball season starts on Nov. 11. And the USC women’s team, which has lost a grand total of three SEC games over the last three years, starts its season on Nov. 14.



Will Muschamp addressed the problems right away – we can’t block and we can’t tackle, he said.

I like the no-BS approach. Nobody likes knowing it’s true and that generally, not blocking or tackling isn’t the best approach to winning football games.


USC came out throwing and Deebo Samuel tweaked his hamstring on a touchdown route. The Gamecocks couldn’t run the ball and Mississippi State’s defensive front was running nearly unchecked at Orth. What to do?

Put in the read-option. Good plan.

Wrong quarterback.

Orth can’t make big plays with his feet. Defenses know this. So they’re playing with house money when he runs alongside his tailback, preparing to hand off or keep it himself – key on the running back, because odds are if Orth keeps it, he isn’t going far.

A.J. Turner kept getting the ball and wound up with four jerseys’ worth of grass stains for his trouble. The Gamecocks averaged 1.1 yards per rush and didn’t get above 100 yards of total offense until 5:10 remained in the third quarter.

McIlwain is still working on his throws but perhaps running read-option with him would have worked a little better.


USC finally scored and it was 24-6. I’m a product of South Carolina public schools so check my math here, but I believe that’s 18 points difference.

Gamecocks go for two and get it, it’s 16 points, or two possessions from a tie. They kicked the PAT and were down 17.

Didn’t matter in the slightest. At the end of the game.


Fitzgerald started a loss to South Alabama but Damian Williams played the majority of the game. Williams couldn’t throw downfield very well but gave MSU a more dynamic offense.

So naturally Fitzgerald ran for over 100 yards in the first half, fooled USC with play-fakes that made him resemble Criss Angel and will win SEC Offensive Player of the Week.

Like Drew Lock and Greyson Lambert before him, he’s now an afterthought SEC quarterback who became a star after playing the Gamecocks.


First plays, man. Last week it was Cory Helms false-starting on the year’s first snap. This week it was a great play-call and throw to Samuel, who pulled up lame with a bad hammy.

If USC gets the ball first next week, perhaps a quick-kick?


Chris Lammons had a great tackle and was called for holding on the next play. Kelsey Griffin stuffed Brandon Holloway and was called for illegal hands to the face on the next play, which wiped out an interception.

The Gamecocks don’t like prosperity.


Perhaps it wouldn’t have been so one-sided had Mississippi State beat South Alabama last week. The Bulldogs were geeked to play well and took it out on USC.

It also made USC look worse than it played, which was already pretty bad. It wasn’t just the Gamecocks were stomped by an angry, feeling-the-pressure team. It was they were thrashed by a team that lost to South Alabama.


USC was matching superstar receiver Fred Ross with one-on-one coverage, 10 yards off the line.

This didn’t work under Jon Hoke and stunningly, it still doesn’t work.


When one of the best defensive plays of the night came because Rashad Fenton blatantly interfered on a pass to the end zone, you knew it was a bad game. Fact was, though, Fenton knew he was beat so he simply tackled the receiver, figuring an interference flag was better than a touchdown.

If the Gamecocks had done that in 2000, Rod Gardner would be just another guy.


East Carolina is 2-0 and beat NC State Saturday. Kentucky is 0-2 and has played uglier than an orange Edsel for the past six quarters, yet is 3-3 against USC in the last six meetings, and has the game at home.


It’s not really under the “BAD” category, just “REAL.” I mentioned this Sunday – USC had a lot of problems at Vanderbilt but won the game, so everything was OK. At MSU, many more problems surfaced and it was a loss.

The Gamecocks are back to, “They’re just not very good.” That’s the story of the season. The talent is sparse, the issues numerous. The hope was they could make every game like Vanderbilt – hang around in the fourth, find a big play to win.

This is what the other side looks like.



Putting quarterbacks and tailbacks behind USC’s line Saturday night should have been considered a case for Social Services. Mississippi State didn’t draw a deep breath as it ran at will through the Gamecocks’ front.

I have seen a lot of other USC lines physically look a lot less than this one, and play miles better. The line this year looks as big, strong and powerful as any it’s ever had.

And played Saturday like it had one arm and both feet tied behind its back.

The Bulldogs weren’t jailbreak blitzing. Most times they rushed three or four. Yet they still were all over Orth, McIlwain and Turner from every direction.

Last week, USC pass-blocked well (zero sacks) and didn’t run-block. Vanderbilt’s defense opened enough so the Gamecocks could get the ball moving and score a few.

This week, it took three plays to give up the first sack of the season. Then Blake Camper, who was replacing Donell Stanley, went down. The supposed strength of the team has been exposed, and now it’s starting to get thin in depth.

No matter what Kurt Roper and Muschamp try to do, or who takes the snaps or runs the ball, they can’t do anything with nobody in front of them. Muschamp and a lot of us grew up on this league and watched it be won by the teams that control the line of scrimmage.

It’d be easier if there was one player to plug in or some dynamic new style of offense to try. But USC is set with what it has. There are no free agents to be had.

Muschamp put it best, pointing to the only bright spot of Saturday – the future. Recruits are coming.

They’re just not here now.

“We don’t really have a lot of options right now,” he sighed. “But we will have some.”

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