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November 2, 2013
COLUMBIA, S.C. - Fifteen consecutive wins at home and counting.
Four touchdown passes by Connor Shaw and an aggressive, opportunistic defense that forced five turnovers combined to ignite South Carolina's convincing 34-16 victory over Mississippi State Saturday afternoon in front of a sellout crowd of 82,111 at Williams-Brice Stadium that allowed the Gamecocks to equal the longest home winning streak in school history set from 1978-80 during the George Rogers years.
Following a bye next Saturday, USC will attempt to establish a new school record by winning its 16th straight home win when it faces SEC East rival Florida on Nov. 16 in a game that could have enormous implications in the tight divisional race.
USC is 31-3 in its last 34 home games, and will carry a 4-0 home record this season into the Florida game.
The story of the game was unmistakably the five turnovers committed by Mississippi State that the Gamecocks turned into 20 points, two touchdowns and two field goals. Two of those turnovers occurred in the decisive third quarter when USC turned a fumble and interception into 10 points.
"It was a very good win for our team," Steve Spurrier said. "We didn't squander opportunities, which is about the only really good thing you can say (about the USC offense on Saturday). But we played with zero turnovers, so that's one thing our offense did well, take care of the ball."
Shaw completed 10-of-20 passes for 147 yards and matched his career single-game high for most touchdown passes, while sophomore running back Mike Davis eclipsed the 1,000-yard plateau by rushing for 128 yards on 15 carries for his seventh outing of 100 or more yards this season.
Shaw becomes the second quarterback in school history to reach 50 career touchdown passes and currently trails only Steve Taneyhill (62) on USC's all-time touchdown passes list.
"I don't keep up too much with the career records, but it was good to have four touchdowns (passes) on the day and we were 4-of-4 in the red zone," Shaw said. "I just tried to distribute the ball to our players and they made plays for us today."
Davis becomes the eighth different running back with 1,000 or more rushing yards in a single season, and just the fourth since USC joined the SEC in 1992. He finished the afternoon with 1,058 rushing yards in nine games this season (117.6 yards per game) with at least four games remaining on the schedule.
"I'm so proud of Mike," Shaw said. "He is such a hard-nosed runner and he's very powerful and quick. He plays fast. He played well again today."
Shaq Roland caught a pair of touchdown passes in the first quarter to give him three for the season. Three players had two receptions apiece for USC - Roland (57 yards), Davis (26 yards) and Damiere Byrd (25 yards).
'Shaq Roland had an excellent game," Spurrier said.
USC improved to 7-2 overall, 5-2 in the SEC with its seventh straight victory over Mississippi State, and the Gamecocks now await the result of tonight's Tennessee-Missouri matchup in Columbia, Mo., to see if they'll enter the bye week in first place in the SEC East.
Despite outgaining USC, 385-307, the five turnovers (and minus-5 turnover margin) proved fatal and doomed Mississippi State, which fell to 4-4 overall, 1-3 in SEC, following the first meeting between the Gamecocks and Bulldogs at Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007.
Four of USC's scoring drives took less than two minutes.
The five turnovers (three interceptions, two fumbles), most by Mississippi State in a single game in more than three years, nullified USC's inability to convert third downs (1-for-11), a season-high seven three-and-outs by the Gamecocks' offense or Mississippi State's wide advantage in first downs (23-12) and time of possession (33:46 to 26:14).
USC only ran 54 plays compared to 78 for Mississippi State, but averaged 5.7 yards per play and committed only four penalties. In short, the Gamecocks played close to error-free football.
"Obviously, our offense sputtered. It wasn't a really good day for our offense," Spurrier said. "We need to go back and get a little more physical in practice. It seemed like we were a little too soft and we didn't do much. Fortunately, our defense was there and got some turnovers. We were able to capitalize and score some touchdowns. Mississippi State had a good plan and got the best of our offense today, but it is a team sport."
Turnover margin is the most important statistic in football for a reason.
"It's very disappointing when we get 11 more first downs than they do, a lot better pass completion (percentage), more yards and more plays," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said. "The difference was we turned the ball over five times and the percentage of winning on the road in the SEC when you do that is very low. Give South Carolina credit. They didn't make mistakes and they made the plays."
Shaw improved to 14-0 at home after recording his 23rd win as the starting quarterback for USC, one shy of the school record held by Todd Ellis (24).
Holding a 17-10 halftime lead, a short second-half kickoff gave Mississippi State the ball near midfield, but Chaz Sutton knocked the ball loose from Bulldog QB Dak Prescott, and Sharrod Golightly scooped it up and raced 24 yards to the MSU 23.
Four plays later, Shaw fired a 6-yard touchdown pass to a diving Byrd in the back middle of the end zone, growing USC's lead to 24-10 with just over three minutes elapsed in the third quarter.
USC has 11 takeaways in eight games coming into Saturday's game, but augmented that number by 45 percent and lifted the Gamecocks to a plus-one turnover margin for the season.
"We didn't have a lot of turnovers this season," USC defensive coordinator Lorenzo ward said. "As you get better on defense and guys understand what they are doing, we play faster and when you play faster you can be more physical."
Byrd caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season, while Shaw tied Ellis for second place on USC's all-time list with his 49th career TD pass and his third of the afternoon.
It wasn't long before Shaw zoomed past Ellis. After Davis rumbled 43 yards and immediately followed with a sensational 30-yard reception along the right sideline for one of the best back-to-back sequences by one player in recent memory, Shaw lofted a touchdown pass to tight end Jerell Adams in the left corner of the end zone.
When the play flowed to the right, Adams snuck out the back door and easily caught the scoring pass over the MSU linebacker for his first touchdown reception of the season, making it 31-10.
Mississippi State's ensuing possession lasted just three plays. Promising free safety Chaz Elder registered his first career interception, which set up Elliott Fry's 37-yard field goal with 2:07 left in the third quarter.
USC dominated the third quarter, outgaining Mississippi State, 134-51, in the frame and forcing two turnovers. With the Gamecocks comfortably ahead, 34-10, the fourth quarter consisted mainly of second- and third-teamers showing what they could do.
Mississippi State grabbed an early lead six minutes into the contest, but USC responded with 17 straight points in 10 minutes and never trailed thereafter.
Spurrier quickly brought out the Wildcat with Pharoh Cooper on USC's initial possession, but it couldn't prevent a three-and-out.
Mississippi State took over at its 40 after a short punt by Tyler Hull and drove 60 yards in nine plays for the contest's first touchdown on a keeper by Prescott, who was 3-for-3 throwing on the drive.
Handing the ball to Davis paid dividends as USC quickly responded with a five-play, 71-yard touchdown drive. Two rushes by Davis for 32 yards, on a 23-yarder, and a pass to Byrd set the stage for Shaw's 14-yard missile to Roland to even the score at 7-7 with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
After Golightly made his third nice defensive play of the early going, Jadeveon Clowney batted down Prescott's third down pass on MSU's second possession to force a punt.
Mississippi State's third possession ended when freshman linebacker Skai Moore dove to intercept a tipped pass at the SC 46.
Shaw was sacked for a loss of 13 yards on first down, but a screen to Carson gained 24 yards and a first down to the MSU 43.
Moments later, Shaw hit Roland on the right side and the sophomore receiver spun away from an airborne MSU defender and raced into the end zone from 43 yards out for the go-ahead touchdown, giving USC a 14-7 lead with 6:23 left in the first quarter.
His pair of scoring passes in the first quarter gave Shaw 48 in his career, catapulted him past Stephen Garcia on USC's all-time touchdown passing list and moving him to within one of Ellis.
Three minutes into the second quarter, T.J. Holloman grabbed a tipped pass from Prescott (ball was illegally touched by the MSU center) for his second interception of the season.
However, USC lost two yards on three snaps until Fry trotted onto the field and boomed a career-long 44-yard field goal through the uprights with 11:25 left in the second quarter, increasing USC's lead to 17-7.
When USC went three-and-out inside its 10-yard line, MSU took over at its 47, the third time in the first half the Bulldogs started beyond the 40.
The Bulldogs drove as far as the SC 21 when they decided not to gamble on fourth-and-1. Freshman Evan Sobiesk kicked a 38-yard field goal to trim USC's lead to 17-10 with 4:15 left in the second quarter.
USC's third consecutive three-and-out handed Mississippi State the ball at its 16-yard line with 58 seconds left in the second quarter, and the Bulldogs drove to the SC 30 when a sack lost 11 yards. Prescott was also flagged for intentional grounding.
Inexplicably, MSU completed a sideways pass inbounds short of the first down marker with only seconds remaining and, with confusion reigning on the sidelines, the clock expired before the Bulldogs could run another play from the SC 34.
USC gained just 13 yards in a lackluster second quarter and concluded the half facing a 196-147 deficit in total yardage. Shaw was 6-of-15 passing for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Davis had 46 yards on seven carries, moving him to with 24 yards of the magical 1,000 yard mark.
Mississippi State doubled the number of USC's first downs (12-6) and controlled the ball for nearly 19 minutes as USC failed to convert a single third-down opportunity, going 0-for-6.
However, with the two interceptions proving the difference, USC led, 17-10. The only scoring in the second quarter were the field goals by Fry and Sobiesk.
1Q - MSU, Prescott 1-yard run (Xpt good), 8:46 (0-7)
1Q - USC, Roland 14-yard pass from Shaw (Xpt good), 6:23 (7-7)
1Q - USC, Roland 43-yard pass from Shaw (Xpt good), 1:20 (14-7)
2Q - USC, Fry 43-yard field goal, 11:25 (17-7)
2Q - MSU, Sobiesk 38-yard field goal, 4:15 (17-10)
3Q - SC, Byrd 6-yard pass from Shaw (Xpt good), 12:54 (24-10) (24-10)
3Q - SC, Adams 4-yard pass from Shaw (Xpt good), 7:52 (31-10)
3Q - SC, Fry 37-yard field goal, 2:07 (34-10)
4Q - MSU, Prescott 11-yard run (2-point failed), 5:38 (34-16).
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