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November 4, 2013
South Carolina's 34-16 win over Mississippi State Saturday leaves the Gamecocks one step closer to a potential SEC Championship Game berth. Here are some observations of the good, the bad and the unknown surrounding the weekend.
Opportunistic defense. The defense played out of its mind Saturday, forcing five turnovers to improve on the team's -0.50 turnover margin, which ranked third-worst in the SEC entering the game. A unit that had just six interceptions all season long picked off Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott three times, giving the Gamecock offense a short field to work with, allowing them to convert 20 points off of turnovers.
Skai Moore (six tackles, one interception) and Sharrod Golightly (four tackles, two of them for loss) played their best collegiate games yet, and Victor Hampton was nothing short of outstanding. The junior cornerback lead the team with eight tackles - six of them solo - had three pass breakups and sealed the game with a strip-and-recovery manhandling of Bulldog wide receiver Robert Johnson in the fourth quarter.
Mike Davis. The sophomore tailback touched the ball just 17 times Saturday, but made his opportunities count. Davis rushed for 8.5 yards a carry en route to a 128-yard day and made perhaps the best catch of the game with his 30-yard sideline grab in the third quarter. With his performance, he became the eighth South Carolina running back to go over 1,000 rushing yards in one season and the first SEC tailback to do so this year.
With 1,058 yards this season, Davis now has 136 more yards than the league's second-most productive running back, and he remains the SEC's best back in terms of yards per game with 117.65. Considering former Gamecock tailback Marcus Lattimore rushed for 116.85 yards per game through seven outings his sophomore season, the comparisons of Davis to him aren't egregious anymore.
Shaq Roland Roland caught just two passes all game, but he made them count. The sophomore was South Carolina's leading receiver with two first-quarter touchdown grabs for 57 yards, finally bouncing back after a three-game suspension and a two-game stretch where he caught just one pass for four yards.
Elliott Fry. A week after being named SEC Special Teams Player of the Week, Fry booted field goals of 37 and 44 yards and was perfect in his extra point attempts against Mississippi State. What's more, his leg seems to be getting stronger every week, and he's no longer struggling to get the ball through the uprights on mid- to long-range attempts.
No drive longevity. South Carolina's offense went three-and-out on seven of its 14 possessions Saturday and didn't have a drive of more than five plays until late in the third quarter. The Gamecocks struggled to sustain momentum on offense, went cold for multiple drives at a time and gained just 13 total yards in the second quarter.
It led to Mississippi State topping them in almost every stat category and outpossessing them by nearly seven minutes. While much of that can be attributed to South Carolina's working with a short field for several drives, it wouldn't hurt for the Gamecocks to better sustain their offensive rhythm.
Forgotten tight ends. After South Carolina's tight ends re-emerged last week for six catches and 86 yards, they fell off the map again Saturday, with Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams combining for just two catches and 9 yards.
While one of those two catches resulted in a touchdown - Adam's 4-yard score in the third quarter - the tight ends as a whole were underused for yet another game.
Still room to grow on defense. As much as South Carolina's defense has improved over the course of the season, it didn't learn from its mistakes over the course of the game against Mississippi State. The Bulldogs based much of their offense around the one or two variations of screen passes and dump-offs in the flats, but the Gamecocks consistently left those spaces open on the field.
South Carolina also got fooled multiple times on quarterback-keeper read-option plays, allowing Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott to rush for 78 yards and two touchdowns while containing four other Bulldog rushers to 72 yards combined.
Now what? Saturday didn't do much to clear up the SEC Eastern Division race, aside from eliminating Tennessee and Florida from contention. Georgia put away the Gators in Jacksonville, Fla., last week, but a Bulldog loss at Auburn on Nov. 16 would breathe new life into South Carolina's hopes of reaching the Georgia Dome.
The Gamecocks would still need help from one of Missouri's three remaining SEC opponents. The Tigers go on the road to Kentucky and Ole Miss, but their most probable loss figures to come against permanent cross-division rival Texas A&M during the season finale.
What happened to Roland? Just as quickly as Shaq Roland burst onto the scene Saturday, he slipped back into obscurity. The sophomore was targeted just one more time in the remaining three quarters and never caught another pass. It's still unclear how much he will contribute on a weekly basis.
Can South Carolina put together four quarters of complete football? The Gamecocks have played to their potential on offense and defense simultaneously for just one full game this season, the 52-7 shellacking of the Razorbacks at Arkansas.
South Carolina has shown in spurts how good it can be when the offense and defense gel together, scoring 28 unanswered points against both UCF and Vanderbilt and playing lights out in the fourth quarter and overtime periods against No. 5 Missouri two weekends ago. If South Carolina could play to its potential on both sides of the ball, it would have a puncher's chance against any team in the country.
On Gamecock Central now!
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