[Premium site article] Gene's Page premium site writer Aaron Sones analyzes South Carolina. He writes about who is hot and who is not for USC. He also talks about what he believes are the key matchups in the game.

A national TV audience will tune in to ESPN Thursday night to watch a battle of top-25 teams with veteran, successful coaches at the helm. Anytime Holtz and Sherrill face one another, the game will grab some attention. This year will be no different. Not only are both teams looking to compete for a division crown, both teams are legitimate contenders. And throw in the scenario of the past few days, Thursday night's game will be a showcase event. Many viewers across the country who normally wouldn't care about MSU-South Carolina will tune in just to watch something they once took for granted: College football. There will be plenty enough on the line in Starkville, but throw in the other intangibles, and it is a chance for State to impress the nation. Not that all of this matters in the grand scope of things, but it will be nice to play again, won't it?

USC will run a lot of sets out of the shot-gun and spread formations. They might resemble, in looks alone, the Memphis offense. Expect a lot of draws, sprint draws and short passes out of a spread offense. QB Phil Petty is a veteran quarterback who seldom loses the game for his team. Passing game can be successful if they can balance it with the run. I don't think USC can run on State's defense. MSU will have to avoid the big plays that killed them against this team last year.

Basic Formation: Multiple (spread, shot-gun)

Who's Hot: Phil Petty. Was 19-29 for 193 yards and a game-winning touchdown strike at Georgia. Has not thrown an interception this season.

Who's Not: The South Carolina running game (2.8 yards per rush against two average defenses).

Key Stat: Gamecocks are 16-30 (53 %) on third down conversions.

Key Match-up: MSU corners vs. USC's talented receivers. Bulldog D will probably contain Carolina's ground attack, forcing Petty to throw.

Phil Petty (6-3, 210) provides senior leadership...doesn't lose games for his team...was hurt last year vs. MSU...has not thrown an interception this year...has thrown for 413 yards and 2 touchdowns in two games. Derek Watson (6-1, 210) will get most of the carries...supposed to be a premier back in the conference, but off to a slow start (21-84 yards, 1 TD)...will see most of his carries out of shot-gun formation.

Look Out For: A safety. I have a hunch that State will pin Carolina deep at some point and sack Petty in the end zone.

Key Match-up: Watson versus Bulldog defense. If things go right for MSU, Watson won't break 50 yards.

Eight receivers have caught passes in two games...very athletic group...tall and fast...Brian Scott might be the best one (6-3, 214)... Carlos Spikes and Corey Alexander bring talent to the flanker spot...probably won't hurt you in the short game, but could beat you deep...tight ends are basically non-existent in USC's gameplan.

Look Out For: Carolina will throw short all night, and then try to go deep at some point to catch State off guard.

Key Match-up: Korey Banks versus Brian Scott.

Very big... Each starter weighs at least 300 pounds, but none weigh over 305...tackle Melvin Page and guard Cedrick Williams are preseason all-SEC picks...tackle Travelle Wharton was freshman All-America in 2000...gave up three sacks in two games...hasn't produced much on the ground.

Look Out For: Pressure on Petty will be a big factor. If State can rattle him, he could make mistakes. Keep in mind MSU roughed him up last year.

Key Match-up: Right tackle Melvin Page will have to deal with MSU's Conner Stephens and Mario Haggan.

The Carolina defense carries the team. It's hard to find a weakness on this side of the ball. The Gamecocks held Georgia to 9 points. They run a 3-5-3, and are very good against the run. USC has allowed just 3.1 yards per rush through the first two games. They have allowed opponents to complete 39-67 passes, but have forced three interceptions. Expect Carolina to gang up inside the box to stop the run and force Madkin to pass. State must complete passes to keep pressure off of the running game.

Basic Formation: 3-5-3

Who's Hot: Linebacker Kalimba Edwards (6-6, 260) has 17 tackles, three stops for a loss and a sack through two games.

Who's Not: Everyone is pretty solid.

Key Stat: Carolina has allowed just two touchdowns through two games, one passing and one rushing.

Key Match-up: The Carolina linebackers versus MSU's running attack.

Big and athletic...NG Langston Moore (6-2, 300) stands out...will give up about 30 pounds per man versus the State front.

Look Out For: State to try to run right up the gut .

Key Match-up: MSU center Tommy Watson vs. Moore.

Strength of the team...very athletic and tough to run against...potential All-Americans are Kalimba Edwards and Rashad Faison.

Look Out For: MSU will try to throw the ball in the flat and get around them. Not sure that they can.

Key Match-up: Dicenzo and Dontae versus this group.

One of the best in the conference...Very physical...Will line up and play bump-and-run coverage unless you can loosen them up. Although it is a very good group, I think Madkin can surprise them and open things up for the running game.

Look Out For: Madkin to go deep. State will try to loosen things up for the rush, and will try to do it early.

Key Match-up: CB Sheldon Brown versus Terrell Grindle.

Punter Tyler Dean has punted seven times for a 43.7 yard average, a long of 52...Placekicker Daniel Weaver doesn't have a great leg, but he connected on two field goals in the 20-29 yard range versus Boise State...Return teams are average, but have allowed opponents to average 10.4 yards a punt return and 26.4 yards a kick return, both of which aren't good.

Look Out For: State to break one. It might be a play State needs to break it open.

Key Match-up: State's punt return/block units versus Carolina's punt team. Expect the Gamecocks to punt a lot, and as the Bulldogs showed against Memphis, crazy things can happen here.

There will be a lot of questions for State, primarily because of the long lay-off between games. I don't think the defense will lose a step, but it might take a few series for Madkin and company to get things going. The guess here is that it is close throughout. I think that State is too good and too balanced to be beaten in Starkville Thursday night. Carolina might look good early, but expect an improved passing game and a relentless ground game to open the game up after halftime. Look for a safety, a key turnover, and for the Bulldog defense to create a lot of havoc.

Mississippi State 22
South Carolina 10

Aaron Sones is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. Aaron, who is a student at Mississippi State University, works part-time in the MSU Athletic Department. He is also co-host of WFCA FM 108's Gameday show which airs two hours prior to each football game. You can contact him by email at asones8@aol.com.

Gene's Page Top Stories