KICKOFF: Saturday, noon ET
SITE: Davis Wade Stadium, Starkville, Miss.
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: South Carolina leads 7-6 (last meeting, 2007, South Carolina 38-21)
RECORDS: South Carolina 5-1, 3-1 SEC; Mississippi State 3-3, 0-3 SEC
POLLS: South Carolina (No. 15 AP, No. 13, USA Today)
KEYS TO THE GAME:
-- For South Carolina: Pressure Mississippi State's quarterback, whoever it is. Tyler Russell relieved Chris Relf in the Bulldogs' most recent game. Relf is an excellent scrambler, and the Gamecocks will need to keep him in the pocket while forcing him to make quick decisions in the passing game.
-- For Mississippi State: Allow QB Tyler Russell, if he starts, full reign of the downfield passing game. That should open up things for both the passing and running games. The secondary will have to play its best against QB Connor Shaw.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
Although happy with its passing attack, led by sophomore QB Connor Shaw in a 54-3 win over Kentucky, South Carolina will attempt to re-establish is running game behind sophomore RB Marcus Lattimore. Lattimore is the rushing leader in the SEC with 779 yards and nine touchdowns on 146 carries. He rushed for 102 yards against Kentucky, but did not score a touchdown for the first time this season. He had only 66 yards in the Gamecocks' previous encounter against Auburn. Junior WR Alshon Jeffery remains the receiving leader with 25 catches for 427 yards and four touchdowns.
After a difficult start, USC's defense appears to have hit its stride in the last three-and-a-half games. The Gamecocks put together their best effort against Kentucky, limiting the Wildcats to 96 total offense yards, which included only 17 yards through the air. Its recent success has allowed Carolina to rise to near the top of SEC standings in several categories. It is tied for first in sacks with 13, first in passing yards allowed and second in passing efficiency.
With Tyler Russell at quarterback last week, Mississippi State's offense flourished. Is Chris Relf's time at signal-caller, which has been marked with a one-dimensional approach at times, finished? Don't forget, too, that the Bulldogs have struggled on the offensive front but do have a good tailback in Vick Ballard.
Credit coordinator Chris Wilson and Mississippi State's defense for its recent play. While its offense struggled the last two games, Wilson's unit held Georgia to enough points that the game wasn't out of reach and held UAB to just a field goal, lessening the burden. It is playing its best football of the season.
Gamecocks: South Carolina has dominated the series recently, winning the last five games. Although most of the games have been close, the Gamecocks won the last meeting 38-21. ... The Gamecocks picked up six turnovers in its win over Kentucky, grabbing four interceptions and two fumbles. The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in interceptions with 12. They also have four fumble recoveries. The team ranks first nationally in passing yards allowed at 128.7 and has allowed only 146 on the ground. ... QB Connor Shaw earned the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors following a performance in which he completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns in leading the Gamecocks' offense to a 639-yard day. His touchdown pass total in the game tied the season output of former starter Stephen Garcia. The difference, however, is he has yet to throw an interception while Garcia, dismissed from the team this week over disciplinary issues, had nine picks.
Bulldogs: Mississippi State is getting used to breakfast as its pregame meal. The South Carolina game will be its third straight pre-noon kickoff (Central time) and fourth of the season in just seven games. ... Mississippi State has outscored opponents 58-17 after halftime in its three wins. ,,, The Bulldogs face a South Carolina team ranked 18th in the AP poll and 14th in the USA Today poll. This is the fifth team ranked in the current poll that State will play. ... The Bulldogs played four of their first six games away from home but get four of the final six at home. ... The Bulldogs have topped the 100-yard mark rushing in 28 of 31 games under coach Dan Mullen. They are coming off a 204-yard effort in the win over UAB. ... Senior RB Vic Ballard has amassed 1,499 yards rushing in his career, putting him in 20th place in the Mississippi State record book. He has scored 25 touchdowns in 18 career games. ... Senior OL Quentin Saulsberry has shown his versatility this season. He started at center for the first three games, moved to guard for one, then back to center against Georgia. He was back at guard again in the win over UAB.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Connor Shaw -- A lack of a consistent passing game has been South Carolina's Achilles' heel this season. Following an upset loss to Auburn, USC coach Steve Spurrier opted to make the move and bench fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia in favor of Shaw, who was less than stellar in his only other start, the season opener against East Carolina. He brought his "A" game in USC's 54-3 win over Kentucky, however. If the Gamecocks are going to repeat as Eastern Division Champs, he will have to continue to play well.
DT Kelcy Quarles -- The highly-regarded freshman took time to find his place on the USC defensive front. He has come on strong in recent games and is one of the reasons the Gamecocks have played much better in recent weeks, giving the team another dependable run stopper.
WR Bruce Ellington -- Labeled a big-play performer when he opted to join the team after leading the 2010 USC basketball team in scoring, Ellington displayed that ability against Kentucky when he lined up as quarterback in the squad's wildcat formation. He took the snap and ran 61 yards for a touchdown.
QB Tyler Russell -- If he gets the nod over Chris Relf, Russell's downfield passing attack could be critical against a South Carolina offense that figures to put up plenty of points.
WR Chad Bumphis -- The steady, big-play wide receiver needs to to stand out and make some big plays to help out Tyler Russell, especially early.
CB Johnthan Banks -- He has 11 interceptions in his career. One or two against Connor Shaw could rattle the youngster in front of a loud crowd in Starkville.
LT Kyle Nunn (back, out), RT Rokevious Watkins (concussion, probable), CB Marty Markett (concussion, probable), SS Corey Addison (concussion, probable), RB Kenny Miles (wrist, out), RB Eric Baker (ankle, out).
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