Notebook: Costly win

The good news is that South Carolina defeated Mississippi State 14-12 on Saturday in Starkville to remain in control of its own destiny in the SEC East. The bad news is that it could have lost one of its top players for an extended period of time.

Fifteenth-ranked South Carolina escaped what could have been a devastating blow to the SEC East division championship chances with a come-from-behind 14-12 victory at Mississippi State Saturday. One of Carolina's key players might not have been so lucky.

On what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown drive for the Gamecocks, receiver Bruce Ellington lined up in the Wildcat formation near midfield. Ellington ran for 13 yards and a first down on the play, but one of his blockers was injured on the play. It ended up being Marcus Lattimore, South Carolina's stud running back. Lattimore injured his left knee on the play with 8:50 left in the game and it has been diagnosed as a knee sprain.

"I don't know how bad Marcus is hurt," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "Possibly he could be out for a while."

Lattimore sat on the trainer's table with his mother by his side and teammates circled around him, offering words of encouragement.

"Just keep your head up and pray and everything," Melvin Ingram said of the words to Lattimore. "We're a family. When one of us gets hurt we all hurt."

After watching his team score the touchdown, Lattimore walked towards the locker room in a knee brace.

"We were trying to be as positive," Quarterback Connor Shaw said. "Anytime you have an injury like that it's frustrating. We'll continue to be positive. Everybody knows Marcus is an impact player for this team. It's unfortunate but it's the game of football sometimes."

Lattimore left with the team and is scheduled to have an MRI when the team returns to Columbia. One thing is for certain; if it is as serious as it appeared, expect the worst.

Brandon Wilds, who had five carries for 8 yards – including a six yard run to get the final first down before the touchdown pass – could be the starter unless Kenny Miles is healthy.

"Hopefully his sprained wrist is better in two weeks," Spurrier said of Miles. "It's been bothering him – he can't catch a pass, can't block – so he's been out of commission. If not, Brandon Wilds is ready to go."

Offense gets the job done

How many times has Carolina stayed in a game for 50 minutes only to have the opponent score in the final minutes and not be able to answer? For the second time this season, the offense made the plays on the final drive. After scoring late to defeat Georgia in the second game of the season, the Gamecocks did it again Saturday against MSU. After a Derek Depasquale field goal with 9:50 left to play in the game gave MSU a 10-7 lead, Shaw and the Gamecock offense took over on their 21-yard line. Shaw found Ace Sanders across the middle for 19 yards on the first play. After Shaw scrambled for five yards, Ellington came in and ran for 13 yards on the play that knocked Lattimore out of the game.

Ellington then hit Alshon Jeffery on a quick pass that Jeffery took for eight yards. Wilds rushed for the first down and Shaw scrambled for five yards. Shaw completed a pass to Ellington that was initially ruled an incomplete pass, but was overturned for another first down.

Spurrier took a page out of Auburn's playbook with the line freezing and allowing the defense to run right past. That set up a screen to Justice Cunningham with the whole line out in front. Cunningham took it eight yards to the MSU 11. After Wilds ran for a first down, the MSU defense rose up.

Wilds got nothing on first down and then Ellington was stopped for a short gain. Facing third-and-goal from the four, Shaw looked to his left and saw Jeffery in one-on-one coverage.

"I saw single coverage out there and we try and get the ball to Alshon whenever we can and he made a great play," Shaw said.

Shaw threw the fade to Jeffery, Jeffery hauled it in and the Gamecocks took the lead.

"I just try to make the catch every time no matter the situation," Jeffery said.

The touchdown capped off a 12-play, 79 yard drive that ate 5:59 off the clock.

"To not have played a super game and to have won was good for all of us," Spurrier said. "Our guys hung in there and when we got behind they made the drive. It wasn't a pretty drive, just stuff here and there, a ‘freeze' play where the linemen just stand there and let them rush."

Big-time players make big-time plays

It's been thrown around a lot the first month and a half of the season. The South Carolina defense is a big play defense. The Gamecock defense entered Saturday's game with 22 turnovers in five games. They did it again Saturday, forcing two huge turnovers and coming up big all afternoon to keep the team in the game.

Reginald Bowens recorded the first interception on a batted ball in the second quarter. He returned it 19 yards inside the MSU 15, but Shaw would end up giving the ball back to the Bulldogs on an interception.

The second was the biggest. With MSU making a last-ditch effort to win the game, Tyler Russell threw a fade pass towards the Gamecock sideline. D.J. Swearinger came from across the field, laid out, and made an unbelievable interception that ended the game.

"I had it all the way," Swearinger said. "When it hit my hands, it was mine. I saw them check and it made me alert. I saw him looking that way."

USC Notes

GENERAL NOTES


• With the 14-12 win over Mississippi State, the Gamecocks set a school record with South Carolina's fifth consecutive "true" road win. South Carolina defeated Vanderbilt, Florida and Clemson to wrap up the 2010 season, then won at Georgia earlier this year.

• South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier tallied his 50th win as head coach at South Carolina. He now owns a 50-34 record at the helm of the Gamecocks. Only Rex Enright (64) has won more games as the head coach at South Carolina.

• With the victory, the Gamecocks are now 6-1 for the 2011 season. This win makes the Gamecocks bowl-eligible for the eighth straight year, including every year under Spurrier.

• South Carolina has now won six consecutive games over Mississippi State dating back to a 23-19 win over the Bulldogs in 2000. South Carolina leads the all-time series history 8-6.

OFFENSIVE NOTES

• Sophomore tailback Marcus Lattimore rushed for a four-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He now has 30 career touchdowns and is just three shy of the school record of 33 set by George Rogers (1977-80) and Harold Green (1986-89). He is also tied for third all-time in rushing touchdowns with 27 in his career. That ties him with Brandon Bennett (1991-94) and Andrew Pinnock (1999-02), four behind the school record of 31 held also by Rogers and Green.

• Lattimore became the 15th player in school history to rush for 2,000 or more career yards. Lattimore finished the game with 17 carries for 39 yards. Lattimore for his career has 412 carries for 2,015 yards. He passed Kent Hagood (1981-85) to move into 14th all-time in school history in rushing yards.

• Junior wide receiver Alshon Jeffery's four-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter was his 20th career touchdown reception moving him into sole possession for second place for receiving touchdowns. He is now three shy of the school record 23 set by Sidney Rice (2005-06). Jeffery caught five passes for 24 yards in the game and is now tied for third all-time in school history in receptions with Zola Davis (1995-98) at 164. Jeffery also inched closer to the school record for receiving yards as he moved up to 2,731 career yards, 40 short of the school record 2,781 held by Kenny McKinley (2005-08).

• Sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw was effective in the air as he went 20-for-28 for 155 yards as well as a touchdown.

• Freshman Bruce Ellington was key for the Gamecocks in three different offensive categories as he rushed four carries for 25 yards, completed 2-of-3 passes for 24 yards and caught four passes for 32 yards as a receiver.

DEFENSIVE NOTES

• Junior linebacker Quin Smith made his first career start in Saturday's game.

• Junior free safety D.J. Swearinger finished the afternoon with 12 tackles, a career-high. His previous career-high was nine vs. Alabama on Oct. 9, 2010. Swearinger also had an interception in the fourth quarter, his second consecutive game with an interception and the third of his career. Swearinger had an interception in last week's 54-3 win vs. Kentucky and his first career reception vs. Troy on Nov. 20, 2010.

• Senior spur Antonio Allen also compiled 10 tackles on the afternoon, marking the fourth time in seven games this year that he has recorded 10 or more tackles in a game.

• Senior defensive tackle Travian Robertson set a season-high for tackles in a game with seven. His previous high was six in the season opener vs. East Carolina on Sept. 3, 2011.

SPECIAL TEAMS NOTES

• Senior punter Joey Scribner-Howard had a 60-yard punt in Saturday's game, the longest punt of the season for him. His previous high was 59, twice, at Georgia (Sept. 10, 2011) and vs. Auburn (Oct. 1, 2011). Scribner-Howard had six punts for 230 yards, an average of 38.3.

MSU Notes

• Mississippi State has given up just 50 second-half points this season, lowering its total to only 7.1 points per second half per game.

• The 17 points allowed over the last two games for the Bulldogs is the lowest over a two-game stretch since Sept. 6-13, 2008, when the Maroon and White gave up a combined 13 to Southeastern Louisiana and Auburn.

• State's streak of seven quarters (second half at Georgia, at UAB and first quarter vs. South Carolina) without allowing an offensive touchdown marked the longest such streak since Sept. 11-Oct. 2, 1999, when State went 11-straight quarters without allowing an offense to enter the end zone.

• After entering the game with a SEC-best 129.8 rushing yards per game, South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore was held to 39 yards on 17 carries by Mississippi State's defense, his lowest output of the season.

• Dan Mullen's squad has now rushed for 100-plus yards in 29 of 32 games under the head coach.

• After tying LSU with the league lead in sacks with 13 this season, the Gamecocks sacked Tyler Russell just once.

• The Bulldogs' nine tackles for loss tied a season high (Sept. 10 at Auburn).

• Mississippi State's defense intercepted a pass in its 12th-straight contest, the longest streak since the Bulldogs picked off a pass in 14-straight games from Sept. 4, 1999-Sept. 14, 2000.

• Today's 13th-straight sellout of 55,418 marked the ninth-largest crowd in school history. All three crowds this year have been in the top 15 of all-time largest crowds at Davis Wade Stadium.

POSTGAME NOTES

PLAYER NOTABLES

• Reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week Fletcher Cox had a career-best four tackles for loss, the most by a Bulldog since Chris White had 4.5 at Florida on Oct. 16, 2010.

• Junior cornerback Johnthan Banks' second-quarter interception gave him 12 for his career and moved him into a tie with Derek Pegues (2005-08) and Izell McGill (1994-97) for second most in school history. Banks' five picks this season is second nationally behind David Amerson of North Carolina State (six).

• In four conference games, junior linebacker Cam Lawrence is averaging 10.75 tackles per game (43 total tackles).

• Sophomore safety Nickoe Whitley tied his career high (Oct. 16, 2010 at Florida) with seven total tackles, while pulling in his third interception in his past four games.

• Sophomore quarterback Tyler Russell made his first career start, finishing 11-for-29 for 165 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, while rushing eight times for 18 yards.

• Junior wide receiver Arceto Clark caught four passes or more for the third-consecutive game, the longest such streak in his career.

• Redshirt freshman Malcolm Johnson had a career-best 51 yards on two catches.


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