Keys To Victory Against Mississippi State

The long wait is finally over. Kickoff to the 2006 football season is upon us, and much like the beginning of the 2005 campaign, the South Carolina Gamecocks will begin the season featured in the national spotlight.

This evening college football fans all around the country will be tuned to see the season opening showdown between South Carolina and Mississippi State, and as is typically the case in SEC play, a few key factors could ultimately determine which side emerges victorious.

I. Offensive Line Play

Expectations are high for the Gamecock offense entering into the second year of the Steve Spurrier era, and while South Carolina will field a plethora of talented skill players in 2006, the real key to the Gamecock offense will begin and end with the offensive line's ability to hold their own in the trenches. That has never been more true than in the season opening match up with Mississippi State, as the Bulldog defense features one of the better defensive fronts in America.

The Gamecocks had a relatively short rotation of experienced offensive linemen to begin with this season, but the recent suspension of starting right guard James Thompson only complicates matters. In order for the Cock N' Fire offense to flourish in Starkville, the offensive line must do a decent job in both run and pass blocking, which would allow the Gamecocks to play to their strengths and get the ball in their playmaker's hands. However, if the Gamecocks struggle to contain the talented Mississippi State defensive front and cannot utilize their strengths on offense, then the Bulldogs will find themselves in prime position to escape with a landmark victory.

II. Fluster Henig

While much will be made about the South Carolina offense going head to head with the Mississippi State defense, which essentially pits strength versus strength, the opposite side of the ball will play an equally as important role in this evening's contest. Sophomore quarterback Michael Henig is entering into his second year in Coach Sylvester Croom's offense, and he has reportedly matured both on and off the field this offseason. After being thrown into the fires of SEC play toward the end of 2005, Henig is now the leader of the Bulldog offense, and as he goes, so goes Mississippi State's hopes of an improved offense this season.

The young South Carolina defense will apply pressure in a variety of ways in an attempt to rattle Henig early and often, and it is essential that the Gamecocks do not allow the hungry Bulldog offense to taste success and gain any sense of extended momentum throughout the course of the game.

III. Win The Turnover Battle

History has proven that early season match ups often feature sloppy play and mistake-prone football, but the team that manages to win the turnover battle generally is in a good position to be successful. With tonight's match up being the first game of the season for both South Carolina and Mississippi State, it is likely that both teams will make their share of mistakes. However, in a game that could come down to a few bounces of the ball, whichever team holds onto the football better will likely hold the upper hand.

Tomorrow will grade the Gamecocks performance in these three keys to victory.

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