Head To Head Analysis
South Carolina Offense vs. Mississippi State Defense
The Running Game
The effectiveness of the USC running game will go a long way in determining the outcome of Thursday evening‘s contest. The Gamecocks do not need to rush for 200 yards against the Bulldogs, but they do need to be able to keep the pressure off of the passing game. If a traditional rushing attack does not work early, the Gamecocks could use a variety of short passes rather than handing the ball off to a running back to increase their productivity. The advantage between the MSU defensive line and the USC offensive line goes to the Bulldogs because of a lot of experience mixed with playing ability. However, the Gamecock offensive linemen have worked extremely hard during the off-season and during fall practice to silence their critics. There should be improvement from this unit compared to last year and it should continue every week as they gain more experience.
The Carolina backfield stacks up very well against the linebackers of MSU. The Gamecocks hold an edge in this match-up, but only by a slight margin. The return of Cory Boyd is going to be huge for the Gamecocks because of his versatility and playing style. Mike Davis will continue his progression as a starting running back in the SEC, and Lanard Stafford will make his presence known as a solid lead blocker. The Bulldog linebackers, as a group, have good size to go along with solid speed and good experience. However, Spurrier's ability to find mismatches and weaknesses on an opposing team will be a huge advantage for the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks may struggle to run the ball early in the game, but should see improvement along the way. Expecting a big rushing game would be questionable, but there should be enough of a running game to make Mississippi State respect it, and thus the USC offense should be even more dangerous.
The Passing Attack
While the Gamecocks may struggle in the running game, the passing game should be an advantage for USC. If the line can give Blake Mitchell time, he should be able to execute the offense very effectively. Mississippi State struggled last year defending the short and intermediate passes, so a steady dose of these plays should be expected. Sidney Rice, at 6'4" with great leaping ability, has a big size advantage over all of the MSU secondary and should have another great game. However, if the secondary of MSU places too much of an emphasis on Rice, then that will open the door for the remaining Gamecock receivers. Unlike last year when it was the "Sidney Rice Show," this year should be more balanced with guys like Kenny KcKinley, Jared Cook, Cory Boyd, and Syvelle Newton ready to make opposing defenses pay.
The starters in the secondary for MSU have a lot of talent, but depth may be a concern with safety Demario Bobo out with injury. With two sophomores and two seniors starting in the defensive backfield, there is experience to go around, but none of these players have faced a Steve Spurrier led offense. If they take one play off or have one weakness, Spurrier will find it and exploit it.
Carolina has a big advantage in the passing attack due to the number of quality players at the skill position and the fact that they are heading into their second year of Spurrier‘s system. USC also has a variety of players that present match up problems, and due to Spurrier‘s ability to exploit mismatches, the Gamecocks should be able to move the ball down the field through the air.
South Carolina Defense vs. Mississippi State Offense
Much like South Carolina, the Mississippi State offensive line is considered very young and is a unit to keep a close eye on. Left tackle Brian Anderson is a very talented player and will be counted on to have a good game. However, with a redshirt freshman and two sophomores, experience on the rest of the line is an issue. The Bulldogs are also facing the task of replacing star running back Jerious Norwood. They do have a lot of young talent in the backfield, but it is not yet proven.
South Carolina's defensive line is a concern for most Gamecock fans, and while it is largely inexperienced, there is a lot of talent that will benefit from the arrival of defensive line coach Brad Lawing and the scheme of defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. If the defensive front of Carolina can take up some blockers, then the speedy and athletic group of linebackers should be able to fly to the ball. One of these linebackers is JUCO transfer Jasper Brinkley, who had a great spring to go along with a great fall, and all indications are that he is primed to be a key contributor on the Gamecock defense.
Luckily for the Gamecocks, the running game of Mississippi State should take a step back after the loss of a few lineman and Jerious Norwood. If the Gamecocks can stop the running game and force the Bulldogs to throw, then MSU should be in for a long night. It also helps in that the USC defense should not be on the field for long and therefore will not tire as easily due to the Carolina offense being on the field longer. That in turn will wear down the Bulldog defense and potentially allow South Carolina to pick them apart.
The Bulldogs do possess some very good pass catchers in Omarr Conner, tight end Eric Butler, JUCO transfers Ryan Mason and Tony Burks, and Keon Humphres. However, Mason has been injured for the past few weeks and his availability is in question. The USC defense will apply a variety of stunts and blitzing schemes to try and confuse quarterback Michael Henig into making a mistake. Henig should show improvement in his second year in Coach Sylvester Croom‘s West Coast Offense, but he is still a young player who is attempting to learn how to win at this level of competition.
The defensive secondary, much like the rest of the defense, is young but is filled with talent. Fred Bennett has the potential to be one of the better cornerbacks in the SEC, while Carlos Thomas and surprise freshman Captain Munnerlyn give USC some tremendous speed. Chris Hampton looks to continue his steady play from his free safety position, while two true freshmen vie for the top spot at the rover position. Going into the Mississippi State game, Emanuel Cook looks to be the starter, but expect to see Darian Stewart see extensive action throughout the game as well.
The Gamecocks should be able to contain Mississippi State's passing attack, especially if they shut the run down and force the Bulldogs into being one-dimensional. The scheme used by Tyrone Nix and the defense should also force a few errant passes or misreads by Michael Henig, thus look for the Carolina defense to get the better of the Bulldog offense due to the talent and the play-calling of the USC coaches. For such a young defense, this is a blessing to be able to start the season against an offense that has just as many question marks as they do.
Making a prediction on a first game of the season is always difficult, because each team has a new crop of players, new schemes, and many times an entirely different mindset. This game has been hyped up the same way the South Carolina at Vanderbilt game was in 2004, with a lot of people predicting that the experience of Vanderbilt would lead them to an opening game victory. The offense of Mississippi State should not pose a threat, but if their defense comes to play and shuts the Gamecock offense down, then it could get interesting. However, Spurrier wants to record his first win ever in Starkville, and history has shown that the second year for any Steve Spurrier team has been a successful one. If all goes according to plan, the Gamecocks should leave Starkville with something close to a 24-10 victory.
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