Grading The Keys To Victory

In what was a typical display for a season opening match up, the South Carolina Gamecocks and Mississippi State Bulldogs slugged it out in an intense but sloppy display on Thursday evening. As always, a few key factors played into the Gamecocks ability to escape Starkville with a victory.

The following is a look at GamecockAnthem's three keys to victory and how the Gamecocks graded out on Thursday night:

I. Offensive Line Play

The Gamecock offensive line struggled mightily to contain the talented Mississippi State defensive front for much of the first half, but after making a few halftime adjustments, the line returned to be much more competitive in the second half. The Bulldog defense held the Gamecocks to a grand total of 88 yards and three points in the first half, and they were constantly able to wreak havoc in the backfield. However, the Gamecock offense returned in the second half to score a touchdown and two field goals, which proved to be enough to secure a hard earned road victory.

The offensive line surrendered four sacks on the night, and a couple of them came against Gurminder Thind, who was making his first career start at left tackle. The interior of the line also struggled to provide a consistent push throughout the night. However, when taking into account the fact that the line was forced into a last minute makeshift rotation due to the suspension of James Thompson, the less than stellar line play was understandable. Thomas Coleman was moved from starting left guard to starting right guard, while Web Brown was moved from backup center to starting left guard, thus the chemistry along the starting line that had been brewing for much of fall camp was lost.

Overall the offensive line remains a work in progress, but the fact that the line returned and competed in the second half shows the effort and the willingness that this group has to improve. However, with match ups against Georgia and Auburn looming in the near future, improve they must. The pass blocking needs to improve, and the run blocking needs to become more consistent, but after surviving an early season struggle against one of the elite defensive fronts in the SEC, they should reap the benefits of the experience in the coming weeks.

Grade: C

II. Fluster Henig

The South Carolina defense sent a message to Mississippi State starting quarterback Michael Henig early and often. Jasper Brinkley made his presence felt on the defense's first play from scrimmage, as he not only sacked Henig, but provided a bone jarring hit which served as a statement for what was to come. Coach Tyrone Nix called an assortment of blitz schemes throughout the night, and the Gamecock defense appeared to live in the backfield at times. The defense totaled five sacks on the night, but equally as important, they provided consistent pressure and in essence never let the Mississippi State offense find a rhythm.

In fact, the Gamecocks knocked Henig out of the game with an injury at the end of the second quarter, but unfortunately he reportedly has a broken collarbone. Henig's night came to a close after completing only 2-8 passes for 19 yards, and while his backup, Tray Rutland, was able to move the offense a little better, they were never able to put any point on the board.

After losing their top seven tacklers from a year ago and only having one true starter returning on the defensive side of the ball, the Gamecock defense stole the show on Thursday evening with an inspired, gritty performance. The defensive pressure forced two interceptions and countless other miscues on the night, and while this was only one game, the Gamecocks showed signs of potentially being a very good defensive team. If the young defense can continue to progress throughout the course of the year under Tyrone Nix's guidance, then what was thought to be a liability could very well turn into a strength in 2006.

Grade: A+

III. Win The Turnover Battle

After Blake Mitchell threw an interception on the first play from scrimmage, the South Carolina offense protected the ball for the remainder of the night. On the other hand, Mississippi State had two interceptions and two more failed fourth down conversion attempts. In a game that proved to be a defensive struggle, the Gamecocks ability to hold onto the football played an important role in South Carolina's victory in Starkville.

Grade: A-

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