Mississippi State is coming off back-to-back wins for the first time this season and are finally over .500. They look to get their first win over a top-25 opponent since 2010 and the first over a top-15 opponent since 2008. State travels to #14 South Carolina at Columbia on Saturday.
Who: South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) vs. Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2)
Where: Columbia, South Carolina; Williams-Brice Stadium
When: Saturday, November 2; 11:21, SEC Network (Check Local Listings)
Series Record: USC leads, 8-6. The Last Time: USC; 14-12, 2011 in Starkville
South Carolina has new life today. The ever-evolving SEC East is still ever-evolving. There was no further proof of just how crazy the division is than in the last two weeks culminated by a South Carolina overtime upset in Columbia, Missouri, against the Tigers last week. The Gamecocks came back from 17 down to win the game in overtime and now they're in contention of a trip to the Georgia Dome once again.
Several things have to happen for the Gamecocks but they know that they have to keep winning. That fact makes the ball game even more difficult for MSU to spring the upset. These are the times where underdogs have the opportunity to put the home team in a corner in a trap game, but USC has a lot to play for and that makes it less likely. MSU will need a lot of different things to fall their way.
Let's take a look at my three keys to victory for tonight's game.
Protect the Ball: A lot has been made about the Bulldogs having the least amount of turnovers in the SEC. MSU has turned the ball over just seven times this year with just one of those being a lost fumble. The glaring stat in all of that is that MSU has four turnovers in their three losses making a turnover-free Saturday huge for State to get that upset.
South Carolina has turned the ball over twice as much as the Bulldogs but they have managed to overcome that and win ball games. For MSU, they have to play mistake-free football and that includes penalties in which State had eight of against Kentucky.
Make the Defensive Line a non-factor: This is probably near improbable for the Bulldogs but they have to try. Jadeveon Clowney will get most of the pub for the South Carolina defense, but the fact is it's a stacked group. Leading the way is Kelcy Quarles who's terrorized opposing quarterbacks on the way to a seven-sack season so far, just two less than the entire MSU defense.
Clowney has still had his own solid start with a couple of sacks on the year as well and lots of disruptions despite the media criticism he's received. MSU must keep the play away from these two, a task not easily done with nowhere to escape. The offensive line will have to play its best game of the year and short passes could open that up for them taking the pressure off of the inexperienced blockers. Riding the back of Gabe Jackson is something the Bulldogs will have to do once again.
Play for Four Quarters : For the past few years, MSU has done a pretty decent job in the first half. This season, they've started out games about as well as they ever have. The problem with MSU so far is they haven't put that together for an entire game yet. This is one of those games where they can't afford a lax at any point in the game and playing a solid game for the duration could spell an upset.
The Bulldogs need that strong start to let South Carolina know that they're not going to go down lightly, but they have to keep that momentum the entire game. If MSU can get the game into the fourth quarter I think they have a big chance to hush critics with a strong finish. Players and coaches have worked to make sure that it happens.
Prediction: A big, big opportunity is on the horizon for MSU and Dan Mullen. The Bulldogs have consistently won games that they have been expected to win, but haven't been able to spring the upset on many teams that have been favored to beat the Bulldogs. Mullen and his team believe they are close. Silencing critics and taking MSU to the next level could start today. I just don't think they're ready yet.