Triple C: Carolina Celebrations and Concerns
South Carolina found itself in a shootout with Mississippi State on Saturday night in Columbia. The final score far exceeded the over/under line of 46.5 with the Gamecocks coming out on top, 37-30. The Gamecocks won with balance by establishing the run for the first time this season. As with any win, there are moments to celebrate and moments of concern. Here are the top five observations.
1. The Rattler and Legette Show Continues
Spencer Rattler was nothing short of spectacular against the Bulldogs. He finished 18-20 (90%) for 288 yards and three touchdowns. Rattler added 43 yards on eight carries, as well. One of Rattler’s two incompletions was a drop by a wide open tight end and the other was a questionable non-call for defensive pass interference. He threw the ball downfield, averaging over 14 yards per completion. Two of his touchdown throws were for 76 and 75 yards. Needless to say, Rattler pushed the ball down the field. In the first three games of the season, the Gamecocks needed Rattler to pass in order to get anything going offensively. The weight of the offense was on his shoulders. However, this week he was aided by a run game. More on that later.
On the receiving end of five of Rattler’s passes was Xavier Legette. The SEC’s leading receiver had 189 yards receiving for two touchdowns. Legette is a matchup nightmare and the question marks within the Mississippi State secondary were exposed by him on Saturday night. The Mullins, SC product said in his post-game press conference that he caught the ball and “saw straight green grass,” when asked about one of his long touchdown catches. At 6-3 and 227 pounds, Legette’s size and speed make him extremely difficult to match up with one on one. Additionally, he possesses superb ball skills and can elevate to pluck passes out of the air. Of course, when the quarterback is completing 90% of his passes, Legette is hit in stride more times than not. The combination of Legette and Rattler is one-half of the Gamecock’s balanced winning formula.
2. Super Mario
The Gamecocks rushing attack entered the game against Mississippi State 128th out of 130 teams in Division I. However, this matchup was an opportunity for a breakthrough and it happened in a big way. The Gamecocks found balance on offense by rushing for 144 yards. 88 of those yards were gained by transfer Mario Anderson. As the season has progressed, Anderson has gotten more and more carries off the bench. On Saturday night he got the ball 26 times. The coaching staff shows more trust in Anderson with each passing week. He has a bit of a “pinball” running style, bouncing off defenders and continuing to move forward. His low center of gravity also allows him to lean forward and rarely be knocked backward. He showed great vision and burst to get through holes that opened. Anderson made a great case to answer the request of many fans and become RB1 for the Gamecocks.
3. Disruptive Defensive Front
Finally, the defensive line of the Gamecocks brought just enough balance to the defense to aid in the win. South Carolina’s secondary has been a strength of the team (even as it has been impacted by injuries) and the linebackers have shown vast improvement. However, the defensive line has been underwhelming. On Saturday night in Williams-Brice Stadium, Alex “Boogie” Huntley and TJ Sanders led the Gamecocks defensive line to make a massive impact on the game. Graduate Jordan Strachan also made his presence felt from the edge with a sack and three tackles for loss. The Gamecocks defensive line alone deflected five passes, many of which were in big moments. These plays halted drives for Mississippi State and drove momentum for the Gamecocks. Most importantly, the Carolina defense, led by the defensive front, held the SEC’s leading rusher Jo’Quavious “Woody” Marks to only 27 yards rushing. MSU rushed for only 32 total yards.
4. “Too Loose”
Bulldog wide receiver Lideatrick “Tulu” Griffin got his nickname for consistently getting “too loose” amongst opposing defenses when playing ball as a kid. The story was very much the same against the Gamecocks. Bulldog quarterback Will Rogers was 30-48 for a whopping 487 yards, one touchdown, and an interception. Griffin caught over half of those yards. He finished with seven receptions for 256 yards and a touchdown. The Gamecock’s secondary had no answers for Griffin and his fellow pass catchers. Rogers was deadly accurate at times and looked like his old self. Playing from behind for much of the game and lack of a run game allowed Rogers to play in a pass-first offensive game plan that felt more like the air raid system he played in all of his high school and college career up until this year. The success he found against Gamecock defensive backs could be problematic as the Gamecocks face other dynamic passing attacks and star receivers in the future.
5. 38 Seconds
The final 38 seconds of the first half were a brutal sequence for South Carolina that could have led to defeat in this game. First, after scoring a touchdown to reclaim the lead, the Gamecocks went for two instead of kicking the extra point. The conversion failed after a diving Bulldog made an excellent play to deflect a pass destined for the arms of a wide-open Sanders. Punter/holder Kai Kroeger put just a little too much air under the pass, or the try would’ve been successful. With special team minds like, head coach, Shane Beamer and, special teams coordinator, Pete Lembo, Carolina has two-point conversions and fakes called for almost every special teams play. The players know that if the opposing team gives a particular look, then they are to execute a special play. However, the timing of this missed conversion and the fact that it limited the lead to six, was less than ideal.
Following this failure, Mississippi State quickly drove from the 25-yard line (after the kickoff) into field goal range. They trotted out kicker Kyle Ferrie to attempt a 54-yard field goal. He missed it, but an illegal formation penalty on the Gamecocks allowed him to try again from five yards closer. This time, Ferrie made the kick. The halftime score was 20-17 Gamecocks. South Carolina went from what appeared to be a touchdown lead going into halftime to only a field goal lead in a matter of 38 seconds. Those valuable points almost made a difference in the end. The Gamecocks will need to be much more efficient in the final moments of the half next week to find more opportunities to win.
Gamecocks Balanced Win Keeps Winning
Although the Gamecocks came away with a win, this game did not feel like their best performance. The offense continues to improve and find answers. Rattler and Legette are going to be a problem for every team that Carolina faces and Anderson could bring much-needed contributions. However, a few more injuries on defense and a couple of mistakes in clutch moments had negative impacts on the Gamecocks. The positive is that they can continue to learn and improve while also adding a win to their record. The win does not mask the warts but allows the coaches and players to work to improve without sacrificing season goals in the process. Beamer’s teams have proven time and time again that they are constantly improving. The Gamecocks will look to continue that trend as they prepare for a trip to Knoxville next Saturday night.