STARKVILLE, Miss. – Coaches say a team makes its most improvement between the first and second games.
That appears to be true, for Mississippi State at least as the Bulldogs dominated South Carolina from start to finish in claiming a 27-14 victory.
USC coach Will Muschamp believes football is a simplistic game and his team forgot to accomplish one of those simple tasks needed to win.
“We just got physically beat on both lines of scrimmage,” said Muschamp. “We came out in the first half and couldn’t run. We never established anything in the running game. They pinned their ears back and rushed pretty well.”
The Gamecocks allowed Mississippi state 485 yards, of which 290 came on the ground.
That allowed the Bulldogs to control play and come out with what was a relatively easy victory.
Although freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain added a little fire to the USC offense in the second half, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide in Carolina’s favor.
“Defensively we got guys at the point of attack and just didn’t tackle,” said Muschamp. “It’s hard to understand at times. We feel like we’re a decent tackling team at times. Other times we’re not.”
McIlwain did lead the Gamecocks to their first touchdown, an 18-yard pass to freshman running back A.J. Turner. It capped a 12-play, 80 yard drive.
The talented freshman led the Gamecocks on another touchdown drive, this one ending with a three-yard scoring pass to tight end K.C. Crosby with 2:37 remaining.
While it wasn’t enough to secure a USC win, McIlwain may have made his case to become the Gamecocks starting quarterback.
He completed 11 of 17 passes for 126 yards and two scores, while rushing from 17 yards.
“We weren’t doing anything in the first half so we decided to change it in the second half,” Muschamp said of the quarterback switch. “At the end of the day, changing things up is no different than changing things at receiver, running back, tight end or offensive lineman. You’ve need to do something different.”
Things did not go so well for Orth who orchestrated the Gamecocks second half comeback win over Vanderbilt.
He never managed to find a rhythm against the Bulldogs which led to him giving way to McIlwain.
I’m very confident,” said Orth. “I think they brought some different things we weren’t expecting. You’ve got to tip you cap where credit’s due.”
The defense played better in the second half, limiting the Bulldogs to a field goal.
Mississippi State put more emphasis on stopping McIlwain and company following USC’s initial touchdown. It held the Gamecocks to a three and out in their following possession.
The Gamecocks, following a come-from-behind road win over Vanderbilt, entered Davis Wade Stadium hoping to consolidate that victory by besting over the Bulldogs team that suffered a one-point home loss to South Alabama in their opener.
The optimism Carolina had following its win over the Commodores quickly vanished, however. With a rousing crowd encouraging it, Mississippi State stopped the Gamecock offense after three plays following the opening kickoff.
The Gamecocks offense got off to a ragged start for the second straight game as the offensive line struggled to contain the MSSU defensive front, which sacked quarterback Perry Orth twice in the first half.
When the Bulldogs did not get to Orth, they applied enough pressure to keep him on the run.
By the end of the half he had completed nine of 17 passes for 83 yards, but was intercepted once.
USC didn’t have any more luck on the ground in the initial two periods. It was limited to seven yards on 16 carries.
The Mississippi State offense, which opted to start Nick Fitzgerald at quarterback, was also dominate.
Not known as a runner, Fitzgerald picked up 195 yards on 17 carries, while completing 19 of 29 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Thinking it had gotten over its 2015 issue of poor tackling, USC again fell into that trap as the Bulldogs racked up 485 yards with 290 coming on the ground.
Turner was bottled up throughout the game, managing 32 yards on 16 carries. He also suffered a fumble at the USC 14.
He had two receptions for 25 yards, including a touchdown.
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