STARKVILLE – Saturday will mark just the 15th time that Mississippi State has met South Carolina on the gridiron.
The Bulldogs had success early on in the series that started in 1992 by winning six of the first eight meetings. But South Carolina has had the upper hand of late winning the last six outings dating back to 2000.
Dan Mullen has only faced the Gamecocks once since taking over at MSU losing a 14-12 meeting in Starkville in 2011. Alshon Jeffery leaped over Corey Broomfield for a 4-yard touchdown pass from Connor Shaw with 3:50 remaining to give the Gamecocks the win.
“It’s not a team we’ve gotten to play very often,” Mullen said. “We played right down to the wire here a couple of years ago and gave up a late touchdown pass. We had some opportunities to score and we didn’t.”
Shaw is back at the helm of the South Carolina offense as a senior and led a fourth quarter and double overtime comeback against previously unbeaten Missouri over the weekend. Shaw entered the game late in the third quarter trailing 17-0 and brought the Gamecocks back to improve to 6-2 on the year and 4-2 in Southeastern Conference play.
Shaw has battled through injuries this season to throw for 1,508 yards, 14 touchdowns and only one interception.
“I think he manages the game extremely well,” Mullen said. “A lot of people use that as a negative term. But I view it as he does what he needs to do for his team to win the game.”
South Carolina’s offense also features the SEC’s leading rusher in Mike Davis. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound sophomore has carried 151 times for 930 yards and 10 touchdowns. Davis is averaging 6.2 yards per carry and 116.2 yards a game.
“He can do it all,” Mullen said. “He’s got a lot of speed when he gets out into the open field. He can make you miss but he’s very much a power back. He gets a lot of yards after contact and that to me is where he’s special as a runner. He’s also an extremely affective wide receiver and they use him a lot in the passing game. He’s a guy that they obviously want the ball in his hands.”
The Gamecocks also posses one of the top pass rushers in the nation in sophomore Jadeveon Clowney. The former No. 1 overall high school recruit has 24 tackles, 6.5 for loss, two sacks, seven quarterback hurries and one forced fumble on the year.
“He’s probably the most explosive and quickest guy on the field,” Mullen said. “He’s really fast and long. He’s going to make his plays. I think the one mistake you can make is go into the game and try to take him out of the game. He’s going to find a way to make his plays. We have to make sure that we limit the plays he makes or limit the affects that those plays have on the game.”
The Bulldogs enter the week leading the league with the fewest amount of turnovers. Mississippi State has just six turnovers through seven games this season. Mullen feels that his team has done a solid job of taking care of the football, not forcing the ball into bad situations and not fumbling.
“Personally I don’t like to punt but I hate turning the ball over,” Mullen said. “Our players want the ball but if you don’t take care of the ball then you don’t get to play a whole lot. They are pretty conscious about holding onto that ball.”
Last week Mullen decided to take the redshirts off of true freshmen Jamaal Clayborn and Artimas Samuel. Clayborn took the majority of the reps at right guard while Samuel hauled in a 28-yard pass at tight end in the win over Kentucky.
“They hung in there and did some good things,” Mullen said. “They made a lot of mistakes but they did some good things which was good to see. The stage wasn’t too big for them. They were ready to play and went out there and performed. I didn’t see a lot of nerves on them.”
On the injury front, Mullen stated that quarterback Tyler Russell and wide receivers Brandon Holloway and Jeremey Chappelle would be limited in practice this week but are expected to be available for Saturday’s game.
Mullen did rule out offensive linemen Tobias Smith and Justin Malone, tight ends Brandon Hill and Gus Walley, defensive linemen Torrey Dale and Jordan Washington, safety Jay Hughes and linebacker Ferlando Bohanna for the game.