Crunch time: Bulldogs tackle tough three-game SEC stretch

Mississippi State defensive back Tolando Cleveland, left, and defensive back Justin Cox celebrate a close victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 12. (AP Photo/Kerry Smith)

Mississippi State defensive back Tolando Cleveland, left, and defensive back Justin Cox celebrate a close victory over Bowling Green on Oct. 12. (AP Photo/Kerry Smith)

By Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Mississippi State begins a three-game gauntlet against ranked opponents this morning.

The Bulldogs are on the road at No. 14 South Carolina at 11:21 a.m.,then head to No. 12 Texas A&M next week and finish the stretch at home against top-ranked Alabama on Nov. 16.

MSU sits a 4-3 overall on the year and 1-2 in conference and are fighting for bowl eligibility entering the month of November.

“Our first seven opponents are 38-18 right now and some of them are ranked too,” said MSU coach Dan Mullen. “I don’t know that this month is any different than the rest of the season when I was looking at that stat the other day. There’s a sense of urgency every single game that we play here when you’re playing that type of schedule. It’s kind of always that way. I don’t know if this is any different than where we’ve been in the first half of the season but I know our guys love that challenge of playing the best teams.”

‘Step it up’

Mullen’s squad has won two straight close games over Bowling Green and Kentucky. The Bulldogs are averaging a school-best 456 yards and 30.1 points per game.

Quarterback Dak Prescott has totaled 1,701 yards of offense and 15 touchdowns this season leading MSU in both rushing and passing.

Jameon Lewis tops the team with 30 catches for 446 yards and four scores and twice this season has recorded a rushing, passing and receiving touchdown in the same outing.

“We know we’ve really got to step it up in the second half of the season,” Lewis said. “We’re just trying to go out there and get a win no matter how we can get it.”

The Bulldogs have dropped six consecutive games to South Carolina but have only met once since 2008. The Gamecocks edged out State 14-12 in Starkville during the 2011 season when Connor Shaw tossed a 4-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffery with 3:50 remaining in the contest.

The two teams have not met in Williams-Brice Stadium since 2007 where the Gamecocks won 38-21.

South Carolina (6-2, 4-2) comes into today’s matchup following a 27-24 double overtime victory at Missouri last week. Shaw, now a senior, sat out most of the first three quarters with a knee injury but entered the game and rallied down 17-0.

Shaw missed practice time early in the week with a virus but returned on Wednesday.

Both MSU and the Gamecocks are surrendering 22.9 points per game to their opponents.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com