Mississippi St.-South Carolina Preview
Steve Spurrier believes the best way for South Carolina to build on its dramatic, double-overtime win on the road over a top 5 opponent is to forget it happened.
That won't be too easy considering how the 14th-ranked Gamecocks roared back last weekend.
With its starting quarterback's status uncertain, South Carolina hopes to avoid a letdown when it hosts Mississippi State on Saturday.
Trailing 17-0 entering the fourth quarter, the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) rallied behind banged-up quarterback Connor Shaw for a 27-24 win over then-No. 5 Missouri. The victory kept the Gamecocks' hopes of winning the SEC's Eastern Division alive.
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles said it also brought the team closer together.
Spurrier said that's great - but only if South Carolina puts aside the celebrations and focuses on Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2). Especially with Shaw, 22-5 as the Gamecocks starter, dealing with a virus that caused him to sit out practice until Wednesday after it sidelined him at the start of the Missouri game.
"We know we were very fortunate last week, and we are trying not to harp on it, talk about it," Spurrier said Tuesday. "It's history, it's in the record books and now we have to try to play our best against Mississippi State."
"I still don't think our team," Spurrier continued, "has played as well as we are capable."
Maybe not for an entire game, but the fourth quarter against Missouri wasn't bad.
Shaw entered with 6:36 left in the third period. Playing on a sprained knee injured in the final quarter of a 23-21 loss at Tennessee on Oct. 19, Shaw got the call to play with the Gamecocks down 17-0 and struggling to overcome mistakes with backup Dylan Thompson under center.
Shaw put on a dazzling display with 201 yards and three touchdowns - the last one coming on fourth down in the opening overtime when failure would've meant a Missouri win. He was carried off the field by teammates, celebrating not just the win by South Carolina but boosting its chances of playing for a league title in the Georgia Dome.
"I couldn't go to sleep Saturday night after returning home," said Quarles, the Gamecocks lineman who had two sacks and six tackles against previous undefeated Missouri.
Spurrier, though, said last week's success won't mean anything if the Gamecocks stumble against Mississippi State. The Gamecocks have won seven straight against the Bulldogs and have the chance to win their 15th in a row at home to tie the school record set from 1978-80.
South Carolina last faced Mississippi State in 2011, winning 14-12 on Shaw's TD pass to Alshon Jeffery with 3:50 remaining.
"We know where he's going to be and we've got some things for him," Prescott said. "It's all in the game plan."
South Carolina's SEC title hopes need some outside help: one more league loss by Missouri (the Tigers have four SEC games left including contests with Ole Miss and Texas A&M) and injury-riddled Georgia (the Bulldogs have three games remaining including rivals Florida and Auburn).
The Gamecocks also can't stumble against Mississippi State or Florida in their last two league games, although both are at Williams-Brice Stadium where South Carolina hasn't lost since Oct. 1, 2011.
Spurrier said the Gamecocks' ability to pull out the close wins this season - four of their six victories have come by 10 points or less - have covered some deficiencies on all sides of the ball. The offense is ninth in SEC scoring, while the defense has struggled to maintain large leads. On special teams, the Gamecocks are last in punting and 12th of 14 teams in punt returns.
So there's plenty of work ahead, Spurrier says, and no time to feel good about what happened last week.
"We are fired up that after eight games we are in the hunt for the Eastern Division along with three other teams," he said. "We play them one at a time, play it out and see where we finish up when the year is over."
Mississippi State is coming off last Saturday's 28-22 win over Kentucky. The Bulldogs built a 21-7 lead in the first half, but couldn't secure the game until the Wildcats' last drive fell short at Mississippi State's 29 with 21 seconds left.
Prescott threw for 268 yards and two touchdowns and caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from receiver Jameon Lewis in another impressive all-around performance. It was the second time this season Lewis has had rushing, receiving and passing touchdowns in a game.
"It was a must win," Lewis said. "A winning streak has to start somewhere."
That could be difficult considering the Bulldogs have been outscored 80-29 in two games against ranked foes this season, and have dropped 12 straight to Top 25 teams since beating No. 22 Florida 10-7 in 2010.