No. 15 South Carolina 14, Mississippi St. 12

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen still believes he has a good

football team, even though the reality of a 0-4 Southeastern

Conference record was a stinging blow to the Bulldogs after a 14-12

loss to No. 15 South Carolina on Saturday.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw lofted a 4-yard touchdown

pass to Alshon Jeffery, who stretched his 6-foot-4 frame over two

Mississippi State defenders for the game-winning touchdown with

3:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.

When the three players jumped for the ball, Jeffery was simply

the tallest and best athlete, plucking the ball from the sky with

3:50 remaining to lead South Carolina (6-1, 4-1 SEC) to the

win.

It was a bitter ending after it looked as if Mississippi State

(3-4, 0-4) might be able to pull off the upset. The Bulldogs never

trailed until Jeffery’s catch.

”We’re not that far off from where we want to be,” Mississippi

State coach Dan Mullen said. ”That final step is a tough

one.”

In his third career start, Shaw struggled for much of the

afternoon. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 155 yards, one

touchdown and two interceptions. He also rushed for 28 yards on 16

carries.

South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore came into the game averaging

an SEC-best 129.8 rushing yards per game, but managed only 39 yards

and a touchdown against the hard-hitting Bulldogs. He left the game

in the fourth quarter with an apparent leg injury that could make

the Gamecocks’ victory a lot less sweet.

Spurrier said he was told Lattimore’s injury is a sprained knee,

though a full evaluation hadn’t been done.

Mississippi State was driving late in the game, but Tyler

Russell’s pass was intercepted by D.J. Swearinger with 1:45

remaining. From that point, the Gamecocks were able to run out the

clock, and Shaw ran out the back of the end zone on the final play

for a Mississippi State safety.

”We needed to make one more play,” Mullen said. ”When you

play top-15 teams you’ve got to make a lot of plays. They made one

more play than we did.”

The low scoring was caused by a mix of dominating defense and

missed opportunities on offense.

South Carolina and Mississippi State started inexperienced

quarterbacks, and it showed for much of the afternoon.

The Gamecocks played their first game without senior Stephen

Garcia, whose suspension-riddled career ended abruptly after

Spurrier dismissed him from the team earlier in the week. Shaw

replaced Garcia last week before the dismissal, throwing four

touchdowns against Kentucky in a dominating win.

Mississippi State’s defense proved a much more difficult

challenge. The Bulldogs were especially good along the defensive

line, with Fletcher Cox making four tackles for a loss, including

two sacks.

The Gamecocks had chances to score in the first half, but Shaw

threw two interceptions, including one that was caught in the end

zone by Johnthan Banks and another that was caught right at the

goal line by Nickoe Whitley.

But Shaw came up big when it mattered, throwing the ball where

only Jeffery could catch it. The Gamecocks’ leading receiver had

been quiet up until that point and finished with five catches for

24 yards.

Jeffery’s catch came on a rare third down conversion. The

Gamecocks were just 2 of 14 before Jeffery’s touchdown catch

quieted the crowd at Davis Wade Stadium.

”We kept trying to run for those third downs,” Spurrier said.

”I guess we should have been passing on them.”

South Carolina has won six straight against the Bulldogs.

Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen falls to 2-11 against ranked

teams in his three-year tenure.

MSU’s Russell earned his first start at quarterback, replacing

struggling senior Chris Relf. The sophomore threw a 19-yard

touchdown to Chris Smith late in the first quarter to give the

Bulldogs a 7-0 lead. He had some good moments, but struggled with

his accuracy against a swarming South Carolina defense, completing

11 of 29 passes for 165 yards, one touchdown and two

interceptions.

He led the Bulldogs down the field late in the fourth quarter,

but his pass was picked off by Swearinger, a safety who flew across

the field. Swearinger led South Carolina with 12 tackles.

Mississippi State outgained South Carolina 296-289. Vick Ballard

rushed for 67 yards on 20 carries. LaDarius Perkins added 46

rushing yards on nine carries.

”I did not play well enough today,” Russell said. ”Sometimes

I made the play and sometimes I did not.”

Follow David Brandt at: twitter.com/davidbrandtAP