South Carolina-Mississippi St. Preview
A sluggish offensive effort led to South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia's demotion. His inability to meet agreed-upon guidelines has led to his abrupt dismissal.
One week after replacing Garcia under center, Connor Shaw looks to build on a breakout performance as the 15th-ranked Gamecocks visit Mississippi State on Saturday seeking a sixth consecutive win in the series.
Garcia, who had previously been suspended five times during his career at South Carolina (5-1, 3-1 SEC), was - according to a person familiar with the decision - dismissed from the team Tuesday for failing an alcohol test. The troubled fifth-year senior had agreed to undergo periodic tests for the presence of any alcohol as a condition of his reinstatement.
"We all feel like we've given Stephen numerous opportunities to be a student-athlete here at South Carolina. Obviously, he has chosen not to follow the guidelines of his reinstatement contract," coach Steve Spurrier said in a statement. "We wish him the best."
In addition to his off-the-field concerns, Garcia struggled to get things going over the first five weeks, throwing for an average of 168.8 yards with just four touchdowns and a conference-worst nine interceptions.
After replacing Shaw in the opener, Garcia went on to start the next four games. His poor play, however, opened the door for Shaw to reclaim the No. 1 job last week.
The impressive sophomore certainly didn't disappoint.
The Gamecocks, who compiled a season-low 289 yards during a 16-13 loss to Auburn on Oct. 1, bounced back in tremendous fashion behind Shaw with a 54-3 rout of Kentucky last Saturday.
Shaw completed 26 of 39 passes for 311 yards and four touchdowns as South Carolina recorded 639 yards - its highest total in nearly 10 years.
"I learned a lot from Stephen and from watching Coach Spurrier critique me, Stephen and all the quarterbacks," Shaw said. "They just harped on being patient and when your opportunity is called on to make the most of it."
While Shaw seems to have given the Gamecocks a formidable passing attack, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen remains focused on slowing down sophomore Marcus Lattimore and South Carolina's running game.
"They're a run-football team, power-run football team. They got a top tailback and you seem them run a lot of that spread-option offense," Mullen said. "You gotta stop the run when you play them no matter who's in at quarterback."
Lattimore, who leads the SEC with 779 rushing yards, recorded his eighth career 100-yard game last weekend with 102. He did, however, fail to find the end zone for the first time this season.
The Gamecocks haven't opened 2-0 on the road in conference play since winning their first three in 2006, and they visit Tennessee and No. 10 Arkansas following this contest.
"We don't talk about road games. Every game's a game," Spurrier said. "You just try to play the best you can. I don't think crowd noise will affect us too much. You just pick your foot up and you go."
The Bulldogs (3-3, 0-3) are coming off a 21-3 win over UAB last Saturday. With his team trailing 3-0 at halftime, Mullen turned to sophomore Tyler Russell, who completed 11 of 13 passes for 166 yards and three TDs in place of Chris Relf.
Mullen offered little insight into who would start Saturday.
"Whoever gives us the best chance to win, we'll go play with them," Mullen said.
With its quarterback situation unsettled, Mississippi State will surely look to running back Vick Ballard to carry the load. Ballard, who rushed for 101 yards on 19 attempts against the Blazers, ranks second in the conference with 24 rushing TDs since the beginning of last season - two behind Lattimore's 26.
Ballard and the rest of the Bulldogs' offense will need to be wary of Gamecocks defensive end Melvin Ingram, who is expected to be close to 100 percent after dealing with a foot injury. Ingram leads the SEC with 5 1/2 sacks.
Mississippi State has been held to an average of 12.8 points during its five-game skid versus South Carolina. The teams haven't met since 2007.