Coming in with a record of 3-3 on the season, it goes without saying that this weekends South Carolina game is a key match-up for the Maroon & White. We have discussed the QB contraversey for MSU as well as the dismissal of Stephen Garcia for the Gamecocks, but what are some other key positions besides the QB position for this weekends game? For Whom the Cowbell Tolls takes a look at 5 key matchups to watch this weekend after the jump.
To me the key matchup to watch Saturday is the Mississippi State offensive line versus the talented South Carolina front four. This is an offensive line for State that has been piecemealed and patchworked and placed together after injuries to key players have cause modifications to take place. Alot of State's 2010 success can be directly attributed to the strong O-Line we featured last season, and some of this year's struggle can be attributed to the O-Line unit as well. That being said, the Dogs have played better as the season has progressed and you have to wonder if this young and inexperienced OL is beginning to gel as a group. Young LT Blaine Clausell appears to be getting more comfortable each game, and RS Fr. Dillon Day continues to be solid at the Center position.
On the other side of the ball the Gamecocks feature to of the most dominating pass rushers in the Nation in Jadaveon Clowney and Marcus Ingram. Clowney, the highly recruited freshman, has not disappointing in his rookie campaign wreaking havoc in many a teams backfield so far this year. Ingram is an outstanding athlete for his size as he has displayed already this season with several TD's on the defensive side of the ball.
If the Bulldogs are to have a chance to win come Saturday, they will have to find a way to block the beasts Clowney and Ingram. But if this unit is unable to corral the two stars among the other talented D linemen, then it may be a long day for Chris Relf and Tyler Russell. I look for the Dawgs to have some trouble with the front for South Carolina early but to settle in and use the quick passing game to reduce the impact the garnet and black defenders can have up front.
USC QB vs. MSU DB's
Out with the old (and musty) and in with the new for the Gamecocks. When they hit the field Saturday the Gamecocks will be led by Sophomore starter Connor Shaw. Shaw as you know took over for defunked Senior starter Stephen Garcia several weeks ago and so far Gamecock fans have to be impressed with the results. Shaw three for 300+ yds against Kentucky last Saturday, and seems to be clicking in this offense as its new leader. However, with his youth and inexperience, I think there is an opportunity for State fans and this defense to rattle the young QB. However, if Shaw performs well it could be a long day for the dogs because Lattimore will be waiting as well.
I really think this defensive backfield of Whitley, Banks Broomfield and Mitchell are ready for a GROUP breakout performance. I say that because it seems over the past several seasons we've seen these players have great games individually but less often have solid games as a group. If we're to have a chance Saturday, we need a group effort second to none, because Alshon Jeffery and Ace Saunders are no joke.
Spurrier vs. Mullen
In their first meeting as opposing head coaches, it will be interesting to see the mindgames played back and forth across the field Saturday between Coach Mullen and Coach Spurrier. Although Spurrier gets the tip in the experience field, you have to feel that Mullen will be fueled by this home crowd and the momentum from the win last Saturday. If Mullen truly was calling the plays in the 2nd half of last weeks game, well I sure hope he calls four quarters of plays this week.
Marcus Lattimore vs. MSU LB's
In my opinion Marcus Lattimore is the best RB in the SEC. Okay maybe he's tied with that Richardson guy. In order to have success against the Gamecocks Saturday, the MSU defense is going to have to find ways to shut Lattimore down, something most defenses so far have been unable to do. The defensive line has improved over the course of the first six games led by Fletcher Cox, and the LB's have improved incrementally as well. However, Saturday will be the LB's biggest test thus far as Lattimore is a load to tackle and fast. If State is to have any chance, guys like Brandon Maye, Cameron Lawrence and Matthew Wells are going to have to bring their A game.
MSU Offense vs. 3 and Outs
You laugh, but this has been a battle in itself all season. Last Saturday the announcers pointed out the fact that (before that 2nd half) the Bulldogs were 8 for 33 on 3rd down conversions over their last 3 games. Which really when you stop and think about it, is not that surprising in the way the offense has flowed since the Louisiana Tech game. The South Carolina defense is a tough one, and State is going to have to figure out a way to sustain drives when they can. 3rd down conversions boost convidence and build momentum, both things the Bulldogs need plenty of. Whether they do it behind Chris Relf or Tyler Russell Saturday, here's to hoping the Dogs have put their 3rd down woes behind them
Facing a ranked opponent is never an easy task, especially when that team features players like Lattimore, Ingram, Clowney and Jeffrey. If the Dogs can limit Sophomore QB Connor Shaw and begin to stack the box some, I think we may have a chance. We need our defensive backfield to have a big game Saturday playing on islands so that we don't leave too few in the box for Lattimore to gash us. As for the offense, I think it's Russell's time and I look for him to build off the confidence he started to gain against the Blazers last weekend. No this isn't a Conference USA defense, but Russell has the ability and talent. Let's hope it truly is his time to shine.