Normally an SEC road win would elicit great satisfaction from the USC coaches and players. And they were, indeed, happy to get out of Starkville with their 14-12 win Saturday over Mississippi State. But their emotions were somewhat subdued due to the loss of star running back and team leader Marcus Lattimore to a four quarter knee injury. The early word is that his left knee is severely sprained. An MRI later Saturday or Sunday will tell the whole story.
Even with Lattimore in the game, the USC offense struggled. For the fourth time this season, the Gamecocks failed to score in the opening quarter. They finished with a season low 289 total yards matching the total of the Auburn game. 79 of those yards came on the Gamecocks final real possession when drove for the winning touchdown, a four yard pass from Connor Shaw to Alshon Jeffery. Shaw lofted the ball to Jeffery on the fade to the left side of the end one, and Jeffery leapt over two defenders to make the catch, even with his helmet being pulled off.
Shaw finished 20-28 for 155 yards and one touchdown. He did throw two interceptions including one that wiped out a great scoring chance after the Gamecocks had gotten an interception deep in Mississippi State territory.
Jeffery had 5 catches but for only 24 yards. Seven different receivers caught passes on the day. Bruce Ellington had 4 on a day he filled up the stat sheet. Along with catching passes, Ellington completed 2 of 3 attempts himself for 24 yards and he rushed 4 times for 25 yards.
And Lattimore did lead the Gamecocks in rushing with 39 yards on 17 carries. Both figures are season lows for the Gamecock sophomore.
The Gamecock defense was stout again holding the Bulldogs to just 296 total yards and one touchdown. That’s the third time in the last four games the USC defense has held the opponent under 300 yards. The Gamecocks have allowed just 34 points in their last four games.
The second quarter was the best fifteen minutes for the Gamecocks. Mississippi State, which had taken a 7-0 lead in the first quarter and was finding success running up the middle, had just 19 yards in the quarter. In the meantime, the Gamecocks were able to tie the score going into halftime.
Mississippi State did have some success moving the ball in the second half but could not reach the end zone. The Bulldogs did have a first and goal at the Gamecock four in the fourth quarter but had to settle for a field goal. They missed on two other field goal opportunities.
State had a final drive late in the game with a chance to take the lead. With a first and ten at the USC 32, Tyler Russell lofted a pass down the left hash mark. But Gamecock safety DJ Swearinger, playing on the opposite hash, got a read on it and swooped in for the game sealing interception. The Gamecocks had two picks on the day giving them 14 on the season.
Russell finished with 165 yards passing and Vick Ballard led the Bullies ground attackk with 67 yards.
Swearinger, along with his big interception, was credited unofficially with 12 tackles. Antonio Allen had 10 tackles. Devin Taylor recorded the Gamecocks lone sack.
USC is off this coming weekend. The Gamecocks will return to action the following Saturday at Tennessee in game two of their three game road trip.