South Carolina Football: Mississippi State Bulldogs preview

This Saturday, South Carolina football head coach Shane Beamer and his squad will look to return to .500 with a win over the Mississippi State Bulldogs. The Gamecocks and Bulldogs are pretty similar teams in both overall roster talent and historical place in the SEC, but South Carolina enters the game (a home contest at Williams-Brice Stadium) as the favorite.

The 2-1 MSU team is led by new head coach Zach Arnett who took over the program after the unexpected passing of former head coach Mike Leach. Arnett drastically changed the offense away from Leach’s air raid system when he brought in former Appalachian State offensive coordinator Kevin Barbay.

The Bulldogs have struggled a bit offensively, especially starting quarterback Will Rogers. Rogers was expected to break the all-time SEC career passing yards record this season (and still may), but the move away from the air raid has been difficult for Rogers. Even with his struggles, however, he has not thrown an interception in 2023.

Barbay’s unit has also converted just 31% of their 3rd downs, a number that has been negatively affected by Rogers’ inconsistencies. Backup Mike Wright, primarily a running threat, could play a bigger role on Saturday if Rogers doesn’t have “it.”

In contrast, South Carolina football has been better on offense than they were for much of last season, but some major struggles on the offensive line have taken what would have been massive growth and turned it into a moderate improvement instead.

Spencer Rattler has been very good despite not having much time to throw the ball, and the Gamecock ground attack has been non-existent. Still, USC is averaging over 400 yards of offense per game for the first time since 2018.

This contest is extremely important for both South Carolina and Mississippi State as both teams still have a very difficult road ahead. The Gamecocks already have two losses (to #17 UNC and #1 UGA), and Shane Beamer’s South Carolina football squad still has to travel to Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Missouri and plays Florida, Kentucky, and Clemson at home. State gets Alabama, Kentucky, and Ole Miss at home and plays road games at Texas A&M, Arkansas, and Auburn.

Shane Beamer’s South Carolina football team is the favorite in the betting market, but the game should be close.

Mississippi State’s strengths match up well against South Carolina’s weaknesses. The Bulldogs have a great running back in Jo’Quavious Marks, while the Gamecocks struggle against the run. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains’ Carolina offense has not run the ball well, and the Bulldogs are stout up front.

However, Mississippi State’s secondary showed some major vulnerabilities against LSU last week (a 41-14 beatdown in which they gave up a 30-34 performance to quarterback Jayden Daniels). To make matters worse for State, starting defensive back Shawn Preston, Jr. will miss the first half after a targeting ejection against LSU. Preston is second on the team with two forced turnovers.

Spencer Rattler and Xavier Legette have been one of the country’s top quarterback-wide receiver combinations in 2023 as they are each in the top-10 nationally in passing yards and receiving yards, respectively. Sophomore O’Mega Blake stepped up to lead the team in receiving against Georgia after Juice Wells left the game with a foot injury. Against the MSU secondary, Legette and Blake could have big days if the Gamecock offensive line can give Rattler time to throw.

Special teams coordinator Pete Lembo and his units were the best in college football in 2022, and they have not been nearly as good so far in 2023. Fans should look for some intentional efforts from the Gamecocks to own the third phase of the game on Saturday.

A sold-out Williams-Brice Stadium crowd could play a major role on Saturday night as Mississippi State has not played a road game yet in 2023. Night games in Columbia are among the best environments in college football, and the Gamecock Faithful will be counted on to make life difficult for Zach Arnett’s team.

The Gamecocks and Bulldogs will kick off at 7:30 on the SECNetwork and ESPN App.