With Garcia gone, Shaw the man for Gamecocks
STARKVILLE, Miss. (AP) -- South Carolina was rolling along pretty well until the past week when the dismissal of veteran quarterback Stephen Garcia made unwanted headlines.
Mississippi State would like nothing more than to keep the bad news coming for the Gamecocks.
The Bulldogs (3-3, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) host No. 15 South Carolina (5-1, 3-1) on Saturday at Davis Wade Stadium. It will be South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw's third career start and his first since Garcia's suspension-riddled career ended.
Shaw, a 6-foot-1, 204-pound sophomore from Flowery Branch, Ga., regained the starter's role and led South Carolina to a 54-3 victory over Kentucky. He became the first Gamecocks quarterback to throw for four touchdowns in a game since 2006, but Mississippi State's defense will likely pose a much bigger challenge.
The Bulldogs haven't surrendered a touchdown in the past six quarters and appear to be regaining the elite form that helped the program to a 9-4 record last season. Linebackers Cameron Lawrence and Brandon Wilson both have 50 tackles, which is tied for fifth in the conference.
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said he expects Mississippi State will be confident, despite a 0-3 start in the league. The Bulldogs were ranked as high No. 16 in the country before falling in the past month.
"They still believe they've got a real good team that just hasn't played all that well yet,'' Spurrier said. "So they're going to be tough, they're going to be ready to play.''
Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said there wasn't much of a difference between Shaw and Garcia because both run the same spread option offense. Mullen seemed much more concerned with stopping running back Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffrey, the Gamecocks' powerful receiver who stands 6-foot-4 and 229 pounds.
"He's a big receiver who has tremendous ball skills,'' Mullen said. "He might not have the breakaway speed of other guys, but he just has tremendous size, body control and great hands. The ball gets near him and it's hard to get around him or get to the ball because he's just bigger than you are. He can box you out and go get it.''
Though Mississippi State hopes to slow down the Gamecocks' offense, it's doubtful it will stop them completely. For the Bulldogs to win, their disappointing offense must continue to improve.
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Russell provided some hope in last week's 21-3 victory over Alabama-Birmingham. He started the second half, taking over for ineffective senior Chris Relf and completing 11 of 13 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns.
Mullen has been coy about who will start against South Carolina. He said Relf didn't play poorly against UAB, but the entire offense executed much better with Russell in the second half. Mullen even hinted that third-string quarterback Dylan Favre could see action in the right situation.
South Carolina is preparing for anybody, though the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Relf provides a unique challenge because he's so good at running the football. Russell and Favre are primarily pocket passers.
The Gamecocks are also concerned about MSU running back Vick Ballard, who rebounded from a rough couple weeks to rush for 101 yards on 19 carries against UAB.
"They're definitely going to run the ball with the quarterback and the running back,'' South Carolina safety Antonio Allen said. "They're both great running guys.''
South Carolina played its best football in last week's lopsided win after sometimes struggling during the season's first month. Now the Gamecocks are trying to keep Garcia's dismissal from stopping momentum.
"I think it's always hard when you lose a teammate,'' said defensive assistant coach Ellis Johnson. "These guys have a lot of feelings for Stephen and it's something you wish wouldn't have happened, but I think they've moved on and are trying to focus on what's at hand and go ahead and get ready for Saturday. It doesn't matter how you feel about it, it's not going to change it. They're disappointed about it but I think they've moved on.''
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