STARKVILLE, Miss. - Five key plays from South Carolina's win over Mississippi State.
Bruce Ellington opens up the Wildcat
Maybe it just took until basketball practice began for Bruce Ellington to find his role on the football team. Ellington had his most productive game of the season Saturday. In addition to making a first-down catch on the game-winning drive, he played almost every position on the Gamecocks' first scoring drive. He caught a pass for 18 yards on the first play of the drive, had a Wildcat carry for 3 yards, and on third-and-seven, he pulled up and threw a pass to Marcus Lattimore for a gain of 16 yards. On this drive Ellington was the most dynamic player, but the drive was notable for how it got almost everyone involved. Connor Shaw picked up first downs both passing and rushing, Ellington did it all, Alshon Jeffery, Ace Sanders, and Nick Jones all had passes thrown their way, and Lattimore capped it off with a 4-yard touchdown run. When the Gamecocks mixed up the formations, plays, and who got the ball, they found their rhythm and could move the ball at will. The problem was they only did it twice.
In a game where neither offense can get much of anything going, the winner is usually the team that can force a timely turnover. The Gamecocks appeared to get the timely turnover with a second-quarter interception. Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney pressured Bulldog quarterback Tyler Russell, and Travian Robertson tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage. Reginald Bowens caught the deflection and returned it to the Mississippi State 11. USC went backwards on its first two snaps and faced third-and-14. With both offenses struggling tremendously, the last thing Shaw wanted to do was throw a pick: an incompletion sets up a chip shot field goal for a "commanding" three point lead. But Shaw threw high to Jeffery, who could only get his fingertips on the ball. He would have been better off not even trying. If he doesn't tip the ball, it goes out the back of the end zone for an incompletion. But he did tip the ball, and Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks caught the ricochet to keep the game tied at 7.
Lattimore goes down
On the stat sheet for the game, there is nothing notable about this play. But when the story is written on the 2011 Gamecock football season, this could be the defining play. In the fourth quarter, Ellington took a Wildcat snap and ran right for a first down. Lattimore was a blocker on the play and helped open a hole for Ellington. Unfortunately, Lattimore got rolled up on from behind, and his knee was twisted as he fell. There was no exact word on the extent of the injury immediately after the game, but it did not look good. If Lattimore has to miss extended time, it would be a huge blow to the Gamecocks.
Keep It Simple Stupid
Trailing 10-7 with less than four minutes in the game, South Carolina faced third-and-goal from the Mississippi State 4-yard line. With Lattimore out of the game, is there any question who should get the ball? Don't over think it, don't get fancy or cute, just throw the ball to Alshon. Shaw threw a jump ball to Jeffery, and the All-American did the rest. Jeffery was covered fairly well, and a safety came over at the last minute, but he is an All-American for a reason. Jeffery simply out-jumped the defenders and snatched the ball out of the air, then held on as he fell to the ground and had his helmet ripped off. The catch put the Gamecocks ahead, and set up the defense to seal the win.
(Honorable K.I.S.S. mention goes to the final play of the game: Up four, the Gamecocks had a fourth down with four seconds left. The simple play is to take the snap and run backwards, running off the four seconds before taking a safety. Too many coaches outthink themselves in this situation, but Spurrier kept it simple and had Shaw run out of the back of the end zone.)
Swearinger ices the game
This play doesn't need a lot of analysis. After Jeffery's touchdown, the Bulldogs needed a touchdown of their own. They got across midfield with 1:45 left, and had a good chance. Russell was under pressure all day, but until this point had only made one mistake. His second mistake sealed the Bulldogs' fate. Ingram got into the backfield to pressure Russell. Russell avoided the pressure, but it affected his throw just enough that the pass hung in the air too long. D.J. Swearinger sprinted from the middle of the field to the sideline and made a diving interception to clinch the victory.