The Daily Gamecock

Behind Enemy Lines

Five questions with John Galatas, sports editor, The Reflector

1. What did MSU learn from its first SEC win of the season against Kentucky? I’m sure there must be some momentum going into this week’s game at South Carolina after picking up that important first league win.

Following its first SEC win of the year, MSU is continuing to learn how to finish games. The Bulldogs surrendered a last-minute scoring drive to Auburn and gave up 28 points in the fourth quarter to LSU (which LSU only led 31-26 after the third). The Dogs responded with wins over Bowling Green and Kentucky, which needed a last-minute defensive stand. Although the wins were viewed as ugly in the eyes of the fans, it was great to see a pressured MSU defense secure a win. There is always momentum coming off a conference win, and since it was on a Thursday night, the two days extra for rest and preparation will help the team to be ready to go in Columbia.

2. Quarterback Dak Prescott has really stepped up for the Bulldogs this season. Is he doing better than expected or is this where the coaching staff thought he would be halfway through the season? As for senior Tyler Russell, how has he handled having a redshirt sophomore take away a lot of his playing time?

For not being expected to see this amount of playing time, he has beyond exceeded expectations. Throughout the summer, Russell was the expected start, but coaches referred to Prescott as “the other quarterback, not the backup.” After injuries to Russell, Prescott stepped in and proved he knew the system and could run the offense effectively, and fans have responded positively to his performance this year. As for Russell, he has continued to display confidence in Prescott. Russell said he would do anything to help the team win, so his mentality is for Prescott to succeed. Off the field, Russell and Prescott have a very strong relationship, and they continuously coach each other and study film together. They even introduce each other in pre-game introductions on the video board as “we’re your starting quarterbacks.” Fans seem to put a lot of stock into who starts and gets more playing time, but both players have the full confidence of the coaches to get the job done.

3. How much has Jadeveon Clowney been in the conversation around MSU this week? Teams have stayed away from him for the most part this season, so is that what the Bulldogs will likely do and how confident are they that they can stop him?

Clowney has proven himself to be an impact player who teams cannot ignore in preparation. Clowney has not put up the numbers some analysts expected to see, but with added attention on his side of the ball, Clowney opens up space for other linemen to make plays. Prescott said earlier this week, “We know exactly where he’s going to be. We got some things for him, and it’s all in the game plan.”
Another factor in the matchup will be the health of MSU offensive line. The line has been plagued with injuries, and the inexperience is something Clowney can expose. Senior All-American Gabe Jackson said facing Clowney will be “a little different but the same approach.” Clowney is certainly someone you cannot simply stop, but reviewing film and game planning will give them added confidence in containing him.

4. *Jameon Lewis has looked impressive this season, throwing, rushing and passing his way to touchdowns. What does he mean to the team and could Gamecock fans expect to see him throw the ball again against South Carolina?
Jameon Lewis was a quarterback and cornerback at Tylertown High School (Mississippi) when he was recruited by MSU, and the Bulldogs have utilized every bit of his athleticism. Coming into the 2013 season, MSU returned only three receivers (just over 40 combined career receptions). Lewis was someone who was expected to step up and become a top target in the offense, and he has done just that. He’s averaging 15 yards a catch and has four touchdown grabs this year. In special teams, he’s just shy of 300 return yards and averages 122 all-purpose yards a game. I don’t think Gamecock fans will see him throw the ball, but they definitely will see him all over the field Saturday. Whenever and however the ball is in his hands, he can make big plays happen.

5. Is there still a lot of faith in Dan Mullen in and around Starkville? He has taken the team to bowl games and may do it again this year, but are fans wanting more out of the program? Or, are they more on the patient side and understand that it may take awhile to build up the program into a contender?

For years, Mississippi State served as the doormat of the SEC. Then Mullen came along in 2009, and fans saw optimism right away. With highs and lows throughout 2010 and 2011, faith was at an all-time high last season after a 7-0 start. Then the schedule provided Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M, and MSU went on to lose four of its last five games. There is still optimism Mullen can lead this program to a conference title, it just may take a little more time to plug in the right players to fit the offense. Obviously, that is easier said than done when you’re competing in the SEC to recruit. I think there is a little bit more room for patience with Mullen since MSU has only been to one conference title game. Yes, the bowl games are great, but fans are expecting to take bigger steps within the next year or two. *
Prediction: MSU 20, SC 34*

Offensively, I think these teams are about even, but I’ll give the advantage to SC. Both squads can create the big play when needed, but I think the Gamecocks’ running game gives them a better balance to keep the Bulldog defense in check. MSU averages only 6.8 points in the second half this season, and they will need to improve that stat to keep up with SC.
Defensively, the advantage goes to SC. I think the Gamecocks have a little bit more experience and depth to contain the Bulldog offense. Both squads are coincidentally giving up 22.9 points per game each, but I think SC’s quality of opponent is more impressive.
Special teams can be another factor in the game. MSU gave up a safety on a dropped punt last week to let Kentucky hang around, and kicker Devon Bell has made only five of 11 field goals. Elliott Fry has proven to be a more consistent kicker, and if this game comes down to a special teams play, I think SC has the advantage again.


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