For the second straight week, Will Muschamp's Gamecocks trailed by double digits at halftime after failing to score or even amass 100 yards of offense in the first 30 minutes. Unlike the season opener, South Carolina was unable to recover from the deficit, falling to Mississippi State 27-14.
From the first play from scrimmage, things just didn't go right for the visitors. After conservative play calling in the opener, Muschamp dialed up a deep post to Deebo Samuel, and the ball from Perry Orth was on target; however, the sophomore receiver tweaked his hamstring leaping for the ball, and it fell incomplete.
The Gamecocks were out-played in the first half at Davis Wade Stadium, allowing Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to account for 252 total yards while throwing two touchdowns. Fitzgerald, known as the weaker runner of Mississippi State's two signal-callers, averaged 13.4 yards per carry in the first half, including a 74-yard burst. Even without the big gain, the sophomore averaged 6.7 yards per attempt before the break.
"We just did not tackle very well in the first half," senior linebacker TJ Holloman said. "Second half, we recouped and did a better job, but in order to win a game in the SEC, you have to start fast. That's what we did not do today."
Muschamp stressed the importance of tackling in space throughout his postgame press conference, saying "it's hard to be a really good defensive player if you don't like to tackle."
"You've got to tackle to play defense at South Carolina," he later added. "It's kind of important."
On the other hand, Orth and the Gamecocks couldn't get anything going. Orth went deep on the first play of the game and overshot Deebo Samuel. He went deep twice more in the half, missing Terry Googer down the sideline and underthrowing Bryan Edwards for an interception.
After Edwards' 101-yard performance against Vanderbilt, any fans expected the freshman to be the focal point of the offense, but that wasn't the case. Instead, the tight ends got involved in the passing game, catching seven of Orth's nine first-half completions and 12 of the team's 20 receptions.
"They did a good job when they had the opportunity," senior quarterback Perry Orth said of Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby, who combined for 82 yards and a touchdown.
For a while, only a lightning storm could halt the Bulldog offense. After Mississippi State amassed 324 yards of offense on just 40 plays in the first half, lightning strikes near the stadium caused a delay that lasted over an hour. It didn't spell a comeback for the visitors, but it allowed South Carolina to sure up the defense, allowing just three points in the second half.
When the teams came back out for the second half, the Gamecock defense stood tough for a scoreless third quarter, and Muschamp switched it up on offense by inserting freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain. The early enrollee didn't make much of his first two drives, but he engineered an 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by a toss to AJ Turner on 3rd and 13 just before the end of the third. The momentum was short-lived however, as Fitzgerald drove the Bulldogs into field goal range, where kicker Westin Graves made it 27-7 on a chip shot. On the ensuing drive, McIlwain overthrew three straight passes, and the Gamecocks had to punt with nine minutes to go in the game.
After forcing a punt, the Gamecocks put together a decent effort at a comeback, but they were playing against the clock as well as the Bulldogs. McIlwain strung together four straight completions to get into enemy territory, and then hit Edwards for 24 yards to move the chains on a crucial fourth down. McIlwain capped the drive with another fourth down conversion, hitting K.C. Crosby in the end zone to bring the game to its final margin.
In the end, the stats told the story. Nick Fitzgerald accounted for 373 total yards and two touchdowns, while the Gamecocks managed just 243 yards as a team. South Carolina's true deficiency came in the run game, where the team managed just 34 yards on 31 carries.The Bulldogs also managed four sacks and 11 tackles for loss, while the Gamecocks have yet to record a sack this season.