The South Carolina football team (1-2, 0-1 SEC) is looking to get back in the win column with its first home SEC matchup this Saturday against the Mississippi State Bulldogs (2-1, 0-1 SEC).
The two teams last faced off during the 2016 season, when the Bulldogs won 27-14 in Starkville, Miss., but Mississippi State's visit to Columbia will be its first since Steve Spurrier was the Gamecocks' head coach in 2013.
With the matchup, South Carolina will look to bounce back after a loss to No. 1 Georgia, which saw the Gamecocks lead 14-3 at halftime but be shutout in the second half on the way to a 24-14 defeat.
South Carolina opened the week as a 6.5-point favorite, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, but head coach Shane Beamer said that Mississippi State is a team with significant talent across the board that has faced tough competition over the last two seasons, only losing toGeorgia, Alabama, Kentucky and LSU.
However, Beamer said the team needs to be healthy to beat the Bulldogs. The Gamecocks will already be down key players in the matchup, including senior wide receiver Antwane "Juice" Wells Jr., who was ruled out for the game with a foot injury.
Wells was sidelined early in last week's game against Georgia after 32 receiving yards and a touchdown. In his place, Beamer said he plans to get true freshmen wide receivers Nyck Harbor and Tyshawn Russell more playing time.
"Since the beginning of preseason practice, we've practiced more without Juice than we have with Juice, unfortunately," Beamer said. "Certainly we can't ride (fifth-year wide receiver) Xavier Legette until his legs fall off ... We need other guys to step up."
Mississippi State is led by senior quarterback Will Rogers, who completed only 11 of 28 passes for 103 yards and no touchdowns during the Bulldogs' 41-14 loss to No. 12 LSU. Despite the rough play from Rogers, Beamer said that Mississippi State's offense poses a new threat as it moves away from its former air raid identity to a run-heavy scheme.
"(Rogers) is, obviously, highly decorated and has had an amazing career," Beamer said. "(They also have a) big, beautiful looking offensive line (and) the leading rusher in the SEC."
To counter the Bulldogs' rushing attack led by senior running back Jo'Quavious Marks, Beamer and redshirt senior quarterback Spencer Rattler said that the next step for the Gamecocks' offense is to establish its own ground game.
"If we can get (the run game) going and have a good balance, we'll be good," Rattler said. "Right now, we're like a top-ten passing offense in the country. Very explosive offense, but if we can get that run game going, it'll be good, really good."
While they have struggled on the ground, Rattler and South Carolina's offense have excelled through the air. Through three games, Rattler has the third most passing yards in the SEC with an average of 318.0 passing yards per game, and fifth-year wide receiver Xavier Legette has the second most receiving yards in the SEC, averaging 122.3 receiving yards per game. As a team, the Gamecocks are ranked No. 8 nationally in passing offense in the FBS with over 357 air yards per game.
Standing in their way on Saturday is a defense that Beamer says is "veteran." Mississippi State struggled to defend against LSU last week, however, sacrificing 530 total yards of offense, including 367 passing yards, and 41 points for the Tigers.
This game is also homecoming of sorts for sophomore linebacker Stone Blanton, who grew up as a Mississippi State fan. In high school, Blanton originally committed to playing baseball for the Bulldogs before ultimately switching his commitment to South Carolina and focusing on football.
"(Mississippi State was) kind of my childhood dream team," Blanton said. "It's really a surreal moment just to come here and be able to play them, and I'm really looking forward to it."
The Bulldogs and Gamecocks will face off this Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium at 7:30 p.m. as part of USC Family Weekend. The game was announced as a sell-out and will be available to watch on the SEC Network.