Originally created 09/24/98

Mississippi State likes dominating Gamecocks



COLUMBIA -- He had no trouble saying it, and he seemed to truly believe it.

South Carolina may be only 1-2, with an embarrassing loss to a team that just recently elevated to Division I-A, but coach Brad Scott believes his Gamecocks are much better than the team that opened 2-1 last fall.

"One thing I told the team is that last year we were 2-1 and I don't think we were as good a team as we are now," Scott said earlier this week. "We need a spark, a surge, something positive to happen. And nobody's going to make it happen for us."

Least of all Mississippi State.

The Gamecocks may be better, but they are teetering frightfully on a 1-3 start with the Bulldogs headed for Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday afternoon (12:30 p.m., Channel 12).

The Bulldogs have had the Gamecocks' number as much as any other team in the Southeastern Conference recently. They have won four of the last five in the series with games following similar patterns.

South Carolina hangs around for a half, then Mississippi State's enormous offensive line wears down its counterpart and the Bulldogs pull away.

Last fall provided just the latest example. South Carolina trailed 21-17 at halftime, but the Bulldogs -- led by second-string quarterback Rob Morgan -- shut out the Gamecocks in the second half at Starkville, Miss., to emerge with a 37-17 victory.

"I don't think we competed hard for four quarters," Scott said. "I don't want to say we gave up -- a coach would never like to admit to that. But we seemed to lose confidence."

A week later, the Gamecocks reached their season's nadir with a 23-6 loss to Auburn in Columbia.

Scott and Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill shrug off theories that the Bulldogs have some kind of upper hand right now.

But Mississippi State has dominated USC more than any other team residing outside the SEC's upper echelon. Scott's record against Tennessee, Florida and Georgia is 1-11. In the rest of his SEC games, the Gamecocks are 12-7-1. Three of those losses have come at the hands of Mississippi State.

"Wow," USC running back Troy Hambrick said. "I didn't realize that. I really don't know why."

It's hard not to point to the Bulldogs' offensive line. A typically ominous bunch enters Williams-Brice on Saturday, one that averages more than 82 pounds per man on USC's defensive line.

The Gamecocks have contributed to the Bulldogs' strength by utilizing their wide-open passing attack. It left the USC defense on the field for dizzying stretches.

"Last year we tried to play such a fast-paced game," Hambrick said. "That's one of the few games that got ugly so quick. I think it'll be more of a 60-minute game this year."

Of course, the Bulldogs have had a number of surprising performances. Morgan made his only career start last year, passing for 107 yards (nearly one-third of his season total) and one of his two career touchdowns. This year, Morgan's the third-stringer, behind a pair of QBs in which Sherrill has shown little confidence.

"We have to pull this one out," Hambrick said. "I don't care how."

Hambrick should have an opportunity to decide that. This game should offer one example of why the Gamecocks have placed more emphasis on the run this season with Hambrick, who rushed for 141 yards last week, as the chief beneficiary.

The better the Gamecocks can run the ball, the more their defense remains on the sidelines. And the better their chances of breaking the Bulldogs' stranglehold.

"If you look at our schedule now, the Mississippi State game would give us a chance to even our record with where we were last year," Scott said. "Then maybe we could pick up from there."