STARKVILLE, Miss. - After searching for recent games, it seems the Mississippi State Bulldogs (3-3, 0-3 SEC) found their much sought-after "spark" in the second half of last Saturday's outing at UAB.
Now, the Bulldogs look to turn that momentum into a two-game winning streak and collect their first SEC win of the season when the South Carolina Gamecocks (5-1, 3-1 SEC) come into town Saturday. This weekend's matchup makrs the 14th time these two teams have played, a series that began when South Carolina joined the Southeastern Conference in 1992.
Kickoff is slated for 11:21 a.m., and the game will be televised on the SEC Network. Fans can also tune into the MSU Radio Network and satellite radio via Sirius Radio (Channel 220) and XM Radio (Channel 199). Maroon to the Max will also provide live audio streaming of this week's game.
Dan Mullen was able to shock the stagnant Mississippi State offense back to life in the second half of State's victory against UAB last Saturday and hopes to keep it rolling into this week. Mullen made the change of inserting sophomore quarterback Tyler Russell to start the second half, and he responded by completing 11 of his 13 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns, including a 57-yard scoring strike to junior receiver Chad Bumphis. Russell's three scores through the air Saturday brought his total up to nine touchdowns for his young career.
Senior running back Vick Ballard also created his own spark as he rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries, going over the century mark for the first time since the second game of the year against Auburn (135 yards on 21 carries). Ballard upped his total to 531 rushing yards, ranking fifth among running backs in the SEC.
Junior Fletcher Cox continues his return to dominance for the Bulldog's defense following his solid performance against the Blazers. Cox, who was named the SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, was credited with a career-high seven tackles and five quarterback hurries. The Yazoo City, Miss., native has posted 23 total tackles for the season and is leading a poignant MSU defense that has not allowed a touchdown in the last six quarters, a total of 20 opponent possessions.
South Carolina, the SEC East leader, comes into Saturday's matchup at Scott Field fresh off a 54-3 victory against divisional foe Kentucky, its biggest margin of victory in a SEC game. The Gamecocks amassed 639 yards, their highest total since coach Steve Spurrier took over the team in 2005.
The Gamecocks' offense is led by two of the shining sophomores in the SEC, quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Marcus Lattimore. Shaw, who was named starter by Spurrier for last week's game, threw for 311 yards and four touchdowns to ignite an offensive explosion against the Kentucky defense.
Lattimore, an All-SEC selection, ran for 102 yards, going over 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season. Combined, the two rising stars accounted for 469 of the Gamecock's 639 total yards in the victory.
On the defensive side, South Carolina is led by defensive end Melvin Ingram, who has racked up his fair share of accolades throughout the first half of the 2011 campaign. To go along with 27 tackles and an SEC-leading 5 1/2 sacks, he has also scored three touchdowns this season, two coming on defense and one off of a fake punt. Ingram has been awarded an SEC Player of the Week honor three times this year and was given the National Defensive Player of the Week award for his performance against the Georgia Bulldogs on Sept. 10.
The last time the Bulldogs and Gamecocks met, South Carolina stole the show late in the third quarter when defensive star Eric Norwood blocked a Blake McAdam's punt to swing the momentum. After the block, the Gamecocks scored 21 unanswered points to secure the win and end Mississippi State's upset bid. The Dogs were able to play it close, trailing only 17-14 at the half.
Following Saturday's outing, MSU is off for a week before returning to the road at Kentucky on Oct. 29.