Gamecocks to play Shaw ball against Mississippi State

Earlier this week, before South Carolina announced that former starter Stephen Garcia had been dismissed from the team, upheaval at the quarterback position was already the focus of the No. 13 Gamecocks’ date with Mississippi State. Garcia’s departure only amplified the attention.

After five suspensions and subsequent reinstatements, South Carolina officially dismissed Garcia from the team Tuesday. In a statement released by the school, South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman said Garcia failed to meet the requirements set forth prior to his final reinstatement. Multiple outlets reported that Garcia failed a mandated alcohol test, leading to his dismissal.

The Gamecocks seem to have found a suitable replacement for Garcia, who started 34 games in his career and led South Carolina to the SEC Eastern Division championship last season. After Garcia threw nine interceptions in the first five games of 2011, Connor Shaw took over and led the Gamecocks to a 54-3 win over Kentucky last week. In his second career start, he completed 26-of-39 passes for 311 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions and was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week.

The Gamecocks (5-1 overall, 3-1 SEC) have one of the SEC’s most feared running back-receiver duos in sophomore Marcus Lattimore and junior Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore rushes for 129 yards per game, tops in the conference and the sixth-best average in the nation. Jeffery, who at 6-4 and 229 pounds is considered an elite NFL prospect, has 25 receptions for 427 yards and four touchdowns. He had his best game of the season against Kentucky, snagging six receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, the front four, led by senior Melvin Ingram and true freshman Jadeveon Clowney is a strength. The Gamecocks are tied with LSU for the conference lead in sacks with 13.

Mississippi State also turned to a new signal caller last week, when Tyler Russell was inserted at halftime for an ineffective Chris Relf and led the Bulldogs to a 21-3 win over Alabama Birmingham.

It’s been a disappointing first half of the season for the Bulldogs, who began the year in the nation’s top 20 after nine wins in 2010. The offense, which was expected to grow in Mullen’s third year, ranks ninth in the conference in scoring (26.0).

Relf has started the last 19 games for the Bulldogs, but it was Russell who spurred the offense after Mississippi State trailed winless UAB at halftime 3-0. The sophomore completed 11-of-13 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns in the win. Bulldogs coach Dan Mullen declined to name a starter this week.

Regardless who’s at quarterback, senior running back Vick Ballard has been the stalwart, rushing for 531 yards (6.2 average) and five touchdowns. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Relf is the team’s second leading rusher with 230 yards. Junior cornerback Jonathan Banks leads the defense with four interceptions, tying him for the SEC lead. The Bulldogs rank eighth in the SEC in total defense, yielding 349 yards per game.

TV: SEC Network. LINE: South Carolina -2.5

 

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