Mississippi State vs. South Carolina: 10 Things We Learned in Gamecocks' Win
South Carolina is just one more SEC win away from forcing Missouri to really look over its shoulder after beating Mississippi State, 34-16. The Gamecocks get Florida in two weeks at Williams-Brice Stadium for what will be their final SEC game of the regular season.
They need both Missouri and Georgia to lose at least one more game to get to the SEC Championship game. So while the Gamecocks won the game, there's definitely 10 things we learned about them in this SEC matchup.
Connor Shaw Needs to Get More Consistent on Third Downs
Connor Shaw is a talented quarterback for sure. He's even great when you look at his first- and second-down numbers. On third downs, he was 1-of-7 (14.2 percent) for negative four yards and all seven plays didn't convert.
On first and second down, he was 9-of-13 (69.2 percent) for 151 yards and four touchdowns. The disconnect seems to come from the top not attempting more passes on first and second down. More play action could help an inconsistent offense gain a lot more yards.
Mike Davis Is a Legitimate Heisman Candidate
Mike Davis would be in line to win the Heisman if the year was 1998 and not 2013. He's already got 1,058 yards rushing and 326 yards receiving. He also has 10 rushing touchdowns on top of that. And this is all through just nine games of the season.
He's on pace to be at 1,415 rushing yards and 435 receiving yards by the end of the regular season. That would be just 150 yards away from breaking 2,000 yards from scrimmage heading into the bowl game. In today's running back-by-committee approach, his numbers are insanely high.
However, now is also the time of the passing attack and quarterbacks will always get first priority for the Heisman. Davis will likely receive votes, but he's a long shot for even winning a trip to New York.
Shaq Roland, Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd Deserve Better
Shaq Roland could be a truly unstoppable target with his speed and hands. Bruce Ellington could be a top-tier possession receiver if he only had the ball in his hands more. Damiere Byrd could be the best deep threat in all of college football if only he had more opportunities.
This all comes down to the passing ability of their quarterback. And it also comes down to the ability of the coaches to see more play-action abilities. Mike Davis is great, but using him to force eight men in the box would allow even more opportunities for three of the better receivers in the SEC.
Consistency on 3rd Down Is Needed on Offense
South Carolina converted just one third down on the day. That's out of 11 attempts. That's a pathetic 9.09 percent conversion rate. South Carolina has to execute better than that, and most of it comes from the quarterback's inability to hit his receivers on third downs.
He missed six out of his seven third-down attempts and could have made this game look much worse for the Bulldogs than it already did if he had just been more on the mark. But he wasn't and the Gamecocks won by only 18 points.
Carolina's Defensive Line Created Pressure to Force Turnovers
Coaches always preach about the defensive line getting pressure. Carolina definitely created that today. Every interception thrown was a result of an off-center throw by Dak Prescott with either Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, Chaz Sutton or J.T. Surratt in his face.
Prescott continually was harassed in the backfield and was forced off the mark. Despite just one sack being recorded by the defense, the fact that the quarterback committed four of his team's five turnovers is a testament to the stress Prescott was feeling all day.
Carolina's Defensive Future Is Bright
South Carolina has a ton of talent on its defense. And luckily, most of it isn't expected to leave after the 2013 season. The only seniors are Chaz Sutton and Jimmy Legree. And its only juniors who should declare for the NFL draft are defensive linemen Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.
However, the rest of the defense has at least one if not two years left of eligibility. And they are growing together as a monstrous group. Even if Clowney and Quarles leave after this season, the Gamecocks should have one of the best defenses in the SEC in 2014.
Sharrod Golightly Flies Around the Ball and Makes Plays
Sharrod Golightly is one of those young guys who will only get better next season. He plays the hybrid linebacker/safety position noted as the spur in the Carolina defense. And he does it extremely well. He's excellent in coverage, but more than that, he has a nose for the ball.
He flies around and hits whoever has the ball. He also has the speed to take a turnover back to the house like he almost did on the fumble recovery return in the middle of the third quarter against the Bulldogs.
Victor Hampton Has Thorpe Award Potential for 2014
Victor Hampton didn't make the Jim Thorpe Award—award for the best defensive back in college football—semifinalist list for 2013 according to the Associated Press (h/t Miami Herald). However, that's a complete shame.
He's one of the best cornerbacks in the country and does an excellent job of playing in multiple coverages. Against the Bulldogs, he knocked away a pass on a ball that he should have been nowhere near.
He also did his best Deebo impression at the end of the game when he ripped the ball out of Robert Johnson's hands. He's full of impact plays like this to go with excellent coverage. If he doesn't at least make the Thorpe watch list for next season, that will be a complete shame.
Offensive Game Plan Wasn't as Effective as the Defensive Game Plan
The game plan for the offense wasn't nearly as effective as it could have been. A lack of third-down conversions and a lack of intelligible play-calling hurt the Gamecocks. They were very predictable with their run-pass selection.
However, on defense, they had an almost perfect game plan. They ran a simple scheme designed to make Dak Prescott beat them with his arm or have his running backs gain yardage instead of Prescott. It went off without a hitch and also forced a ton of turnovers.
Lorenzo Ward should be proud of his unit's performance against the Bulldogs.
Special Teams Was Efficient, but Unspectacular
Despite not having a great game on special teams, they were efficient and effective. Which is all they needed to be to win. They didn't fumble the ball on returns, and Pharoh Cooper gained over 20 yards on each of the kick returns.
Elliott Fry was perfect on both of his field goals and all four of his extra points. Tyler Hull was also effective enough on his punts to keep field position to where it didn't favor the Mississippi State Bulldogs. These guys did their jobs. They weren't amazing at it, but they did what they needed to do to win.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.