Mississippi State football is playing a potential season-defining game against South Carolina. The Gamecock defense has struggled so far. Can the Bulldogs take advantage?
Mississippi State football is traveling to South Carolina for a game that may very well determine whether or not their 2023 season is success. It may seem hyperbolic to put so much on just the fourth game of the year, but with the way the Bulldogs have played to this point and the fact that this is one of the more-winnable games left on the schedule, State really needs to find a way to win this one.
The Bulldog offense has been horrible this year.
The offensive line has been poor, and QB Will Rogers hasn’t adjusted to the new offensive system. While playing a road game in one of the SEC’s rowdiest environments isn’t the ideal situation for an offense in desperate need of a positive showing, South Carolina’s defense may provide them with the chance to turn things around.
Mississippi State football: How to attack South Carolina’s defense
The Gamecock defense has struggled so far this season.
As Brad Crawford of 247 Sports laid out, this has been one of the SEC’s worst defenses through three games. Some of that goes back to facing a Drake Maye led UNC team and the two-time defending national champions in UGA. But even FCS Furman found success offensively against South Carolina.
It’s just not a good defense.
Those numbers from Crawford leave out that South Carolina is also 13th in the SEC in passing defense, allowing 260 pass yards per game. Offenses have mostly had their way with the Gamecock defense. If there was ever a game for Mississippi State’s offense to get it together and have a strong performance, this is the one.
That’s not to say there are no bright spots for South Carolina defensively. One position group in particular has played very well to this point. The Gamecocks’ defensive tackles have some of the few players to make an impact to this point. Most notably, sophomore TJ Sanders and senior Tonka Hemingway have been highly disruptive along the defensive interior. That could be something to watch versus a MSU interior OL that has been iffy to this point.
Despite some big time talent up front, rushing defense has been lackluster thus far for South Carolina. They don’t just regularly allow explosive rushes, but teams have been able to pretty consistently churn ahead for four to five yards against them.
Can Bulldogs’ running game thrive vs. South Carolina’s defense?
And considering MSU has now transitioned to an offense that wants to build upon its run game, you can probably expect to see a heavy dose of the ground game out of the Bulldogs. State, of course, bases its rush offense off of Wide Zone.
I will point out that Carolina hasn’t been gashed by WZ or similar concepts, but success can certainly be found.
Here’s Georgia getting a nice gain off a stretch run out of a spread set.
Something noticeable watching the Gamecock defense so far is that teams have been able to exploit them with quick passes in space. Whether it be slants or speed outs, stick routes, or screens, quick passes to the perimeter have been effective against Carolina. The Gamecocks like to bring pressure, and those plays are easy ways to make them pay for doing so.
Early on, Georgia had some issues holding up in protection against Carolina.
A lot of the dropback and play action game they wanted to utilize wasn’t there because pressure was getting to QB Carson Beck. Georgia adjusted by going heavy on screens and quick game. While this obviously limited explosive play potential, though they still managed to connect on a few downfield throws, it brought enough consistency to their offense to get into gear and win the game.
Mississippi State football’s blueprint for beating South Carolina’s defense
Frankly, Georgia’s offensive gameplan for coming back against South Carolina might be the blueprint to follow if you’re Mississippi State.
Georgia saw their OL wasn’t providing great pass protection and that their QB wasn’t handling it particularly well. So they leaned on their ground game, and when they did throw the ball, they primarily called for easy completions to their skill talent and let them go to work out in space.
MSU has been bad at protecting Will Rogers. Rogers has been bad at dealing with pass rushers and the comfort level isn’t there with the newer pass concepts in Kevin Barbay’s scheme. Rogers is at his best when he’s able to get the ball out his hands quickly, and State has a group of pass catchers who excel in open space.
Finding easy completions to the likes of Tulu Griffin and Zavion Thomas may be the way to go when State throws the ball on Saturday. And speaking of finding opportunities for your best playmakers to go to work, Woody Marks has been far and away State’s best player offensively this year. The Bulldogs should be able to run the ball on South Carolina. Marks needs to be heavily featured in the gameplan.
There are enough things that Mississippi State can do well offensively to find success against a leaky South Carolina defense. It’s up to the coaching staff to put together a gameplan that can accomplish that.