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October 14, 2011

USC-MSU: Key battles

GamecockCentral.com breaks down the key matchups for South Carolina's game against Mississippi State. At what positions will the game be decided?

Connor Shaw vs. Davis Wade Stadium
Shaw passed his first test, by playing very well in his first home start of the year. That was the easy part - Williams-Brice Stadium gave him a warm ovation and Kentucky was rather miserable, allowing Shaw to get comfortable and settle in. Now he gets another test. While Davis Wade isn't as intimidating as some, its cozy confines can hold noise in and make life hell for an opposing quarterback. The constantly clanging cowbells don't help the opponent's cause, either, although MSU has encouraged fans to not ring them when the other team is at the line of scrimmage (few listen). Shaw has been working with a silent snap count even before the Kentucky game, so the noise may not bother him - but he has so much pressure on himself this week that he may get sidetracked before the bells begin to ring.
Cody Gibson vs. Kaleb Eulls
Gibson should get his second straight start at right tackle after Kyle Nunn was again ruled out, and has to keep pressure off Shaw. He was beaten badly last week by Kentucky but Shaw managed to keep himself free of trouble, although he did take a couple of hard hits. Eulls, from his end spot, only has one sack on the year but MSU as a team has 11. The Bulldogs are masterful at having a man follow the lead blocker into the gap and then twist around to keep the pressure on; even if Gibson was a fifth-year senior, he couldn't block two guys at once. Gibson will no doubt be constantly challenged by a team that knows he's a redshirt freshman and watched the UK film, and if Rokevious Watkins can't go at the other tackle spot, it could be a long day for Shaw. If Gibson can fix his mistakes from last week, though, at least one side of the line will be helmed.
Alshon Jeffery vs. Johnthan Banks
Jeffery re-established himself last week, Shaw hitting him for two touchdowns and the All-American catching six passes for 95 yards. He'll definitely want to keep that going, and Shaw will definitely want to keep throwing it to him to keep the flow. Banks leads the Bulldogs with four interceptions and will probably be shadowing Jeffery - although it's always a task to do it, since Jeffery can leap higher than the great majority of defensive backs - but if the pass-rush affects Shaw, perhaps Shaw won't have time to set his feet and throw an accurate pass.
Marcus Lattimore vs. Fletcher Cox
A clog in the middle of the Bulldogs' defensive front, Cox will be charged with bursting past center T.J. Johnson to stop Lattimore. It's no secret that Lattimore will get the ball, after four 100-yard games in six tries and less than 250 yards away from his second straight 1,000-yard season. Lattimore was held up early last week and didn't really break loose until the Gamecocks began breaking out the trick formations. Even in those, Lattimore was mostly running middle. It stands to reason that Cox will be waiting on him a lot.
Melvin Ingram vs. MSU quarterbacks
Ingram will start this week and he'll be expected to lead the charge against the Bulldogs' signal-caller, no matter who it is. Tyler Russell and Chris Relf are each candidates to play, and Ingram will have opportunity to bring down either a running quarterback or sack a passer. Ingram was a spare part last week with a sprained foot, but he's 100 percent now and everyone knows that he'll be ready get his All-American season back on track.

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