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Pre-game at Williams-Brice Stadium - Dog and Chicken fight in Columbia as MSU travels to No. 14 South Carolina




Matt Stevens


COLUMBIA, S.C. - Welcome to Week 9 of the 2013 college football season. The Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will be LOOKING LIVE.....at Davis Wade Stadium as the Bulldogs (4-3, 1-2 in SEC) travel to face No. 14 South Carolina (6-2, 4-2), 11:21 a.m., SEC Network. 




NOTE: As always go ahead and refresh this blog post up to kickoff for the latest information on the game. 




- Here's a video of MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning sizing up today's matchup after a Bulldogs practice this week.  




Here's what we've always done for our pre-game blog: I'm going to give you the five major questions that will be answered on the field this evening two key players for both teams and numbers to keep in mind. 




1. Can Jameon Lewis continue to make plays in the passing game? 




For the second time this season Mississippi State's top wide receiver target left a home game with a touchdown via rushing, passing and receiving. Lewis is the only player in Division 1 football with four or more receiving touchdowns, three or more rushing touchdowns and two or more passing touchdowns this season. 


Lewis is one of three Football Bowl Subdivision players to have four or more receiving touchdowns and three or more rushing scores this season. He joined Southern California's Tre Madden and Arizona State's Marion Grice in that statistical category. 


Lewis has caught 23 passes for 391 yards (17.0 yards/reception), in the last five games. When he wasn't in on offense, Lewis returned three kickoffs for 47 yards, lifting his season totals in SEC games to six returns for 137 yards (22.8 yards/return). 


"He's just so shifty and a real weapon when he gets the football that it's becoming obvious it's our job to get him the ball more during a game," MSU sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott said. "It's his statistic and there's no doubt in my mind about that. Hopefully he can do it one or two more times in a game." 




2. Will Connor Shaw be healthy and be the difference at QB for South Carolina? 




South Carolina starting quarterback Connor Shaw returned to practice on Wednesday after battling a severe illness and injury. 


Shaw had missed practice this week due to the same virus that sidelined him, along with a knee injury at the beginning of last Saturday's win at Missouri. 


South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Shaw missed Monday's practice and was unlikely to work out Tuesday as he recovers from the virus. He is listed as questionable for Saturday's game against MSU but Bulldogs defensive coordinator said Tuesday he expects Shaw to play. 


"He's had sort of a little flu bug," Spurrier said in his media teleconference Sunday. "Maybe a stomach virus. He didn't go to the movie with the team Friday night and didn't come to the breakfast. He actually didn't go to the stadium (with us on an early-morning visit). He stayed back, I think he ate a little bit of his pre-game meal, and he felt pretty good." 


South Carolina quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said Shaw took more reps with the first team than he expected. 


Shaw also was coming off a sprained knee when he entered the game against the Tigers in the third quarter and rallied the Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 in SEC) from a 17-point deficit to a 27-24 double-overtime victory. 


"Last week it was completely evident the type of player he is watching that game and what he means to that team," MSU coach Dan Mullen said Monday. "Now, sometimes they don't make him put up huge numbers, they don't need to. As any great quarterback I think he manages the game extremely well." 




3. Can MSU continue to protect the football in a tough SEC road environment? 




MSU currently leads the league and is second in the nation by allowing just six turnovers in seven games this season - a pleasant statistic for a offense that is filled with youthful starters and backups being forced into starting action due to injuries. 


"We'd like to have zero per game, our goal is zero which we haven't hit many times this year," Mullen said. "If there is a category that you do want to lead in, I do like that. It shows we take care of the football." 


Mullen channeled his inner football coach mentality saying each of the last two days that six turnovers are still too many for his team. However, the number of turnovers by MSU has decreased each of the first four years under Mullen (30, 21, 20, 18 and now on pace for just 10 in 2013). 


"I've said this before but we get in that meeting room and we go over every little things in terms of evaluating first downs, third downs and our kids pretty much know what's going to come out of that in the game plan," MSU offensive coordinator Les Koenning said. "Now he's the cool part: none of that matters a lick if you don't take care of the most important thing and that is that football in your hand." 




4. Can a patchwork offensive line block Jadeveon Clowney? 


The issue hasn't changed for Clowney as the perceived top pick to the 2014 NFL Draft despite the South Carolina defensive end still has only two sacks on the season with only five weeks left to play. With MSU left tackle Blaine Clausell having battling injury issues and his other help from the guard position being freshman Jamal Clayborn, Mullen and the Bulldogs offense know they'll have to handle the best pass rusher in the country. 


"He's like 6-6, 280 pounds and probably the most explosive, quickest guy on the field," Mullen said. "He's really fast and long. You've got to expect he's going to get a sack. That's OK, chances are we'll give up a sack Saturday. The key is if we don't give up a second one right after, or we don't have an interception right after. What do we do to make up for that play? That's the key to keeping the steadiness of the offense going." 




5. Will MSU correct its special teams issues in a big road environment? 




Mullen claims to be personally responsible for the special teams unit at Mississippi State and was fully aware of the grade he gave that element Thursday night. 


"I think our kicking game was a little bit off tonight," Mullen said. "We didn't punt the ball well, our return game wasn't good and our coverage game wasn't great." 


MSU sophomore kicker Devon Bell struggled again by missing a 47-yard field goal at the end of the first half and then costing the Bulldogs two points. While backed up deep near the end zone, Bell dropped the long snap in the third quarter and saw the ball roll across the end line resulting in a safety. The special teams blunder made the MSU advantage 21-12 but Kentucky managed to score on the ensuing drive to make it a two-point deficit. 


"I think Devon was 27 of 28 on field goals during the bye week (practices) and we chart everything," Mullen said. "He did drop that snap and had a lot of little learning pains from him tonight." 


Bell was in on three punts Thursday night for a 41.7 yard average after he outplayed senior punter Baker Swedenburg in practice all week. 




Players to Watch 








Junior WR Jameon Lewis 


Lewis has caught 23 passes for 391 yards (17.0 yards/reception), in the last five games. When he wasn't in on offense, Lewis returned three kickoffs for 47 yards, lifting his season totals in SEC games to six returns for 137 yards (22.8 yards/return). 


"For me, it's like I'm playing backyard football and everybody else is playing organized football," Lewis said. "I used to play quarterback in high school so again, it's nothing for me to do something like this each and every week. It don't matter how I score as long as I get in the end zone." 




Sophomore K/P Devon Bell 




After Kentucky tried to make MSU fans sweat by scoring a 17-yard rushing touchdown, the Wildcats made it a two-point deficit after Devon Bell fumbled a punt in the end zone. The sophomore kicker, who was being used primarily as a punter because of his strong leg, drops the long snap and when the ball rolled beyond the end line, Kentucky was suddenly only down 21-19. 


It'll be interesting to see if Mullen uses Bell in both roles or either role in a big game on the road in the Southeastern Conference. 




South Carolina  




Sophomore TB Mike Davis  


The brother of former Clemson running back James Davis is leading the Southeastern Conference in rushing (116.25 yards a game), has scored 10 touchdowns and is 257 yards short of matching his brother's sophomore year yardage mark with at least five games left in 2013. Davis has six 100-yard outings in eight tries this season.  


""He can do it all," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "He's got a lot of speed. When he gets out in the open field he can make you miss, but he's also very much a power back, he gets a lot of yards after contact. That's to me where he's special as a runner." 


The Gamecocks likely will lean heavily on Davis and an experienced offensive line that averages 322 pounds. 


"He's an extremely effective wide receiver, they use him a lot in the passing game and create matchups with him that make it difficult," Davis said. "He's a guy obviously they want the ball in his hands because of what he can do with it, physically and athletically, and they do a good job of finding a lot of different ways to put it in his hands." 




Junior DL Kelcy Quarles 


Quarles was named Southeastern Conference defensive lineman of the week after the junior recorded three tackles for loss in a come-from-behind win at Missouri, including a pair of sacks. Quarles has 10 tackles for loss on the season for 85 yards in losses, including a team-high seven sacks. In both categories, he's second in the SEC only to Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. While Quarles (6-4, 298 pounds) has emerged as a top interior defensive lineman, it's been a tough season injury-wise for other top SEC players at the position. He should see some head-to-head action against one of the nation's top pro prospects at offensive guard in MSU Gabe Jackson. 




Numbers of the Game  




2-21 - MSU coach Dan Mullen's career ecord vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams.  




6 - South Carolina's current winning streak against Mississippi State dating back to 1999.  




18 - So far this season, Mississippi State has 18 players with at least one reception, paced by Jameon Lewis' career-high 30. 




4 - MSU freshman defensive tackle Chris Jones has had four QB hurries in the last four games. 




456 - After totaling 447 yards of offense against Kentucky, Mississippi State is now averaging 456.0 a game. If the Bulldogs maintain that pace, they will shatter the record of 422.0 set in 1982, when Emory Bellard was the coach. Three of the school's top five years (2013, 2010 and 2012) fall under head coach Dan Mullen's guidance. 






All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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