- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Steve Spurrier has seen this movie before. In an ancient movie store, you'd find it in the horror section, it tortures him so.
But as South Carolina's head coach prepares his 14th-ranked Gamecocks (6-2, 4-2 SEC) for Saturday's game against Mississippi State (4-3, 1-2 SEC), he'll have to guard against a major letdown a week after upsetting Missouri to get right back in the SEC Eastern Division race.
"We're going to have to play well if we're going to have a chance to beat them," Spurrier said.
Spurrier and his coaches have tried to make sure players have forgotten last Saturday's win, but with hope restored in the East race, it could be tough to knock players off the high from that win.
One might look at South Carolina's superior record and you'd assume the Gamecocks have this game wrapped up. After all, it will be played inside Williams-Brice Stadium, where South Carolina has won 14 straight, the longest home winning streak in the SEC.
But diving deeper, the teams are eerily similar. They are just about even in all major offensive and defensive categories. The only real discrepancy is in total offense and passing, where the Gamecocks are averaging 19 more yards a game in both categories. And when you look at the Bulldogs' three losses -- Oklahoma State, Auburn and LSU -- they all came against teams that are currently ranked in the top 20 and Oklahoma State and Auburn were away from Starkville.
The combined record of the Bulldogs' first seven opponents is 38-18.
Mississippi State has had its issues, especially with being outscored 50-10 in the second half of the last three games, but the Bulldogs are fighting for their bowl lives. With a November gauntlet that features three straight ranked teams, starting with South Carolina, the Bulldogs have their backs against the wall.
And you know what can happen when you back a dog into a corner.
"Obviously, it's tough going on the road, but one of the things you love here is you get the opportunity to play the best teams in the country week in and week out," Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
"There's a sense of urgency for every single game that we play here. It's kind of always that way. I don't know that this is any different than where we've been over the first half of the season, but I know our guys love the challenge of playing the best teams."
One area in question for the Gamecocks is quarterback. Starter Connor Shaw is still battling a virus that plagued him during the Missouri game. He's missed practice this week and might not start Saturday. However, Dylan Thompson has been a serviceable backup this year, passing for 643 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Thompson certainly isn't the titanium-built Shaw, but the Gamecocks should have an advantage up front, as Mississippi State has registered a league-low nine sacks, while South Carolina has given up 16 on the year.
When looking at the eye test, South Carolina wins in the talent department. The likes of Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney, Mike Davis and Kelcy Quarles aren't matched on the Bulldogs' sideline. But in games like this, that doesn't always matter.
Travel back two weeks when No. 11 South Carolina (5-1) traveled to Knoxville to face a Tennessee team going through a major rebuilding process. The Gamecocks were heavy favorites, but a sloppy performance left them trailing 17-7 at halftime, before falling 23-21 to a last-second field goal.
Last year, the Gamecocks dropped two in a row after waxing Georgia 35-7. In 2011, the Gamecocks opened October by stumbling at home with a mediocre performance against an overmatched Auburn team and lost 16-13. And in 2010, South Carolina pulled off a 35-21 win over No. 1 Alabama, only to lose the next week to unranked Kentucky.
In life and in college football, history has a cruel way of repeating itself, especially when the pressure of winning the division is at stake. Spurrier and his Gamecocks have been here too many times, and he wants his players to know that they aren't good enough to coast this week.
"Hopefully, our players know that we're not any big, powerful, mighty team, and pretty much anybody can beat us," Spurrier said. "We gotta get ready to play."
8hDan Murphy and Mitch Sherman