- Associated Press - Friday, September 9, 2016

Mississippi State’s offense is a work in progress after a disjointed opening week performance.

South Carolina can relate.

The Bulldogs (0-1) and Gamecocks (1-0) will meet in Starkville, Mississippi, on Saturday night with both programs hoping to find some consistent playmakers that can help them compete in the Southeastern Conference.

South Carolina needed Elliott Fry’s 55-yard field goal in the final minute to beat Vanderbilt 13-10 on Sept. 1. The Gamecocks used two quarterbacks in the win - Perry Orth and Brandon McIlwain. First-year Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said Orth did enough to earn the start against the Bulldogs, but it’s clear that the competition continues.

“It’s a tough call to make,” Muschamp said.

Mississippi State used two quarterbacks - Damian Williams and Nick Fitzgerald - in its season-opening 21-20 loss to South Alabama. Williams played the majority of the game, throwing for 143 yards and running for 93 more. Coach Dan Mullen hasn’t revealed his plans under center for the South Carolina game.

The Bulldogs will also try to get star receiver Fred Ross more involved in the offense. He caught six passes for just 34 yards against South Alabama. His best play came on a 46-yard run in the first half.

“There’s only one ball,” Mullen said. “There are a lot of people who would like it into their hands, so we’ll keep working as hard as we can to get as many people touches as we can.”

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Some things to watch when Mississippi State hosts South Carolina:

JEFFERSON’S GOOD START: Mississippi State senior defensive end A.J. Jefferson was one of the few bright spots in the team’s loss to South Alabama. He made seven tackles, including a career-high four for a loss and two sacks. Jefferson’s 28½ tackles for a loss in his career rank sixth in MSU history.

LEO LEADS THE DEFENSE: Redshirt freshman linebacker Leo Lewis led Mississippi State with nine tackles, including two for a loss, in his college debut against South Alabama. The 6-foot-2, 230-pounder will likely be a mainstay on defense for the next few years. Said Mullen: “He made some plays. It’s good to see him get some play action. As a young player he has to learn the standard of play and how to play hard every single snap.”

MORE ORTH: Mississippi State will get another dose of the Orth family this week against South Carolina. After losing to South Alabama 21-20 at home last week with sophomore quarterback Evan Orth on the roster, the Bulldogs will face his brother, Gamecocks starting quarterback Perry Orth, on Saturday night. While Evan Orth did not play, he did watch - and share some details and schemes with his brother this week.

MORE COWBELLS: Ask any South Carolina player things they know about Mississippi State and one of the first things that come up are the cowbells. Bulldog fans are famous around the Southeastern Conference for ringing the loud, metallic-sounding cowbells to the distraction of opponents. “Those cowbells,” defensive lineman Dante Sawyer said, smiling and shaking his head. South Carolina has not played at Mississippi State since 2011 so almost no one on the roster has much firsthand experience at the droning sound except longtime SEC head and assistant coach Will Muschamp, the Gamecocks’ first-year head coach. “We have our work cut out for us in Starkville,” he said.

SOUTH CAROLINA’S STREAK: South Carolina has won the last seven games in the series dating back to 2000. The Bulldogs last beat the Gamecocks 17-0 in Starkville on Sept. 25, 1999.

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AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this story.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org

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