As South Carolina fans, Missouri is one team you look at on the schedule every year and pretty much think “yeah, that should be a dub”*. And every year the game turns out to be a very even match-up, whether both teams are good, bad, or somewhere in between.
*not a slam on Missouri, I’m willing to bet they think the exact same about us.
Missouri’s football program it not that dissimilar from South Carolina’s: a long history of mediocrity sprinkled with some terrible seasons and some outstanding seasons. Mizzou has a huge advantage over USC in conference championships (15-1), but upon closer inspection all of those titles came before 1970. There are loads of five, six and seven win campaigns for the Tigers, and they’re just as likely to be 8-4 as they are to be 4-8 during any given season. They had a string of 13 consecutive losing seasons from 1984 through 1996, but have won four division titles since 2007 (two in the Big 12 and two in the SEC). That 2007 team was ranked first in the country and tied at halftime of the Big 12 Championship Game with a spot in the BCS Championship Game on the line. Unfortunately for them Oklahoma pulled away in the second half.
Their place in the SEC still feels like a strange fit, but as each year passes we get more used to it. I’d never suggest they don’t belong, because they have proven they do with those two previously mentioned East Division titles.*
*How the hell did those happen again? I mean, I know the East has been down, but come on. USC, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida all look at 2013 and 2014 and just shake their heads at how they let Mizzou somehow three card monte their way to Atlanta.
Missouri entered this year on the heels of back-to-back losing seasons, finishing 5-7 in 2015 and 4-8 last year. Their only conference win in ’15 was over the Gamecocks, and last year’s game was a win by USC, but a little too close for comfort. Since Missouri entered the SEC the Gamecocks lead the series 3-2, but the Tigers won both non-SEC games – the 1979 Hall of Fame Bowl and the 2005 Independence Bowl.
There have been some wild games between the two teams, including that 2005 bowl game (epic fourth quarter collapse by USC), the Miracle in CoMo, and a second epic fourth quarter collapse in a season full of epic fourth quarter collapses by the Gamecocks in 2014. Each team has a relatively comfortable win in the series, but for the most part when these two teams collide you can expect a game that goes down to the final minutes. I don’t expect tomorrow night to be any different.
USC defense vs. Missouri offense. [Breathes heavily into paper bag.] This matchup frightens me. Yes, I know they slaughtered Missouri State, not Ohio State. But Missouri is one of the few teams in the SEC that has the depth and breadth of skill players that are comparable to South Carolina’s. We all know Drew Lock can play. Damarea Crockett is an outstanding tailback, and his backups Ish Witter and Larry Roundtree aren’t too shabby. Both J’Mon Moore and Johnathan Johnson went over 100 yards receiving last week. And they have big, athletic pass-catching tight ends.
Missouri will score points, and probably a lot of them. Lock will get them to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball faster than anyone we will play all year, so we’ll need a lot of guys to play on the defensive side of the ball. That can lead to a lack of continuity and create assignment confusion, particularly with newcomers like Jamyest Williams and Keisan Nixon. We’ll need to create at least three turnovers, and we’ll need a handful of third or fourth down stops, which is something we haven’t been great at in the Muschamp era.
It’s cliché, but we can bend, just don’t break.
USC offense vs. Missouri defense. A lot of our fans are extremely optimistic about how our offense is going to perform against their D. I think we have the potential to score a lot of points tomorrow, but as Connor Tapp pointed out on this week’s TRC Unleashed, Kurt Roper’s offense has a tendency to disappear for long stretches at a time. In the second half last week against NC State, with a chance to make things a lot easier on themselves, the Gamecocks had consecutive scoreless drives of 3 plays, 3 plays, 3 plays, 4 plays and 3 plays. That’s five consecutive possessions with one first down. We have way too many weapons to bog down like that, even against a defense the caliber of NC State.
I expect a lot more out of the run game this week, and a lot more targets for Hayden Hurst and KC Crosby. I keep calling for more variety on offense and I think this is the week we get it. Missouri doesn’t have the talent on defense to get to Jake Bentley, cover our ends and backs on the second level, or cover Deebo and company in the secondary.
The bottom line is we cannot waste possessions. It’s very possible this could be a who-has-the-ball-last kind of game, and if we turn the ball over or fail to hold serve when we’re on offense, we’re likely going to lose. We have to be crisp, don’t fall behind the sticks, don’t turn the ball over and don’t commit major (10-yards plus) penalties.
Special teams. I don’t know jack squat about Missouri’s special teams. I’ll be optimistic and assume they’re below average and we’ll win this phase.
Muschamp vs. Odom. Two defensive gurus having their teams battle it out in the trenches. Just the kind of low-scoring, grind-it-out type of game you would expect. LOLJK.
What’s it all mean. If the Gamecocks can get out of CoMo tomorrow night with a win, that bodes well for our chances in the SEC East. The media bandwagon started to build after our (somewhat) surprising win last week, and an SEC road win would open a lot more eyes to this team. What looked like a 7-5 or 6-6 Gamecock team prior to last week starts to potentially look special with a 2-0 start. Division favorite Georgia is down a starting quarterback, Florida is a mess, Tennessee is questionable, and Kentucky and Vanderbilt are definitely beatable at home. It’s a long road, but who knows.
My head is telling me we find a way to lose this game due to one of those offensive funks I mentioned above. But my heart wants to hold out hope in 2017 as long as possible, so I’m going to say the USC pulls this one out 45-41.