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Missouri at South Carolina: Gamecocks' offense goes for power and vertical passing

Steve Spurrier figures out what you can't defend and kills you with it. What does that mean for Missouri's defense against the Gamecocks? And can the Mizzou line provide the push it needs for the Tigers to pull off the road win?

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

It is perhaps one of my more gauche sayings, but I like to call Steve Spurrier the ultimate scab picker. Some offensive coaches have a specific philosophy for how they want to move the ball; others, like Spurrier, just want to figure out what you can't stop. If that means power rushing, so be it. If a quarterback needs to air it out downfield, that's fine. If, in the case of last year's Missouri-South Carolina game, dumping to the running back out of the backfield is what works, keep doing it until they stop it. And then throw it to Bruce Ellington when the game's on the line.

(Too soon?)

Spurrier tries to put together an offense that can do whatever is needed to exploit opponents' weaknesses. In that regard, he's got plenty of weapons to offer against Missouri.

Dylan Thompson (6'3, 218, Sr.) (88-for-142, 1,140 yards, 11 TD, 3 INT, 5 sacks, 7.5 yards per attempt; 10 carries, 39 yards, 2 TD)
Perry Orth (6'1, 204, So.)
Connor Mitch (6'3, 211, RSFr.)

Dylan Thompson has a pretty deep ball and a strong deer-in-headlights look. If he's under pressure, or if things aren't working out very well for a series or two, you can perhaps count on him to make some mistakes. Missouri wasn't able to sack him last year, but he was harangued enough to complete only 15 of 27 passes, and with help from a couple of Mike Davis fumbles and a missed field goal, the Tigers shut South Carolina out until a semi-injured Connor Shaw came into the game.

Thompson is averaging 13.0 yards per completion this season, which makes his 62 percent completion rate pretty impressive. He alternated between great and lost against Texas A&M and was nearly perfect against Georgia aside from an inexplicably poor decision that resulted in an interception and a first-and-goal for the Dawgs in the fourth quarter. Basically, he'll make some mistakes, and if you take advantage of them, you can win. If you don't, Spurrier will eventually find a scab worth picking.

Mike Davis (5'9, 223, Jr.) (58 carries, 264 yards, 4.6 per carry, 2 TD; 11 targets, 10 catches, 75 yards, 6.8 per target)
Brandon Wilds (6'2, 230, Jr.) (40 carries, 210 yards, 5.2 per carry, 1 TD; 7 targets, 5 catches, 51 yards, 7.3 per target)
David Williams (6'1, 222, RSFr.) (5 carries, 25 yards, 5.0 per carry; 1 target, 1 catch, 6 yards)
Shon Carson (5'8, 201, Jr.) (4 carries, 18 yards, 4.5 per carry)

Connor McLaurin (6'0, 243, Sr.) (1 target, 1 catch, 0 yards)
Jordan Diaz (6'1, 236, Sr.)

I'll stop with the scab references, but know that Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds will likely be Spurrier's pickers of choice. I've never been amazed by Wilds, but he looked better than I've ever seen against Georgia, rushing 14 times for 93 yards. Davis, meanwhile, is one of the most diverse talents Mizzou will face. But if you watched last year's game, you already knew that.

Davis came to Columbia West riding a streak of four consecutive 100-yard rushing games; he had 26 carries for 167 yards against UCF, but he managed just 51 yards in 19 carries against Mizzou. Unfortunately, he also caught 10 of 11 passes for 99 yards; five of those catches were particularly costly: 13 and 15 yards on first-and-10, eight yards on second-and-4, 25 yards on third-and-6, and 19 yards on third-and-19. Contrary to what your memory is telling you, half of Davis' receptions were hemmed in perfectly well, gaining just 19 yards. But those five were essential to South Carolina's comeback.

Davis hasn't been 100% for much of this season yet. He carried South Carolina late in a 33-23 win against East Carolina (a win that looks more impressive now than it did at the time), finishing with 101 yards on 18 carries, but he had only six for 15 against A&M and needed 34 carries to gain a combined 148 yards (4.4 per carry) against Georgia and Vanderbilt. He also had six catches for 46 yards in those games.

The line hasn't been quite as effective as I thought it would be, and neither has Davis. If Missouri's defensive line is full-strength -- if Matt Hoch continues to inch his way toward 100 percent, and if Markus Golden is back -- I am perhaps foolishly not too afraid of the S.C. run game. What I'm afraid of is that it will take just enough resources to stop it that South Carolina receivers will have open space for running downfield.

Shaq Roland (6'1, 176, Jr.) (23 targets, 14 catches, 176 yards, 7.7 per target, 2 TD)
Damiere Byrd (5'9, 170, Sr.) (11 targets, 3 catches, 99 yards, 9.0 per target, 2 TD)
Shamier Jeffery (6'1, 198, Jr.)

Pharoh Cooper (5'11, 201, So.) (28 targets, 21 catches, 244 yards, 8.7 per target, 2 TD)
K.J. Brent (6'4, 192, Jr.) (4 targets, 3 catches, 39 yards, 9.8 per target, 1 TD)

Nick Jones (5'7, 168, Sr.) (23 targets, 17 catches, 259 yards, 11.3 per target, 3 TD)
Kane Whitehurst (5'11, 169, Jr.)
Carlton Heard (6'0, 188, Jr.)

Rory Anderson (6'5, 227, Sr.) (20 targets, 9 catches, 128 yards, 6.4 per target, 1 TD)
Jerell Adams (6'6, 242, Jr.) (7 targets, 3 catches, 54 yards, 7.7 per target)
Cody Gibson (6'7, 278, Sr.)

Damiere Byrd was South Carolina's No. 2 receiver last year, providing a high-caliber all-or-nothing threat (54 percent catch rate, 17.4 yards per catch) to go alongside the high-efficiency Ellington. He's been more of each this year -- a great 33.0 yards per catch, an awful 27 percent catch rate -- but Nick Jones and Pharoh Cooper have picked up the slack from an efficiency standpoint. They've combined to catch 38 of 51 passes (75 percent) for 503 yards (13.2 per catch). Throw in Shaq Roland, and you can live with inefficiency from Byrd and the tight end position (27 targets, 12 catches).

Missouri has done a solid job against the pass so far, allowing a 59 percent completion rate with two touchdowns to five picks. Opponents are averaging just 11.2 yards per completion, and when Golden is healthy, he and Shane Ray create perhaps the most disruptive defensive lines in the country. (Hell, even without Golden, Mizzou still allowed only 6.8 yards per pass attempt last week against a pretty good Indiana passing game, even if it felt like more than that.) It is absolutely essential that the pass rush do its job and figure out its way around South Carolina's absurdly big tackles to Thompson. If Thompson has time to find an open receiver (or Davis out of the backfield), Carolina's deep receiving corps will give him one.

Corey Robinson (6'8, 344, Sr.) (26 career starts, 4 in 2014)
Mason Zandi (6'9, 301, So.) (1 career start)

A.J. Cann (6'4, 311, Sr.) (42 career starts, 4 in 2014)
Brock Stadnik (6'5, 287, So.)

Alan Knott (6'4, 280, RSFr.) (3 career starts, all in 2014)
Clayton Stadnik (6'3, 273, So.) (8 career starts, 1 in 2014)

Cody Waldrop (6'2, 309, So.) (8 career starts, 2 in 2014)
Will Sport (6'5, 291, Jr.) (3 career starts, 2 in 2014)

Brandon Shell (6'6, 333, Jr.) (27 career starts, 4 in 2014)
Na'Ty Rodgers (6'5, 280, RSFr.)

Like I said, huge. Despite a small center, S.C. still averages 6'5, 315 across its starting five, and most of that comes from bookends Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell. Like I said above, this line hasn't been as effective as I thought it would be this year -- first in Power Success Rate, but 46th in standard downs line yards per carry, 61st in passing downs sack rate -- and that's an opportunity for Missouri ... but only if Missouri has its own affairs (and good health) in order up front.