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Missouri 21, South Carolina 20: Three games, a new receiving corps, and a budding rivalry

Maty Mauk utilized a veteran's resilience and leaned on a couple of seniors in order to engineer a 13-point road comeback against a top-15 team. And if Mizzou and South Carolina keep playing classic games, this rivalry will take off rather quickly.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

1. First ~17 minutes

Yards: Mizzou 114, South Carolina 72
Yards Per Play: Mizzou 4.6, South Carolina 4.2
Average Starting Field Position: Mizzou 39.8, South Carolina 27.8
Points: Mizzou 7, South Carolina 3

It's not like South Carolina completely dominated the first 53 minutes. The main problem heading into halftime, then the fourth quarter, was that Mizzou hadn't taken enough advantage of its own quality play. The Tigers made a huge stop on fourth-and-short on South Carolina's opening drive (I adore that Steve Spurrier went for it, and I adore even more that he didn't get it), then scored in four plays and 42 yards.

They continued to create decent scoring chances but simply couldn't finish. A bad snap/hold led to a missed field goal on the second drive. And on the fourth drive, they faced a third-and-3 from South Carolina's 27. The Gamecocks had managed a field goal on their own third drive but had gone three-and-out once and four-and-out twice. Mizzou was completely controlling the tempo and looked likely to at least go up 10-3, if not more.

But then Maty Mauk took a 25-yard sack.

2. Next ~36 minutes

Yards: South Carolina 266, Mizzou 69
Yards Per Play: South Carolina 4.7, Mizzou 2.3
Average Starting Field Position: South Carolina 30.0, Mizzou 22.3
Points: South Carolina 17, Mizzou 0

Now, granted, it was a "sack," awarded because of an intentional grounding penalty. And granted, I kind of hated the penalty call because while Mauk's pass didn't get back to the line of scrimmage (he was, after all, 25 damn yards behind the line), it landed pretty close to Russell Hansbrough, who was pretty clearly the intended receiver. But instead of either going for it or attempting a 44-yard field goal, Mizzou meekly punted the ball back and wasted a drive that had begun at SC's 44. Three scoring opportunities, seven points for a team that had been one of the five best drive-finishing teams in the country to date.

It would take a while to create another solid opportunity.

Drive No. 5: Three-and-out with incompletions to Bud Sasser, Lawrence Lee, and Russell Hansbrough. (It was around this time that I realized ... wait, where's Jimmie Hunt?)

Drive No. 6: Six plays, 21 yards, punt. Mizzou had a chance here -- an S.C. pass interference penalty and a 15-yard run by Marcus Murphy set the Tigers up at midfield, but Lawrence Lee set a pick on the opposite side of the field while Bud Sasser was catching a third-and-5 slant, and the resulting pass interference penalty led to an incomplete pass and a punt.

Drive No. 7: Three-and-out with an incompletion to Sean Culkin and two Murphy carries for nine yards.

Drive No. 8: Three-and-out with a pass to Gavin Otte for a three-yard loss and an incompletion to Hansbrough.

Drive No. 9: Five-and-out with a first-down run by Murphy, two short runs, and an incomplete pass to Sasser.

Drive No. 10: Three-and-out with an inexplicable delay-of-game penalty after a timeout and a third-down incompletion to Lee.

Drive No. 11: Three-and-out with incompletions to Lee and Sasser.

Drive No. 12: Four-and-out with another inexplicable first-down penalty and incompletions to Otte and Culkin.

Maty Mauk had no idea where to go with the ball, and while Mizzou probably leaned a bit too much on the pass here, the run wasn't exactly working brilliantly either. And Mizzou was figuring out ways to seemingly start every drive with first-and-15, which isn't exactly the best thing in the world for a team that can't move the ball.

But the defense kept holding up. South Carolina connected on the long ball you had to know it would connect on when Dylan Thompson found Nick Jones for 47 yards, but Mizzou chased Jones down at the 6, stuffed Thompson twice (once by Aarion Penton on a QB draw, then by basically the entire defensive line on a sack) and forced a field goal. The Tigers stiffened on what looked like a major power-running, stomp-the-throat drive by South Carolina and forced a punt from midfield. And even as the announcers started talking about Mizzou's defense looking tired, the Tigers forced a three-and-out early in the fourth quarter. All the offense had to do was figure out one nice drive, and the lead was still there for the taking. Then Cooper leaped to catch Thompson's touchdown pass and held on while getting blasted by Braylon Webb. And the "That's it. Ballgame," tweets filled the Internet.

No one on television, no one on Twitter, not even Steve Spurrier talked about the fact that South Carolina should probably be going for 2.

3. Last ~7 minutes

Yards: Mizzou 104, South Carolina 0
Yards Per Play: Mizzou 8.7, South Carolina 0.0
Average Starting Field Position: Mizzou 40.5, South Carolina 25.0
Points: Mizzou 14, South Carolina 0

It almost made me angry when Mizzou scored so easily -- three plays, 68 yards -- after Cooper's touchdown. Okay, that's great, NOW you wake up ... now that the defense is gassed ... now that South Carolina's in position to basically kill five minutes and score on every remaining drive. But in the highlight reel that I'm sure will get created in the coming hours/days, Mauk's 41-yard pass to Sasser is where the sudden guitar blast and thunder drums kick in. It woke the offense up, and as importantly, it woke the defense up. After he hit Sasser, Mauk marched to the line and hit a streaking Wesley Leftwich, who got tackled at the one. Hansbrough pulled one of his "I have better vision than anybody else on the field" runs after that, stretching a run to the left, getting the defense to commit, then changing direction and almost literally walking into the end zone.

And then Shane Ray stuffed Mike Davis for no gain. And Kentrell Brothers chopped down Brandon Wilds on a screen for a loss of two. And Aarion Penton took down tight end Rory Anderson for no gain. And Marcus Murphy got loose and returned the ensuing punt to midfield.

I watched all of Mizzou's final drive with a general sense of, "This isn't really going to happen, is it?" I had already begun sketching out my "Abysmal, banged-up offense costs Mizzou an upset opportunity" post-game piece so I could publish it as quickly as possible after the game ended. And when the drive began with two more incomplete passes, it almost relaxed me a bit. Like, "Okay, this really ISN'T going to happen. Glad I didn't completely get my hopes up." But on third-and-10, Mauk pitched to Hansbrough, who tiptoed the sideline for nine yards. After a timeout, Mauk found Culkin on a short play-action pass to move the chains. Mauk wrong-shouldered Sasser on a lob down the sideline, but while Sasser couldn't reel the ball in, Al Harris, Jr., had no idea where the ball was and face-guarded for a 15-yard penalty. And then Marcus Murphy Marcus Murphy'd down to the 1-yard line.

Being that I am a fatalistic fan like everybody else, I immediately convinced myself that Mizzou was going to leave too much time on the clock, and that South Carolina would be able to move back down the field for at least a field goal attempt. And the sports gods being as cruel and strangely poetic as they are, it would only make sense for South Carolina to win the game via field goal after the way last year's game ended. But while Mizzou gained zero yards on the first two downs, the clock ticked down to 2:15, and South Carolina strangely used back-to-back timeouts before third down. Murphy was stuffed on third down, but when Hansbrough poked the ball across the goal line on fourth down, there was only 1:36 left.

South Carolina had to get a little bit desperate and aggressive on its final drive, and Mizzou was ready. Kenya Dennis nearly picked off an ill-advised rollout pass to Nick Jones on the sideline. Then Braylon Webb jumped on a downfield pass to Pharoh Cooper and should have picked it off. Then Brothers lit up Rory Anderson to break up a third-down pass. And Aarion Penton smacked Nick Jones on fourth down, assuring that a tough catch became a non-catch.

And that was it. I don't usually give a play-by-play in my Sunday "reflections" post, but ... I wanted to relive it.

Mizzou stole this win, but make no mistake: Mizzou earned it, too. The Tigers were the better team for 24 minutes, basically, blowing opportunities to build a lead in the first third of the game but wringing out every potential point from the last seven minutes against a shell-shocked opponent that thought it had the game won. It was absurd, it was reassuring, it was ... a lot of things. And now we wait to see what it means for the rest of this season.

4. Rivalry check

Gary Pinkel's Tigers and Steve Spurrier's Gamecocks have now played against each other four times: in Shreveport in 2005, in Columbia East in 2012, in Columbia West in 2013, and in Columbia East in 2014. Three of the four games have been outright classics.

Rivalries are created when you see a team's name on the schedule and are filled with either hate or invigorating memories of previous memorable games. It takes time to create those moments, but Mizzou and South Carolina are creating them as quickly as you possibly can. That's awesome. It's even more awesome that Mizzou has now won two of the three classics.

5. Who are these f***in' guys?

Maty Mauk when dropping to pass on Saturday night (NSFW):

Bud Sasser: 12 targets, 6 catches, 86 yards
Lawrence Lee: 7 targets, 1 catch, 8 yards
Sean Culkin: 3 targets, 1 catch, 3 yards
Gavin Otte: 3 targets, 1 catch, -3 yards
Wesley Leftwich: 2 targets, 1 catch, 26 yards
Marcus Murphy: 2 targets, 2 catches, 12 yards
Russell Hansbrough: 2 target, 0 catches
J'Mon Moore: 1 target, 0 catches
Nate Brown: 1 target, 0 catches

Through four games, Lawrence Lee, Gavin Otte, Wesley Leftwich, J'Mon Moore, and Nate Brown had been targeted by a total of six passes, catching two for 10 yards. They were targeted 14 times last night. They caught four for 31 yards.

It took a while to realize that Jimmie Hunt wasn't on the field; we learned later that he had suffered an injury in practice and hadn't been cleared by the training staff. That meant that, of the three players Mauk had targeted more than 4.0 times per game, he would be heading into a hostile atmosphere without two of them.

It's amazing how much better a defense looks against a second-string receiving corps. South Carolina started to figure out that its defensive backs had a pretty strong athleticism and strength advantage, and that its super-young secondary was actually almost more experienced, in terms of game time, than the receiving corps it was facing. Lawrence Lee, targeted with one pass all year, was suddenly Mauk's No. 2 target, making a lovely, pirouetting catch on the sideline in the first quarter, then failing to reel in any of the ensuing six passes thrown his way (and committing a drive-killing offensive pass interference penalty to boot). Nate Brown's first 2014 target was an overthrown deep ball. J'Mon Moore couldn't reel in a pass while blanketed by Sherrod Golightly. Mauk missed Otte on a perfectly set-up wheel route on the first possession, then only got him the ball again on a doomed screen.

Every time Mauk looked to pass, he found a set of perfectly-covered receivers. Plus, South Carolina had shadows set up to pursue him as soon as he inevitably left the pocket. (And of course you're going to leave the pocket to buy time when absolutely nobody's open.) Mauk is now 22-for-59 passing against South Carolina (37 percent) and 135-for-233 (58 percent) against everybody else; Lorenzo Ward has figured out how to defend to Mauk's tendencies, and missing Hunt and White assured that Mauk's hands were tied in multiple ways.

But he still completed three of his final five passes for 71 yards and three first downs, and he still engineered a 13-point road comeback against a top-15 team. Mauk's still got some learning to do -- and so does this receiving corps, which got all kinds of lessons to study in advance of Sasser, White, and Hunt all graduating after this season -- but the dude's got a senior's level of resilience as a sophomore. That's thrilling.

Also thrilling: this defense, which found ways to make stop after stop, starts only three seniors itself.

6. Ahhhhhh

Soak this one in. Perfect time for a bye week.