Missouri’s conference-opening defeat to SEC East foe South Carolina reaffirmed several truths: Deebo Samuel is good, Drew Lock struggles against SEC opponents, and the Tigers’ special teams unit is still questionable at best.
Victory for the Gamecocks in the SEC’s westernmost Columbia came down to several key mistakes from Mizzou, enabling South Carolina to outscore the Tigers 31-3 from early in the second quarter on.
Mizzou’s peak was reached early in the second quarter, when Lock connected over the middle with tight end Jason Reese for a wonderful 61-yard touchdown. The Tiger defense, after being woefully exposed often in the 72-43 Week 1 victory over Missouri State, had been routinely stopping the Gamecocks up to that point. Faurot Field was getting rowdy.
Memorial Stadium was then treated to a live episode of the Deebo Samuel Show, which leads us into Key Moment No. 1.
Samuel had returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in the Gamecocks’ season-opener vs. NC State, and Tucker McCann — who is usually pretty good at sailing kickoffs for touchbacks (a 63.4 percent touchback rate) — kicked it down the left sideline to SC’s human lightning bolt. Samuel did the rest for a second-straight game with a 97-yard kickoff return score.
Key Moment No. 2 happened just a play from scrimmage later. Lock threw a pass toward the left sideline for Johnathon Johnson, but it was read well and picked off by South Carolina freshman Jamyest Williams.
The play resulted in SC starting its drive at Mizzou’s 25-yard line, glorious field position, and it took just a single play for Samuel to run a jet sweep, outrun the Missouri defense and scamper for a second Gamecock touchdown less than 30 seconds after his first.
After what seemed to be a great start, two plays swung the pendulum of momentum violently in the Gamecocks’ favor, and the Tigers never would recover.
Alas, two other mistakes didn’t help make matters any more manageable.
Key Moment No. 3 came with the game still very much up in the air at the beginning of the second half for Mizzou, but with another special teams miscue.
With Missouri still down 14-10 on their opening drive of the third quarter, South Carolina eventually forced a punt after allowing two first downs. Corey Fatony pinned the Gamecocks inside their own 5-yard line, but an illegal motion penalty forced Fatony to re-punt, which resulted in a touchback.
Worse field position could have made things more difficult for South Carolina, which carved up the Mizzou defense en route to a nine-play touchdown drive — its first sustained touchdown drive of the evening.
Key Moment No. 4 put Missouri’s chances for a comeback in the coffin. Forcing two incompletions from SC quarterback Jake Bentley, the Tiger defense got a well-deserved three-and-out, down 24-13 with 13:10 left in the game. There was plenty of time left to revive the first-half hype that seemed so distant at this point in the game.
Alas, it was not to be. With a blocker running into him, Johnson muffed his fair catch attempt. SC’s Kaleb Chalmers pounced on the football on Missouri’s side of the 50.
Seven plays later, after Ty’Son Williams ran for a 32-yard gain to the Mizzou 1-yard line, Hayden Hurst barreled his way through several Mizzou defenders to seal the deal for South Carolina.
Special teams are often overlooked on a football field, but in Mizzou’s case Saturday, they were a big part in their defeat. Yes, the Tigers failed to get into an offensive flow — which overshadowed a solid day from the Missouri defense. But the kickoff and punt units simply underperformed.
Jeff Brohm’s much-improved Purdue Boilermakers visit Columbia next week, and if the Tigers don’t want to exit their four-game opening home stretch as potentially poor as 1-3, things must get better, and fast.