Missouri (1-1, 0-1 SEC) looked like a completely different team early in its 31-13 loss to South Carolina (2-0, 1-0 SEC) Saturday night. The same Tigers that went back and forth in a shootout with Missouri State leaned heavily on their rushing attack and showed improved defensive play.
Mizzou’s passing attack, which racked up 521 yards and seven touchdowns last week, struggled against the Gamecocks all night long. Drew Lock completed only 14 of 32 passes for 245 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Multiple drops by Missouri’s receivers didn’t help.
“We’re going to build on some things we did defensively,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said. “We did some better things there, but offensively we didn’t. We didn’t stretch the field vertically enough to be able to get the ball down the field and weren’t able to get anything going.”
Damarea Crockett was productive, carrying the ball 18 times for 98 yards, but he left late in the third quarter with a bruised tailbone and never returned. Ish Witter took the carries for the entirety of the fourth quarter and finished with 72 yards on 12 attempts.
After heroics last week against NC State, Deebo Samuel was the star again for the Gamecocks. Samuel amassed 167 total yards from scrimmage and scored twice. “Number 1 is obviously a great player,” Odom said.
Missouri ran the ball eight times on its opening drive and Crockett carried the ball for six of them to the tune of 32 yards. The Tigers easily moved the ball down the field but settled for a field goal after two dropped passes.
Mizzou’s defense quickly showed improvement on South Carolina’s following possession when Marcell Frazier tripped up Jake Bentley for a sack. Two plays later, Jordan Harold took his turn sacking Bentley for eight yards.
It was early, but the Tigers seemed to set the tone for a low-scoring contest. The offense was using a slower paced, ball-control style of play and the defense played like it had heard all of the criticism from the past week loud and clear.
And then the second quarter happened.
The Tigers scored in 11 seconds when Lock found Jason Reese up the middle of the field for a 61-yard touchdown. The play looked to only be an intermediate completion, but Reese had split the South Carolina linebackers and outran the secondary for the score.
Mizzou’s momentum was short lived, however, because Samuel took the ensuing kick return up the left side of the field for a 97-yard Gamecocks’ touchdown. After Lock threw a pick on the first play of the next drive, Samuel scored again on a 25-yard scamper to give South Carolina a 14-10 lead.
“That turned the tide, it turned the momentum,” Odom said. “We’re not gonna give ourselves a chance to win the game if we play like that.”
Missouri had a chance to cut the lead to one point toward the end of the first half, but South Carolina got a piece of a 24-yard field goal attempt that was no good. On their first possession out of the break, South Carolina’s Bentley found Hayden Hurst for a 31-yard touchdown to make the score 21-10.
Missouri had a great chance to answer with a touchdown after Emanuel Hall made an acrobatic 38-yard grab to get them to South Carolina’s 4-yard line, but they were unable to find the end zone. From there the Tigers and Gamecocks traded field goals to keep South Carolina’s lead at 11 at the end of the third quarter.
Mizzou’s defense forced a quick 3-and-out early in the fourth quarter, giving its offense a chance to close the gap. Unfortunately the offense never made it onto the field, because Johnathon Johnson muffed the punt. Johnson’s teammate appeared to get thrown into him, causing him to stumble and fall, but no flag was thrown.
South Carolina took advantage of Missouri’s blunder and scored on a two-yard rush by Hurst to push the lead to 18 and put the Tigers away.
Turnovers and poor special teams play were crucial in Missouri’s loss. The Tigers lost the turnover battle three to zero and Samuel’s return created a snowball effect.
“Our margin of error is absolutely zero,” Odom said. “If we don’t win the turnover margin, if we play horrific on special teams, then we’re not gonna win games.”
Missouri plays against Purdue (1-1) for the first time since 1980 at 3 p.m. on Sept. 16 in a home game. The Boilers are coming off of a 44-21 win over Ohio.
“I’m disappointed, obviously, but we’ll continue to work and try to find a way to get the turnover margin and kicking game in our favor,” Odom said. “If we do that, we’ll have some fun around here, if we don’t, it’ll be tough.”