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Missouri players, coaches talk rivalry with South Carolina

Facing a potential 4-game losing streak against the Gamecocks, the Tigers talk about their upcoming game with their rivals from Columbia East.

Missouri v South Carolina Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Richaud Floyd doesn’t have many fond memories of the Mayor’s Cup.

The only time Missouri has beaten South Carolina in the annual matchup between the two Columbia’s since Floyd entered college was during his redshirt freshman season in 2015. In 2018, Floyd didn’t even make the trip to Columbia, South Carolina, because he was out with a broken bone in his leg. Instead, he sat in the Tigers’ training room and watched his team fall to the Gamecocks on a last-second field goal.

Fans will remember that as the game that was halted by a monsoon on the field and delayed for over an hour due to lightning. Missouri had its chances to close it out. A 57-yard field goal by Tucker McCann gave the Tigers the lead with just 1:18 left, but in the end, they came up short for the third year in a row.

Now that he’s a redshirt senior and the team’s primary punt return man, Floyd said Missouri can’t let anything get in the way of getting its first win against South Carolina since his redshirt freshman year.

“I definitely want to get a win while I play,” Floyd said. “In 2015, we won but I didn’t play, so I want to be on the field and get a win just to say we beat South Carolina before I left.”

Head coach Barry Odom is also still looking for his first win over the Gamecocks since he took the job in 2016. Though the games have always been hard-fought battles during Odom’s tenure, his team has yet to end up on the winning side.

Odom’s respect for South Carolina coach Will Muschamp has only grown since they joined the rivalry. With both being named head coach for their respective teams just three days apart in 2015 — Odom on Dec. 3, Muschamp on Dec. 6 — they have only gone head-to-head with each other in Mayor’s Cup games, and Muschamp has secured the win all three times.

Odom knows round four won’t be any easier, but with the matchup back in Columbia, Missouri, the Tigers will have a better shot at taking back the Cup than they’ve had in years.

“It’s a conference game, and we’ve got a lot of respect for the program and for Will, and we want to win,” Odom said. “It’s been a contested, close battle since I’ve been here in ‘15... Last year was back and forth throughout the entire course of the game, and hopefully we can get it into the fourth quarter and find a way to prepare well enough to put ourselves in that position to go win it late.”

To even get close to that position, Missouri may need running back Larry Rountree III’s top performance of the year.

After recording just 41 yards on the ground in the Week 1 loss to Wyoming, Rountree has progressively improved over the last two weeks with impressive performances against West Virginia (99 yards, one touchdown) and Southeast Missouri State (142 yards, two touchdowns).

Rountree, a preseason All-SEC third team selection, will need to keep it going as the Tigers head into SEC play. It’s one thing to put up the numbers he did last week against an FCS team; it’s a whole other thing to do it against a program that’s had your number for the last three seasons.

But if Rountree is playing his best, this could be the year Missouri finally puts an end to the streak.

“Larry looked like Larry,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “Last two games he’s looked like Larry. It’s what we expect and it’s what we need, and we need it for four quarters.”

Rountree won’t be the only one tested on offense, though.

Quarterback Kelly Bryant, who said he grew up no more than a couple of hours from Columbia, South Carolina, has already beaten the Gamecocks once, albeit in a different uniform. Back in 2017 when he was the starter at Clemson, those Tigers steamrolled South Carolina, 34-10, en route to a College Football Playoff appearance.

Even with that familiarity, though, Bryant said he knows how important winning this game is for Missouri.

The same goes for slot receiver Johnathon Johnson, who was injured the last time the Tigers beat the Gamecocks and hasn’t been able to get them over the hump since.

Missouri may have rivalries with other SEC programs in other sports, but on the football field, this rivalry remains as big as any the Tigers have had since they joined the conference in 2012.

“Being that they’re on our side of the SEC, and being that I’ve been there (and) played them when I was at Clemson, definitely got a relationship going,” Bryant said. “So we know the urgency, the emphasis of this game.”

“You’ve got to take them all personally,” Johnson said, referring to losses in general. “For me, we ain’t beat them and ain’t beat a couple of more SEC teams since I’ve been playing, so they’re all personal to me. But since this is the first one, yeah this one is personal.”

So with this SEC-opener looming Saturday, Missouri can’t afford to let anything — not even a monsoon — stop it from beating its Columbia East rivals.

But with some bad weather on the early forecast, Odom has a little advice he learned from last year’s matchup: “Bring an umbrella.”