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Tigers show their true colors against South Carolina with strong performance

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Missouri wasn’t perfect, but a dominating defensive performance helped the Tigers roll to a 20-point opening victory in SEC play.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the first half of Missouri’s 34-14 win over South Carolina, the script felt familiar — weird, messy and totally unpredictable.

Neither team was able to get much going offensively in the first quarter. On Mizzou’s end, the disappointing theme was Bryant overthrowing receivers. Whether it was Johnathon Johnson, Jonathan Nance, Jalen Knox or the giant frame of Albert Okwuegbunam, Bryant struggled to get the ball in the catch radius of his targets.

“I felt like I was trying to press it,” Bryant said. “I tried to force the little things rather than just let it rip and throw it.”

Larry Rountree III didn’t have much more luck, getting swallowed up as he tried to bounce off swarming defenders. He and Tyler Badie combined for a meager 13 yards in the first quarter.

Late in the quarter it looked like Missouri was about to get a touchdown on the board, but the Tigers were unable to get in the endzone on four consecutive rushes, two of which started at the two yard line and the two other at the one.

The Tigers’ defense made up for the lack of offensive excitement. The Gamecocks didn’t have a single first down through the first quarter and only one passing yard. And in a freak turn of events unlike anything you might see in college football, the Tigers put up seven defensive points in wild, anticlimactic fashion.

South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski’s initial pass was knocked backed into his hands by a Missouri defensive lineman. He then purposely threw the ball at the ground as if he realized he should’ve just let the ball drop and take the incompletion. Hilinski’s thrown ball then rolled into the endzone and was recovered for six by none other than Cale Garrett.

The official game thread reads: Ryan Hilinski pass complete to Ryan Hilinski for loss of 9 yards to the SC1, fumble by Ryan Hilinski recovered by MU Garrett, Cale at SC0, TOUCHDOWN.

(Just thought you might want to see that for yourself)

“It was awesome,” said Coach Odom about Garrett’s heads up play. “Game changing plays.” “He’s so driven and he’s on a mission,” said Odom. “And it means so much to him to go out the right way.”

“I was very conscious about the fact that I had never beaten South Carolina before,” said Garrett. “For us to be able to put together a pretty complete game and come out with a win, that’s something we can hang our hats on and have pride in.”

On a later offensive drive in the second quarter, Memorial Stadium lost its collective breath when Kelly Bryant dumped a short pass into the breadbasket of South Carolina defensive lineman D.J. Wonnum that was returned to the one yard line. The next play, South Carolina punched it in for a touchdown bringing the score to 10-7, Missouri.

“It was just a bad play,” Bryant said. “I could’ve burnt it you know, just thrown it at his feet but it be plays like that we just got to continue to play and that’s what we did.”

Bryant spoke as to what he does when after he throws an interception.

“Just breathe,” he said. “That’s just been my whole creed like you know whenever I have a bad throw or anything and I’m feeling a little anxious, just breathe. I just take a step back for a second, gather myself, okay, forget about it you know, move onto the next play.”

It felt as though the mistake got Missouri back on track. A string of passes and a double reverse would get the Tigers in scoring position. Bryant rolled out right and found a wide open Okwuegbunam for a walk-in touchdown. The Tigers’ defense continued to impress, with the Gamecocks only rushing for 27 yards and passing for three in the first half.

Receiver Jonathan Johnson spoke on Kelly Bryant’s success in the run game, “We always tell him like bro, if you don’t see nothing open and you feel like you can make a play with your feet, make sure you make that play.”

In the second half, it all swung the Tigers’ way — one play aside, of course.

On the opening play of the half, the Tiger defense had a complete breakdown, allowing Bryan Edwards to rumble 70-plus yards to make it a three-point game.

Kelly Bryant and team found a way to respond, though, marching it down the field in 11 plays ending it with a dump off to Tyler Badie that went an explosive 21 yards along the sideline for a touchdown.

“That was very important for us to score just to shift the momentum back on our side,” said Badie.

The game still wasn’t completely iced. You could feel things starting to slip for the Tigers with nine minutes left in the third. Barry Odom lost a challenge and the Gamecocks started completing successful consecutive passes. Hilinski looked poised and was throwing with purpose. That is, until Ronnell Perkins stepped into his passing lane.

The Gamecocks lined up on the three yard line looking to score. Hilinkski, looking for a cutting receiver, dropped the ball into Perkins’ pocket. With 100 yards of real estate ahead of him, Perkins took off and put another defensive touchdown on the board for the Tigers. It was the first 100 yard pick-six in Missouri history.

The Tiger defense continued to be relentless. Akial Byers forced and recovered a fumble on a third and one stop. No points came out of it, but it took away yet another offensive possession from the Gamecocks.

Missouri began to pull away. They drove for a field goal and ended the following Gamecock drive with two sacks for a combined loss of 15 yards. Dakereon Joyner took over quarterback duties for South Carolina. The Gamecocks started driving the ball and took it into Tiger territory.

Usually in garbage time, defenses let up some points out of a sense of comfort. That wasn’t the case with Missouri. The Tigers bent, but didn’t break. They withstood a goal line drive and played with pride, earning the team its first win in conference play and a 3-1 record heading into the bye week.