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Mizzou shakes off the rust, leans on defense in win over South Carolina

Missouri’s defense propels them to their third win of the season in the Battle of Columbia.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The Missouri Tigers and South Carolina Gamecocks are 5-5 all time in games against one another, but it was Missouri who had the opportunity to win a second consecutive Mayor’s Cup in Saturday night’s matchup.

It was a game defined almost as much by who didn’t make the trip as who did. Mike Bobo was named interim head coach this week after South Carolina parted ways with Will Muschamp. Missouri’s Defensive Coordinator Ryan Walters was unable to make the trip from Columbia to Columbia due to contact tracing, and David Gibbs was named the defensive coordinator before kickoff. Missouri’s Markell Utsey and Dylan Spencer missed tonight’s ballgame due to contact tracing, and South Carolina had 4 opt outs.

This game was a war of attrition before it started... and that’s before the Gamecocks lost star wide receiver, Shi Smith, for the night following a rough tackle.

Though the Gamecocks came into the game 11 for 16 on fourth down conversions, they were unable to convert their first attempt tonight, which gave Connor Bazelak and the Tigers excellent starting field position on their opening drive.

The Tigers went three and out, but a solid defensive stand granted the Tigers great field position to begin their ensuing set of downs. That second drive ended when Tauskie Dove made a highlight reel catch one-on-one in the back of the end zone to give Missouri a seven point lead halfway through the first quarter.

Back on the field with a lead, Martez Manuel helped Mizzou’s defense get the football back in lightning-quick fashion by recording the team’s eighth sack of the season. He kept things rolling for the Tigers to end the first quarter, recording another sack.

The Tigers extended their lead shortly after with a Larry Rountree III touchdown, in which the senior threw himself through the air, giving the Tigers a dramatic two-touchdown lead. It was emblematic of the Tigers’ early domination, and they lead 14-0 early in the second.

At halftime, the Tigers led by a score of 17-0. Their dominant first half performance was fueled by a gritty defensive effort, primarily charged by captain, Nick Bolton, who flew all over the field breaking up passes, dropping runners for a loss... is there any doubt left that we’ll be seeing him on Sundays soon?

Despite Missouri’s impressive defensive performance, Coach Eli Drinkwitz said that he’d like to see his team force a turnover in the second half. It would be a prophetic utterance, as the Gamecocks would throw the Tiger defense for a loop it didn’t see coming.

Luke Doty checked in at quarterback for South Carolina to begin the third quarter, and the Gamecocks finally demonstrated some semblance of ability to move the ball down field.

Even still, the Tiger defense held, and the Gamecocks only managed a field goal in the third quarter. Drinkwitz said the team wasn’t expecting Doty to play, but credited David Gibbs, the team’s secondary coach and fill-in defensive coordinator, with keeping him in check

“Doty did a nice job of eluding tackles but I think we did an effective job dealing with him overall,” Coach Drinkwitz said after the game. “That’s why it’s nice having experienced play callers.”

With Doty in the game, the Gamecock offense gained a sense of unpredictability. Doty’s ability to extend plays with his legs helped open up the passing game. And despite taking hit after hit after hit, Doty continued to chip away, slowly bringing the Gamecocks closer on the scoreboard.

After an uneventful beginning of the fourth quarter, South Carolina found itself driving with just over eight minutes to go in the ball game. It was bad timing for perhaps the largest momentum builder of the night for the Gamecocks, when Martez Manuel was called for a late hit. Targeting was initially called and then overruled, but South Carolina was bailed out of a crucial third down attempt and moved the sticks.

Just a few plays later, South Carolina converted a fourth down conversion to extend their drive and punched it into the end zone to cut the Tigers’ lead in half. Deshaun Fenwick recorded the score for the Gamecocks. 17-10 Tigers.

Inexplicably with five minutes to go, fans had a ballgame.

Missouri drained as much clock as possible on their next set of downs and forced South Carolina to burn a timeout. However, the offense continued to stall and was forced to punt the ball away. After the game, Rountree said that the Tiger offense needed to be better moving forward.

“It didn’t surprise me that this was a tight game,” said Rountree, “but it was our first win on the road and that means a lot.”

Fortunately, Grant McKinniss continued his strong play and pinned the Gamecocks at their own one yard line for the final drive. The Gamecocks had just over two minutes to travel 99 yards in order to tie the game.

Luke Doty’s hot play continued, with the backup throwing darts and dropping dimes out of his own end zone to keep South Carolina’s hopes alive. Unfortunately for Doty, his magic ran short precisely at the wrong time. Doty made a bad read as the Gamecocks approached midfield, and linebacker Devin Nicholson was waiting for an easy pick. The Tigers could finally break out the turnover robe and breathe easy for the first time in the half.

The Tigers capped off the night in victory formation and moved to 3-3 on the season. The Tigers will face off against Arkansas and former head coach Barry Odom next weekend.