The Missouri Tigers (3-4, 1-3 SEC) travel to the other Columbia to take on the No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks (5-2, 2-2 SEC) for the latest edition of The Mayor’s Cup. It’s the first of three consecutive games Mizzou will play against AP Top 25 ranked opponents.
While a win may seem unlikely here, remember that Eli Drinkwitz is 3-0 in his career against South Carolina, including a win as the head coach with Appalachian State.
Kick-off on Saturday is set for 3:00 p.m. CST on SEC Network with Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst), and Alyssa Lang (sideline reporter) on the call.
To get a perspective on the Gamecocks, we talked it over with Kody Timmers over at Garnet and Black Attack. Here’s the Q and A to preview the game:
Sammy Stava: South Carolina had started off the season 1-2 and now has rattled off four straight wins including big victories over Kentucky and Texas A&M to get into the Top 25. What’s been the biggest key to this Gamecocks’ turnaround?
Kody Timmers: I’d say finding ways to get off to a hot start. The offense has been a slog for much of the season, and while it’s getting better, still can’t be relied upon for very much production in the first quarter, which put the Gamecocks in huge holes against Georgia and Arkansas that were nearly impossible to claw back from. Against Kentucky and A&M, though, the defense and special teams, respectively, staked South Carolina to a lead before the opening minute had even expired. While it’s unreasonable and illogical to expect that to happen every week, the Gamecocks have continued to find a way to make things work as they wait on the offense to come around.
SS: After a bowl win in his Year 1, the Gamecocks are currently ranked and in 3rd place in the SEC East standings in the middle of Shane Beamer’s second season. Has the fanbase fully bought in to Beamer already? On a scale of 1-10, What’s the excitement level around this program right now?
KT: Oh yeah, I’d say the Shane Train is properly leaving the station now; we’re at a solid 8-10. There was understandably a lot of skepticism when he was hired (including from yours truly), and obviously he has to continue what he’s started, but there’s a certain measure of faith in him to keep things moving in the right direction that was just never there with Will Muschamp. At this point, the biggest question mark is at offensive coordinator: Marcus Satterfield still has plenty of detractors itching to brandish their pitchforks, especially since there’s no question that special teams and the defense are keying the team right now, but the players seem like they’re behind him and we’ll have to see how the rest of the season shakes out.
SS: Despite South Carolina’s success, Oklahoma transfer QB Spencer Rattler’s numbers this season look kind of underwhelming on paper throwing for only 5 TD passes and eight interceptions. How would you grade/evaluate his performance so far?
KT: Rattler has definitely been up and down for the Gamecocks this year, which can be disappointing and frustrating to watch at times. Some of his turnovers have been utterly head-scratching, but by the same token, he’s also good for at least one or two throws a game that are NFL caliber and show off his clear arm talent. I think a decent amount of his earlier struggles can be attributed to an offensive line that was still gelling and getting itself together; unsurprisingly, as the line play has improved, so has Rattler, and I think he’s also adjusted more to his specific situation here. I think he was likely “spoiled” by having much better and more consistent protection at Oklahoma, and didn’t realize just how much scrambling and improvisation he’d need to do at South Carolina. Both Rattler and the OL seem more comfortable with each other now, so hopefully he can keep building off of his positive plays and get some proper momentum going.
SS: What is this South Carolina team’s biggest strength, and their biggest weakness? Who are some underrated players on the offensive and defensive side of the ball that Mizzou fans will need to keep an eye on?
KT; Beamer Ball is alive and well in Columbia: In seven games this season, we’ve already seen multiple blocked punts, a kick return touchdown, stellar field goal kicking paired with some booming punts, and other generally heads-up plays in that phase of the game. The defense is a strength as well, having generated a conference-best nine interceptions (and two fumbles recovered). The most glaring deficiency — as it has been for years now, unfortunately — is the offense, which is still operating in fits and starts, giving up some giant sacks, struggling to stay on the field, and otherwise just not executing up to snuff when called upon. As for players to know from each side of the ball: Tonka Hemingway has been a one-man wrecking machine while not necessarily stuffing the stat sheet, and Christian Beal-Smith, overshadowed by MarShawn Lloyd, has made some impressive plays out of the backfield in his own right.
SS: South Carolina came in as a five-point favorite (now down to four), but Eli Drinkwitz is 3-0 in his career against the Gamecocks, including a win with Appalachian State. How do you see this game playing out on Saturday? Have a final score prediction?
KT: This series is, I think, the closest thing either team has to a proper intra-division rivalry, so it’s got a bit of a “throw out the records” feel to it (especially with how crazy some of these games have gotten). I do like the Gamecocks in this one, but I expect it to be a relatively low-scoring slugfest, and I’m not overlooking Missouri at all (which some USC fans might be inclined to do after the ugly victory against Vanderbilt). I’ll go with 24-21 in a game that could go either way, but with the combination of a home game and some momentum on its side, I see it tipping in South Carolina’s direction.
Thanks to Kody, and lots of insightful stuff on the Gamecocks. Follow Garnet and Black Attack on Twitter for all things South Carolina coverage.