After an exciting week that led up to one of the more anticipated Missouri football matchups in recent memory, fans left Memorial Stadium disappointed.
Missouri football came up well short in a 31-13 loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday night in Columbia.
Missouri’s first-quarter defensive performance could not have been a more stark contrast to last week’s abysmal effort. The Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage, holding the Gamecocks to three rushing yards in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, junior quarterback Drew Lock connected with redshirt senior tight end Jason Reese for a 64-yard touchdown, giving Missouri a 10-0 lead. It seemed as though the Tigers were off and running, establishing early momentum and electrifying the Memorial Stadium crowd.
That momentum quickly shifted toward South Carolina on one explosive play when the Gamecocks’ dynamic kicker returner, redshirt junior Deebo Samuel, ran the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, his second such return of the season.
After Lock’s first pass on the following drive was intercepted, Samuel scored again, this time on a reverse for a 25-yard score to give the Gamecocks the lead.
In the second half, South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley’s 39-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst gave the Gamecocks a 24-13 lead in the third quarter, a lead that they would not relinquish.
One word defined the Missouri offense on Saturday night: uninspiring.
After wowing the nation with a seven-touchdown performance last week, Lock was contained to a pedestrian 14-32 passing line, including two interceptions.
Four drops from Missouri wide receivers cost the Tiger offense dearly. The only positive seemed to be the running game, which saw Damarea Crockett rush 18 times for a total of 97 yards.
Despite rushing for 90 yards in the first half, Crockett only registered two carries in the second due to an injury, according to head coach Barry Odom.
“Damarea’s out with a bruised tailbone,” Odom said. “I have one too: it’s called an ass-kicking.”
The Missouri defense showed true signs of improvement, allowing 12 fewer points than it did in its season opener against Missouri State.
Missouri improved in open-field tackling, allowing just one offensive play of 35 yards or more. Redshirt junior Kaleb Prewett said the defense was happy with the steps it took to improve but has more work to do going forward.
“We made a lot of progress tonight, but we made a fair share of mistakes too,” Prewett said. “They’re a great team, but we made our mistakes.”
Mistakes on special teams cost Missouri more than anything in the loss. In addition to poor coverage on kickoffs, sophomore placekicker Tucker McCann had a 25-yard field goal attempt blocked.
In a controversial play early in the fourth quarter, Missouri cornerback Adam Sparks appeared to be pushed by a Gamecock player into redshirt sophomore Johnathon Johnson, who muffed a potential punt return, and led to a South Carolina recovery.
The play, followed by a Gamecock scoring drive, erased any doubt on the result of the game.
The importance of special teams sometimes goes overlooked by fans, but not by Odom. He emphasized the importance that it has on each game.
“If we play horrific on special teams, we’re not going to win a game,” Odom said.
If a football game is a war, statistical advantages are the battles. Missouri lost almost every one.
Redzone inefficiency brought potential Tiger scoring drives to screeching halt. In their three red zone opportunities, the Tigers scored only a single field goal.
Missouri lost the possession battle as well. South Carolina held the ball a whopping 15 minutes more than the Tigers.
Mizzou also turned the ball over three times, while the Gamecocks didn’t turn it over once.
“We have no margin for error,” Odom said. “You can’t turn the ball over three times and expect to win. That’s the name of the game.”
The loss was a sour way to open Southeastern Conference play, as the Tigers fall to 1-1 (0-1 SEC).
Missouri will have a chance at redemption next week when they host the Purdue Boilermakers at Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m. and can be viewed on SEC Network.
Edited by Joe Noser | Jnoser@themaneater.com