Hellacious third quarter will haunt Missouri for rest of season

Missouri’s missed opportunities in a South Carolina monsoon left as many as 28 points off the board in a five-hour, gut-wrenching loss.
Drew Lock walks onto the field with team captains before the start of Missouri's eventual 43-29 loss to Georgia on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018.

Somewhere around its halfway point, Missouri’s seismic clash with South Carolina turned into a postmodern reenactment of the Wizard of Oz.

The heavens opened mercilessly, the rain poured horizontally, and perhaps a faint whimper could be heard from the Missouri sideline at any given point during the third quarter.

“I’m melting! I’m melting!”

Even after recovering once the third quarter ended and the monsoon cleared, Missouri (3-2, 0-2 SEC) felt the consequences of its elemental meltdown Saturday in a depth-defying 37-35 loss to South Carolina. Missouri lost an early 10-point lead, rallied from down eight, then spoiled a 57-yard Tucker McCann field goal that seemed destined to be a late game-winner after mother nature intervened again with a 76-minute lightning delay.

Instead, South Carolina exploited Missouri’s Achilles heel – the secondary – and marched the length of the field in the final 1:18, led by a backup quarterback, to win on a 33-yard kick with two seconds left.

It was a crushing final blow in a defeat of cataclysmic proportions, but the loss should also be lent to the Tigers going full-on Wicked Witch of the West in one of their most humiliating quarters in recent history.

Missouri probably should’ve led by more than its 23-14 advantage at halftime, but the team had still never lost a game when leading at the intermission under third-year coach Barry Odom. It also still lacked a win against a quality opponent during Odom's tenure. The second half in Columbia-east was proving ground time.

But after the Tigers went three-and-out and South Carolina quickly tacked on a touchdown to close the gap to two points, the rain ramped up to a biblical deluge, and everything else went off the rails.

It was a third quarter straight from hell.

Missouri junior Damarea Crockett ran for an explosive 70-yard touchdown, but it was brought back 10 yards upon replay review, which concluded that Crockett stepped out of bounds. The Tigers were still in great position to regain a two-score lead, but Crockett was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Missouri was whistled for two false starts, and soon enough it was third-and-35.

Missouri went from inside the 10 to bringing out the punting unit. As the deluge came down, the punt snap was bobbled, and punter Corey Fatony wasn’t even able to get a kick in the air. Missouri’s wasted possession turned into South Carolina’s first lead on the next possession.

Things snowballed from there, as Drew Lock panicked and gifted the Gamecocks an interception return for a touchdown. Missouri trailed 31-23, but was poised to answer when it drove inside the 5-yard line. Another red zone chance went to waste, and McCann didn’t do anything to precursor his late heroics by missing a 22-yard chip shot.

The pair of possessions gone awry in the third quarter cost Missouri as many as 14 offensive points. Those are the ones Missouri fans will look back on for weeks – years? – to come, but don’t forget that bizarre mishaps occurred surrounding that quarter, too. Most notably was the failed, spontaneous onside kick after the Tigers’ first points, which Odom said at halftime was “a mis-hit” by McCann and wasn’t audibled or by design.

Then there was an atrocious drop by receiver Johnathon Johnson in the end zone, downgrading a would-be touchdown into a field goal. Missouri still led 17-7 at the time, but it was a four-point swing that could’ve made all the difference later.

Missouri reached the red zone two more times in the first half and failed to score a touchdown both times. Field goals were good consolation for the time being, but if the expectation in the red zone is a touchdown, that’s another eight points that are nothing more now than woulda-coulda-shoulda.

The latter trip to the red zone brought the Tigers inside the 10 again in the final minute of the half. The failure to finish the drive was a befitting stage-setter for the hour-long third quarter to come.

Missouri drove inside the South Carolina 40-yard line 10 times. Five of those trips resulted in field goals, and another two came up completely empty.

Oh, and lastly, there was that two-point conversion failure early in the fourth quarter. An end zone fade? What? Hadn’t the run game picked apart South Carolina all day? Derek Dooley, we digress.

At any rate, the list of aforementioned missed opportunities compiles to a total of 28 points Missouri’s offense left off the scoreboard, and that’s not counting the avoidable pick-six Lock threw.

And still, it seemed for a moment that McCann’s late magic had bailed the Tigers out after a back-and-forth fourth quarter and an hour-long delay. After all, South Carolina had been sloppy itself, botching two punts, failing on a fake field goal and committing its own plethora of penalties.

But Missouri’s secondary, which had counteracted an efficient run defense all afternoon, had two coverage breakdowns on South Carolina’s final drive.

The first was the most detrimental, an undefended seam that yielded a wide open 27-yard pass into field goal range. But even a stop on South Carolina’s next third-and-10 could’ve forced a longer field goal. At the very least, it might’ve bought the Missouri offense a few more seconds to set up shop for a hail mary, or another long field goal.

Even so, Lock’s reliability with minimal time would’ve been, well, minimal. The supposed Heisman-caliber quarterback completed 17 of 36 passes while tallying just 204 yards and throwing both of his interceptions in the second half.

Before McCann missed the easy field goal in the third, Lock mis-threw a wide open Albert Okwuegbunam in the middle of the end zone. It wasn’t Lock’s only gaffe. The face of Missouri’s program was often the face of its failure as the Tigers missed a chance at a significant win.

In Odom’s three years at the helm, Missouri has won just one game against teams that finished the season with a winning record.

Missouri will still probably finish 2018 with a winning record of its own. But this isn’t Georgia. There’s no silver lining debate to be had this time. After this heartbreaker, any results the rest of the season will be tagged by a bleak asterisk, a heavy-hearted reminder:

What if Missouri had won at South Carolina?

Edited by Adam | acole@themaneater.com

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