Odom, Missouri grab first win over South Carolina since 2015

The Tigers scored two touchdowns on both offense and defense to earn the 34-14 win over the Gamecocks.
Redshirt senior Ronnell Perkins runs downfield after intercepting South Carolina quarterback Ryan Hilinski's pass in Missouri's end zone. The 100-yard interception return is now the longest in school history. Madeline Carter

As South Carolina was preparing to end a 14-play, 72-yard drive with its third offensive touchdown of the game and second of third quarter, Ronnell Perkins intercepted freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski instead.

“I looked right at [Hilinski],” Perkins said. “He looked me right in the eyes and he threw it right to my chest.”

The redshirt senior had 100 yards of clear field ahead of him as he took the ball to the house, resulting in the longest interception return in Missouri history.

The scoring play was the second for Missouri in a strong third quarter, with Kelly Bryant connecting with Tyler Badie for a 21-yard touchdown on its first drive. It was an answer to a 75-yard South Carolina touchdown on the first play of the half where Hilinski found senior Bryan Edwards for the longest completion of the game.

Missouri’s (3-1, 1-0) 34-14 win over South Carolina (2-2, 0-1) was its first since coach Barry Odom took the reigns in 2016. In the last three seasons, the Tigers have lost to the Gamecocks 21-31, 13-31 and 35-37.

“It’s great,” Odom said of the win. “I’m happy for our kids. We won it in ‘15, and then we haven’t the last couple years, so big for our guys. Big for our seniors.”

It was also the third straight game where Missouri has scored on defense, though Perkins’ interception return wasn’t the first defensive touchdown of the afternoon.

South Carolina’s defense had a big stop on Missouri’s second drive of the game, forcing a turnover on downs after four unsuccessful rushing attempts from the 2 yard line by the Tigers. On fourth, sophomore Kingsley Enagbare tackled Bryant in the backfield for a loss of six yards.

On the second play of the ensuing drive, a penalty was called for an illegal forward pass — two of them — on Hilinski. His original pass was batted back to him, and he proceeded to drop it backwards into the end zone, where senior linebacker Cale Garrett dove for it.

“There’s a reason why defensively every time in practice that the ball’s on the ground, we got four guys and everybody that’s around it goes [to] scoop it up,” Odom said. “Because you never know if it’s a backwards pass.”

Upon review, the play was deemed a fumble and Garrett’s recovery put Missouri on the board, giving it an early and unexpected lead.

“I was kinda nervous because the call on the field was intentional grounding or something like that,” Garrett said of the original call.

The first half was defense-heavy for both teams.

Junior Aaron Sterling forced a Badie fumble at the 29-yard line in the first quarter to give the Gamecocks their first scoring opportunity four plays later when redshirt junior Parker White came onto the field to attempt a 50-yard field goal. It sailed wide right, giving Missouri fans the botched kick by White they had hoped for during last year’s game, but at a much less crucial moment.

South Carolina finally found the end zone in the second quarter after an interception and 21-yard return by D.J. Wonnum set up a 1-yard touchdown rush on the following down by senior Rico Dowdle.

Missouri responded with an offensive touchdown of its own after the teams exchanged punts. Bryant found Albert Okwuegbunam open on the right side for a 3-yard reception, their first connection of the game.

The only other offensive scoring play of the first half came from senior Tucker McCann, who cleared a 47-yard field goal after a nine minute scoring drought for both teams between the first and second quarters. McCann had a second, 25-yard field goal near the start of the fourth quarter to extend Missouri to its final lead of 34-14.

Both teams struggled to establish the ground game. After rushing for 145 yards against Southeast Missouri, Larry Rountree III had just 88 yards against South Carolina, while Badie accumulated 18. Bryant was the second leading rusher behind Rountree with 77 yards, although he led for much of the game.

On the Gamecock side of the ball, three of the teams’ five rushers — including Hilinski — logged negative yards. South Carolina finished with just 16 yards after averaging 252 in its last three games.

Between Hilinski and Dakereon Joyner though, the Gamecocks managed to rack up more passing yards than Bryant, who finished with 227. Hilinski had 166 on 13 completions.

Missouri will have a week off next Saturday for its first bye week of the season. It’s the first season the Southeastern Conference is trying out two bye weeks for each team. The second will be on Nov. 2 before the Tigers travel to Athens, Georgia.

“Now we’re into a bye week, which we need from a health standpoint,” Odom said. “And we need it preparation-wise ... We’re going to use it just like a game week. Sunday and Monday will be exactly the same and then we’re gonna get back to work on our next opponent, who I think is really good.”’

When it resumes play on Oct. 5, Missouri will remain at home as it takes on Troy.

Edited by Wilson Moore | wmoore@themaneater.com

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