Gamecocks lose significant ground in SEC East race
South Carolina had the Missouri Tigers right where they wanted them Saturday night.
But, as Missouri itself learned a year ago in this same matchup, a lead can disappear in the blink of an eye in college football. And the Gamecocks found themselves stunned, losing 21-20 Saturday night.
It looked like South Carolina had sealed the deal with just more than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. Sophomore wide receiver Pharoh Cooper withstood a punishing hit to bring in a touchdown that put the Gamecocks up 19-7 with the extra point looming.
But, by head coach Steve Spurrier's own admission, that extra point that made it 20-7 should've never taken place.
"I messed up on the two-point conversion. We should've gone for it," Spurrier said. "I wasn't even thinking about it until I looked up and saw it was 20-7."
A successful two-point conversation would've forced overtime following the Tigers' comeback.
A failed attempt at two points would have left South Carolina in virtually the same position the extra point did.
Missouri's 14 fourth-quarter points highlighted one of the great defensive collapses in recent memory for the Gamecocks. The South Carolina defense held Missouri to 152 yards through three quarters.
The Tigers finished the game with 280.
"We should've stayed focused on the game," redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon said. "I feel like we took it as we won the game already. We shouldn't have, and we've got to start focusing more at the end of the game."
Dixon, along with much of the South Carolina defense, had a monster game up until Missouri's comeback effort. He had four tackles and a sack to go with three tackles for loss.
But the lack of sustained focus cost Dixon and the Gamecocks dearly with the South Carolina offense struggling mightily throughout the entirety of the game.
Redshirt senior quarterback Dylan Thompson threw for a season-low 219 yards Saturday. And when South Carolina got the ball back with one minute and 36 seconds remaining in the game, down by one, Thompson went 0-4 to turn the ball back over to Missouri.
Much of Thompson and the offense's struggles was due to the Tigers' ruthless pass rush.
Missouri racked up four sacks and four quarterback hurries, along with a countless number of crushing shots to Thompson immediately after he released the ball.
But the Gamecock quarterback isn't concerned with the physical beating he took Saturday night.
"It just hurts to lose, really," he said. "I'll get over the soreness — you're sore after every game. It just hurts to lose knowing you left a lot of points out there."
Despite the resounding tone of the locker room, including the three teammates junior running back Mike Davis said he saw crying after the game, the world has not come to an end for South Carolina.
There is still more than half of a season remaining on the Gamecocks' schedule, and the loss does not eliminate South Carolina from the SEC East race.
But the team can almost certainly not afford to lose another conference game.
"This loss just can't defeat us the rest of the season," redshirt senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt said. "We've got to come back to the drawing board and get ready for Kentucky."
The Gamecocks still have four SEC games left to play, three of which are on the road, and none of which will be terribly easy.
A trip to Auburn looms on the horizon, a game that many marked on the calendar as the one loss South Carolina could be allowed to suffer without consequence. But that loss was used up Saturday against Missouri.
Nonetheless, the team won't allow itself to look ahead on the schedule like we undoubtedly will, and the only thing that will be on their mind will be next weekend's trip to Lexington, Kentucky.
And although Spurrier heaped much of the blame for Saturday's loss on his own shoulders, he still has plenty of coaching left to do.
"We'll get over it in a day or two and get ready for the next game," he said. "That's all you can do."