Gamecocks look to expand SEC East lead with win Saturday
We all know what happened in this game last season.
But if you’re new to the school this year or need a refresher, let’s get you in the loop.
Last October, the Gamecocks traveled to Columbia, Missouri. A loss looked imminent, as South Carolina trailed 17-0 heading into the fourth quarter.
Connor Shaw , barely able to walk with a sprained knee, stepped in as the Gamecocks’ quarterback midway through the third quarter and led his team back to force overtime.
Shaw converted a key fourth-and-long touchdown pass to again tie the game in the extra period. Then, in the second overtime, Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett hit the upright on a short field goal attempt to win the game.
The Tigers went on to win the SEC East last season, but losing that convincing lead in their home stadium stung, and there's no doubt the team wants revenge for that defeat against South Carolina that cost them a perfect regular season.
The Gamecocks' current quarterback, Dylan Thompson, started that game against Missouri a year ago before being pulled in favor of the hobbled Shaw.
“I always tell Connor I helped the legend of Connor Shaw that night,” Thompson said.
Shaw will be on the sidelines during the game Saturday, but Thompson knows his former teammate and friend to this day can only watch this time around.
Thompson couldn't quite figure out what went wrong during his performance at Missouri last season. He noted that the offense moved the ball decently, but couldn’t find the end zone. He had an interception in the second quarter and didn’t seem to get that comfortable as the game went on.
The good news for Thompson is that Missouri’s top two pass rushers from last season in Michael Sam and Kony Ealy have both moved on to NFL careers. The Tigers’ defense isn't quite the same as in past years, and it showed last week when they lost at home to a historically mediocre Indiana team.
This is the fifth meeting all-time for No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 2-1 SEC) and Missouri (3-1, 0-0 SEC), and each school has won two games apiece in the series history.
Both teams will look to have a leg up on the competition in the race to be SEC East champions with a win Saturday. With the Gamecocks beating Georgia two weeks ago, if they can beat the Tigers, it puts them in prime position to control their own destiny with only four conference games remaining after Saturday.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier isn’t even worried about that right now though. He just wants his special teams and defense to improve dramatically from their recent play.
“We're still in the hunt for whatever we're in the hunt for,” Spurrier said. “But obviously, we need to concern ourselves with playing the game at a lot better level than we've been playing, and we'll find out if we can do it Saturday night."
The Gamecocks’ kickoff coverage was flat-out horrible last week against Vanderbilt, allowing two kick returns for touchdowns. The defense has looked shaky all season, despite senior Brison Williams’ interception for a score against the Commodores.
South Carolina is second to last in the SEC and 105 out of 124 teams in total defense, allowing 480 yards per . The defense especially needs to tighten up if the Gamecocks hope to contend in the SEC East. Repeatedly over the past week, Spurrier used the word “embarrassing” to describe his team.
Since this season’s matchup in Columbia, South Carolina will take place during Parents Weekend, and College GameDay will grace the campus with its presence, the atmosphere should be unforgettable.
Still, Thompson doesn’t want his squad to get too caught up in the moment and plans to make sure their minds stay focused on what goes down between the white lines.
“They’re a good team. We have to really prepare this week and be sharp,” Thompson said. “We’re excited though about getting the opportunity to play in front of the best fans in America.”