The No. 25 South Carolina Gamecocks 5-2 (2-2 SEC) will put its four-game win streak to the test when the team hosts the Missouri Tigers 3-4 (1-3 SEC) at home this weekend.
The Daily Gamecock spoke with sports editor Davis Wilson of the Maneater, Missouri’s student newspaper, to preview the Saturday afternoon showdown. The Mayor’s Cup is on the line in the matchup between the teams from Columbia, Missouri, and Columbia, South Carolina, in South Carolina’s annual Homecoming game.
The Daily Gamecock: What is the atmosphere surrounding the team with a losing record at this point in the season even after the win over Vanderbilt last week?
Davis Wilson: “From an outsider, I would say that they've played in a lot of really close games that haven't gone their way. So, I think they're really, really happy with the win over Vanderbilt. Just as a team, I think they needed that."
"(Head coach Eliah) Drinkwitz has done a really good job of building hype for fans, with recruiting and off-field stuff. But I think fans are starting to question, for the first time, the on-field results. And so basically, the team felt really good about that one, but I don't think the fans did.”
Starting with South Carolina, Missouri has to play three consecutive ranked teams. What are the expectations going forward and how will the players respond to this test?
“The team's expectation is to make a bowl game. Looking at the schedule, realistically, that seems like it's a long shot at this point. Which means that they're going to have to win a game like the South Carolina game, or a game like the Arkansas game. They're going to have to win a game they're not supposed to. But I think for the team, and for fans, I think a bowl game has to be what you shoot for the rest of the year.”
With Drinkwitz now in his third year leading the Tigers, how has he been able to connect with the fanbase and what is his standing among the supporters?
“He's a really personable coach, he has done a really good job of getting fans excited about Missouri football again. He's done a really good job of recruiting in-state. Last year's recruiting class was kind of a huge deal for him. I think it ended up being top-15 in the country, somewhere around there, highlighted by (wide receiver) Luther Burden (III) from St. Louis."
"Fans really like him. He's a really intelligent guy. I think now, though, it's kind of starting to get to a point where I think fans are wanting more on-field success. And so, I think that is his next step is to start winning some games. But, he's done a really good job of getting the fan base really excited about football again."
Who have been go-to guys for Missouri this season, and who will be the Tigers’ top performers on Saturday?
“Offensively, I think the guys that need to have a good game for Missouri to have a chance are the receiving corps, kind of as a whole. I think that's one of the more talented position groups on the team. Luther Burden, the freshman, has been pretty exciting so far. (Sophomore) Dominic Lovett is one of the leading receivers in the SEC right now. So, I think getting the ball in their hands is going to be really important."
"On defense, two guys really stand out. There's a junior cornerback named Kris Abrams-Draine who had a really, really good week, really good game against Vanderbilt last week. And then (junior) Ty’Ron Hopper is a linebacker who transferred from Florida, and he's been kind of Missouri's best defensive player and a big reason why they've been able to kind of turn that unit around so fast.”
How will Missouri handle what has been a loud home crowd that has provided a significant home field advantage this season for South Carolina?
“I think they're going to have to work really hard on trying to find the grit. When they were playing previously in the season, they played close games with Georgia and Florida, back-to-back, and Auburn. And I think Auburn and Florida were both away games and hostile SEC crowds. So, I think if they can do what they can to reproduce those kinds of results and just keeping (sophomore quarterback) Brady Cook clean in the pocket, I think that's going to be what they're going to have to do to continue the wins going forward.”
"20-17 South Carolina."