We probably shouldn't be surprised by anything in the annual race for the SEC East anymore. After all, this is a division where, coming into this season, South Carolina had beaten the eventual champion for three straight years and missed the SEC title game. No team has truly dominated the division since Tim Tebow's last season in 2009.
So maybe we should have assumed that as soon as one team seemed to at least have an inside track on winning the division, something would come along to blow everything up all over again. The team with the inside track was South Carolina, and the something that came along was a fourth-quarter turnaround by Missouri that reduced to rubble whatever preconceived notions we had of where the division goes from here.
Ironically, it was a lack of offense that sealed the Gamecocks' fate. The defense, which seemed the mostly likely to cost South Carolina the East at some point, played what was likely its best game of the year. The 280 yards of offense for Missouri was by far the fewest yards the Gamecocks have allowed this season; a team that seemed unable to stop almost anyone held the Tigers to 2-for-15 on third-down conversions. But South Carolina settled for field goals on two of its four scoring drives and was generally inconsistent all night, and that was the difference in the game.
It was the difference largely because Missouri's sluggish offense woke up in the fourth quarter after struggling for most of the game. Maty Mauk, who started the game 9-of-29 for 62 yards, completed three of his last five passes for 70 yards. Two long kick returns by Marcus Murphy, the last of which gave the Tigers the ball near midfield for their final drive, also played a key role. Missouri's final two drives only had to cover 119 yards between them to turn a 20-7 deficit into a 21-20 lead.
And Andrew Baggett, goat of last year's South Carolina-Missouri game because he missed a crucial field goal, and a possible goat of this year's game after he missed another field goal, ended up providing the winning margin with a point-after attempt that was just about dead center. It wasn't the most exciting form of redemption, but it'll do.
For Missouri, the bounce-back win does more than just give them a lead (of sorts) in the SEC East, though it does that. It also provides a needed boost after a gut-punch loss to Indiana at home, and a reason to believe that the SEC East is still in reach. Technically, the loss to the Hoosiers had nothing to do with the division race; following it up with a loss to South Carolina, though, would have left the Tigers without much to hold onto. But after one week of conference play, the Tigers still control their own destiny in the SEC.
That's a risky proposition in the East. As Missouri should know better than most, nothing is ever certain in the SEC's most dysfunctional division. In fact, the safe money would be on one or two more twists coming along to make the race even more chaotic before it gets any clearer.