Game Time: 7 p.m. ET/6 p.m. CT
Radio: Gamecock IMG Sports Network || Tiger Network
How to watch online: Watch ESPN
Odds: Missouri -2.5 || Over/under 71 (via OddsShark.com)
It still feels strange having conference games this early in the season. That’s the price you pay for conference realignment though.
The first one in the SEC will come this week when South Carolina leaves its Columbia campus and heads to Columbia, Missouri. The Tigers and Gamecocks both won in Week 1, but in starkly different fashions.
South Carolina (1-0) had one of the more impressive victories of the opening week by an SEC team. The Gamecocks took on an up-and-coming N.C. State team in Charlotte. Despite a late scare, they escaped the neutral-site game with a crucial 35-28 victory.
Meanwhile, Missouri (1-0) put on a historic offensive show, led by junior quarterback Drew Lock. The only problem was that it was necessary to finally put away a stubborn Missouri State squad. The Tigers defense looked even worse than it did last season—particularly in the first half when it allowed 35 points—and that is saying something. Eventually, they pulled away for a 72-43 win.
It’s often said by coaches that the most improvement comes between weeks 1 and 2, if that’s the case, Missouri might have something to look forward to. Regardless, South Carolina will come to Faurot Field with a lot of confidence after a thrilling win over an actual FBS team—one that happens to play in a Power-5 conference, no less.
Sensational Samuel Still Smooth
Deebo Samuel put on an absolute show against the Wolfpack. If it weren’t for Lock’s video game-like numbers (521 passing yards and seven touchdowns, both school records), he might have won SEC Player of the Week.
Samuel got off to the best (and fastest) possible start by returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown. He added a pair of touchdown receptions—which remarkably match his total from the previous two seasons, combined—among his five catches. The 6-foot junior totaled 83 receiving yards.
He has to be excited for the opportunity to exploit a Mizzou defense that sure looked suspect in its opener. Expect sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley to target Samuel as often as possible. Bentley didn’t put up eye-popping stats against N.C. State (17-29, 215 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT), but he managed the game well enough and his playmakers did the rest.
The Mizzou defense will no doubt be aware of the threat Samuel possesses. Then again, the Wolfpack were probably aware of his abilities. Despite hauling in just one touchdown, Samuel put up 783 yards on 59 receptions in 2016.
As with most players as dynamic as Samuel, the goal will be limiting the big play. Doing so will require the defenders to not only keep Samuel from getting behind them, but also making tackles when they have the chance.
The Tigers struggled in both of those areas last week, and Samuel will test how much they’ve improve.
Hard to Defend the Defense
There are no words strong enough to express how bad the Mizzou defense was in the first half against Missouri State. So I’m going to make one up. The Tigers were atrocious-horrendous-abominable.
That’s still being too kind. There are no valid excuses for a defense to play that poorly against such an inferior opponent.
Whether the unit thought it didn’t need to bother showing up against an FCS opponent is hard to say. It sure as heck needs to show up this week, though. If not, South Carolina will be seeing what its future holds, as second-string players earn a majority of the second-half snaps.
Mizzou made a lot of sloppy mistakes in giving up five first half touchdowns this past Saturday. The defense improved greatly in the second half, if only because the bar was so low, allowing just one touchdown. The adjustments made at halftime seemed to be geared toward simplification. It remains to be seen if that will carry over into this weekend’s game.
Defense was the area that needed to take a step forward this season for the Tigers to succeed. If anything, the unit appears to be worse than last year. It’s truly remarkable the 360 that has happened at Missouri in just a few short years. A program that once had a powerful offense and a nonexistent defense transformed into one that would lose games 9-6. Now they’ve made the transition back to high-scoring offense with a defense that’s just for show.
That doesn’t bode well for Saturday.
So, what happens?
The Gamecocks have won three of the five meetings between these programs since the Tigers joined the SEC (Missouri actually won the only two prior meetings (1979 and 2005) and hold a 4-3 lead in the series). Two of South Carolina’s wins came at home, but the one at Missouri is the most memorable of the recent matchups.
In 2013, a Mizzou team that was undefeated and ranked No. 5 in the country let a 17-point fourth quarter lead slip away. South Carolina ended up winning in two overtimes when Andrew Baggett put his chip-shot 24-yard field goal attempt off the upright.
The Tigers rebounded and would not lose again until the SEC Championship Game. So in that respect, Mizzou fans wouldn’t be too upset if history repeated itself. Unfortunately, that part’s not likely to happen. And neither is a victory on Saturday.
South Carolina proved it has too much firepower for Mizzou’s defense, even if it improves from a Week 1 horror show. Lock and his weapons will keep the Tigers in it, but a few too many field goals will let the Gamecocks off the hook.
Samuel will be the difference in the fourth quarter with a couple of explosive plays against a worn-out defense.
Prediction: South Carolina 35, Missouri 31