When Missouri and South Carolina meet on Saturday, one of these teams will gain the upper hand in the SEC East.
South Carolina has been very up and down so far this season. The Gamecocks have been crushed by Texas A&M and were almost upset by East Carolina and Vanderbilt. However, they also beat the Georgia Bulldogs in a big-time showdown in week three. Despite the loss to the Aggies, Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks still hold the key to the SEC in their hands.
The Tigers have been just as confusing as the Gamecocks. They cruised in their first three games against South Dakota State, Toledo and UCF. Then they slipped up at home against an Indiana team that appeared to be down after a loss at Bowling Green. Like South Carolina, despite an early loss, the Tigers still have their entire season ahead of them.
Last year, Connor Shaw and James Franklin were the leaders at quarterback for South Carolina and Missouri. However, when these two teams met with a lot on the line, it was Dylan Thompson who got the start for South Carolina and Maty Mauk who started for Mizzou.
Both of those players are still trying to learn from that game — it’s not one they will remember fondly.
For Mauk, Missouri jumped out to a 17-point lead, only for its offense to simply vanish. Mauk finished a disappointing 10 of 25 with 1 TD and 1 INT. He had 249 yards passing but 96 of those came on one pass.
Thompson went 15 of 27 for 222 yards and 1 INT and was pulled in favor of an injured Shaw. With Thompson at the helm, the Gamecocks simply weren’t finishing drives. When Shaw took over, he willed the Gamecocks to a victory.
Both players will be looking to atone for their performances from last year as they also try to find some stability and consistency with this year’s teams.
Keep an eye on South Carolina’s defense in this game. The Gamecocks have played some great offenses this year in Texas A&M, ECU and Georgia. Missouri will throw a lot of weapons at South Carolina, but this defense has already been in the trenches this season. Unfortunately for the Gamecocks’ defense, it hasn’t been particularly effective. South Carolina has to get more pressure on Mauk (the Gamecocks are currently last in the SEC in sacks), and they have to get off the field on third down. They have fared better in recent weeks,but allowing the Aggies to convert 7 of 12 third downs (among other things) spelled doom for the Gamecocks.
Sophomore Skai Moore is the player to watch for South Carolina. He really came on against Georgia and he looks like he could be the difference maker that defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward is looking for.
Missouri struggled last week to stop Indiana’s rushing attack. Yeah, you heard that right. The Hoosiers ran for 241 yards and Tevin Campbell broke off an impressive 6.1 yards-per-carry average against the Tigers. The Gamecocks have been inconsistent with running the football this season, but Mike Davis has shown signs of returning to form; Brandon Wilds had a breakout game against Georgia; and now they are getting Pharoh Cooper involved in the wildcat to try and regain a dynamic that was lost with Shaw. For Missouri to win, the Tigers have to contain the run and make Dylan Thompson beat them with his arm. Thompson has the ability to beat a defense, but he also has the ability to complete only 50 percent of his passes in a game, as he did against the Aggies.
Senior Markus Golden is the player to watch for Missouri. He missed the Indiana game, and his loss was felt by the Tigers. In three games he has 21 tackles, 4 sacks, and 6.5 tackles for loss. Indiana definitely targeted the side of Missouri’s defense where Golden would have been last week, and while Gary Pinkel did not make excuses, not having Golden was a difference in that game.
On Saturday, Missouri and South Carolina have a feature spot at 7 p.m. on ESPN. This isn’t the “sexiest” match-up of the week, but it’s one of the most important of the early season as the SEC East attempts to sort itself out. Things have not gone exactly how Missouri and South Carolina have wanted in 2014, but this one game represents a chance for both schools to click the re-start button on their season. The winner of this game takes control of the all-important driver’s seat, even though it’s early, and becomes the team to beat in the SEC East.