Missouri and South Carolina are two SEC East teams who started the season off in the same position. At 2-2, each school had the opportunity for success but a tough road ahead of them. South Carolina struggled against strong SEC opponents before rallying with a two-game winning streak to enter this game at 4-4 and has a legitimate, if narrow, chance at bowl eligibility. Missouri, on the other hand, has lost its four games since and enters this contest a disappointing 2-6.
If Missouri has any hopes of miraculously making a bowl game, it has to start right here and continue through Vanderbilt, Tennessee and Arkansas. For South Carolina, a win this weekend would mean the matchup in two weeks against FCS member Western Carolina could present an opportunity for victory number six, but there’s little margin for error as meetings with No. 11 Florida and No. 2 Clemson are still looming.
Before Missouri joined the SEC in 2012 the teams had met twice in bowl games, with the Tigers winning both. Since 2012, however, the Battle of Columbia has seen each team win twice.
Missouri at South Carolina
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 5 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: South Carolina -5
Three Things to Watch
Missouri gives up a lot on defense but also gains a lot on offense. In an average Missouri football game, you can expect 63.5 combined points and 965.7 total yards. South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said this week that Missouri plays at a faster tempo than any team the Gamecocks have faced all season. In any game which features Missouri, a shootout is to be expected.
South Carolina is quite the opposite. An average Gamecocks matchup includes just 700.9 yards of total offense and there has only been one 30-point performance by either team in a South Carolina game this year (Muschamp’s squad scored 34 against Tennessee two weeks ago). The Gamecocks prefer to move the ball slowly on the ground and use the defense to control games. The clash of wildly different styles should be very interesting to watch. Look for time to run off the clock in waves when South Carolina has the ball.
2. Drew Lock
Lock entered this season with high expectations after navigating a tumultuous freshman campaign. He started off very strong, throwing for 377 yards per game and 14 touchdowns with only three interceptions. Since then, however, he has struggled, averaging only 176 passing yards per outing with a 4:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
For Missouri to salvage the rest of the season, as well as have some hope heading into 2017, it needs Lock to regain command of this offense and prove that he can handle the responsibility of leading the Tigers. Despite any shortcomings around him, a great quarterback can find ways to win and that’s what Missouri’s coaches and fans are hoping Lock can do.
3. Jake Bentley
Perry Orth, the fifth-year senior at South Carolina, began the season as the starting quarterback, only to lose the job to freshman Brandon McIlwain and then regain it. But Orth lost it a second time, this time to Bentley, another freshman. Bentley has completely seized the opportunity in the two games he has played. His first game was against UMass, where he completed 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two TDs. His next game, against a much more formidable opponent in Tennessee, was incredibly efficient, connecting on 15 of 20 passes for 167 yards and another two touchdowns.
While the Gamecocks have had a quarterback carousel throughout the season, it appears they have finally found someone they can stick with. Bentley has shown strong decision-making and an ability to get the ball in his receivers’ hands. In an offense that is incredibly balanced and doesn’t ask any one player to do too much, Bentley’s poise and execution have proven invaluable for South Carolina during its two-game winning streak.
As mentioned before, South Carolina’s bowl hopes are very much alive while Missouri is all but out of the running. As a result, the Gamecocks will be playing with more desperation but also more pressure. The home crowd will be eager to see an SEC win that propels the team to within one more victory of bowl eligibility and the fans at Williams-Brice Stadium will try their hardest to disrupt Missouri’s tempo. Look for South Carolina to play a controlled, disciplined game and slowly but surely pull ahead of the Tigers.
Prediction: South Carolina 28, Missouri 17
(Jake Bentley photo by Allen Sharpe and Jenny Dilworth, courtesy of www.gamecocksonline.com)