With the East Division lacking a clear frontrunner, Saturday night’s matchup between South Carolina and Missouri should provide some early clarity into the pecking order at the top. The Gamecocks have played more SEC games than any other team (three) and already defeated Georgia. The Tigers have yet to play a conference game and finished their non-conference play with a 3-1 mark.
Prior to last Saturday’s game, this matchup was on track to be one of the top games in Week 5. Considering how light of a slate this week is, this matchup is still one of the better games on Saturday. However, Missouri’s surprising loss to Indiana dissipated some of the intrigue.
South Carolina and Missouri have met four times. The series is tied at two wins apiece, but the Gamecocks have won the only two meetings as SEC members.
Missouri vs. South Carolina
Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: South Carolina –5
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri’s Offensive Line
If you want to figure out why Missouri lost to Indiana last Saturday, the Hoosiers’ defensive stats paint an interesting picture. Indiana’s struggling defense recorded two sacks and 11 tackles for a loss. The 11 tackles for a loss are the highest for the Hoosiers since recording 12 on Oct. 27, 2012. And in addition to the tackles for loss and sacks, Indiana was able to generate consistent pressure on Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk. Can South Carolina follow a similar gameplan on Thursday? The Gamecocks have registered just four sacks in four games, and the defense is in transition with the departures of end Jadeveon Clowney and tackle Kelcy Quarles. The Tigers will have a new look on the offensive line, as guard Anthony Gatti was lost for the season due to a knee injury last Saturday. Conner McGovern will slide from right tackle to right guard, Taylor Chappell steps into the lineup at right tackle, while Brad McNulty is slated to start at left guard. Will this group give Mauk time to throw? Or will a struggling South Carolina pass rush get on track?
2. South Carolina’s Ground Attack
Missouri’s rush defense is off to a slow start, ranking No. 10 in the SEC against opposing ground attacks. The Tigers are giving up only 3.9 yards per carry this year. However, Indiana and Toledo both averaged 4.8 yards per rush. Defensive end Markus Golden is one of the SEC’s top defenders, but he was sidelined against Indiana due to injury. Having Golden back in the lineup is critical for Missouri’s ability to rush the passer and should help with the Tigers’ ability to disrupt South Carolina’s rushing game at the point of attack. The Gamecocks average 4.6 yards per rush and have two backs – Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds – over the 200-yard mark. Davis is the team’s leader on the ground (264 yards) and will test a Missouri defense that was torched by Indiana’s rushing attack (241 yards) last week. Can the Tigers handle the run better this week? If they can’t, Davis will have a huge game on the ground, opening some easy shots for quarterback Dylan Thompson and the receiving corps.
3. Maty Mauk vs. South Carolina’s Secondary
Total yardage allowed on pass defense is often misleading, but it’s noteworthy South Carolina ranks No. 13 in the SEC in most passing yards allowed in the SEC. Opposing quarterbacks are completing 69.9 percent of their throws on this defense, and the Gamecocks have allowed 17 passing plays of 20 yards or more in 2014. Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk spent most of last Saturday running to escape Indiana’s defensive front. But when Mauk is able to stand in the pocket and deliver, the sophomore has quickly emerged as one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks. Mauk is completing 61.6 percent of his throws and has tossed 14 scores to just four interceptions. The Gamecocks’ secondary has struggled mightily through four games, so opportunities will be there for Mauk and the Tigers’ receiving corps.
Despite Missouri’s surprising loss to Indiana last week, the Tigers are only a five-point underdog on the road against South Carolina. Interesting, isn’t it? With both teams dealing with flaws on defense, this one could be a shootout. Missouri needs to protect Mauk and allow its receivers to make plays downfield. Expect South Carolina to use its rushing attack to protect its defense, but coach Steve Spurrier will take a few shots downfield too. Both teams land a few big plays. However, the Gamecocks are tough to beat at home.