Missouri in search of first win against South Carolina since 2015
The Gamecocks enter with a 1-2 record. The only win is a 72-10 dismantling of FCS member Charleston Southern, while the two losses came against North Carolina by four points and to No. 2 Alabama by 24. The Tigers, meanwhile, also began with a close loss on the road at Wyoming before rebounding with a pair of resounding home wins against West Virginia and Southeast Missouri State by a combined score of 88-7.
The series is nearly even between the two teams, with the Gamecocks holding a 5-4 all-time edge on the strength of three straight wins. Barry Odom has yet to defeat Will Muschamp while the two have led their respective squads, as Missouri has just two wins against South Carolina since 2012, when the series became an annual occurrence.
South Carolina at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 21 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri -9
When South Carolina Has the Ball
After a Week 1 foot injury to quarterback Jake Bentley, Ryan Hilinski has taken the reins in his absence. After an impressive 24-for-30, 282-yard passing effort against Charleston Southern, Hilinski threw 57 times against Alabama, completing 36 of his attempts for 324 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. While he was far from perfect, Hilinski did his best to lead the offense through the air while the ground game mustered just 135 yards rushing.
After Kevin Harris and Mon Denson combined for 265 yards on just 15 carries against Charleston Southern — with Rico Dowdle and Tavien Feaster chipping in 151 total rushing yards — it was the latter two who handled the bulk of the load in the losing effort against Alabama. Dowdle eclipsed the century mark with 102 yards on 12 carries, while Feaster was held in check to the tune of 33 yards on 10 rushes. Hilinski did, to his credit, spread the ball around to nine different receivers against the Tide, with Shi Smith’s six catches for 90 yards and Bryan Edwards’ nine receptions for 79 yards leading the way.
Defensively, the Tigers are coming off a dominant performance against Southeast Missouri State. Despite recording only three sacks, Missouri allowed just 94 total yards on Saturday: 54 yards passing and 40 on the ground. No Redhawks receiver tallied more than two catches, and Al Young notched the Tigers’ lone interception. This is a unit with a lot of momentum, with consecutive games holding its opponents to a touchdown or less for the game.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Kelly Bryant was quite efficient on Saturday, completing 75 percent of his passes for 225 yards and a touchdown. That comes after a three-touchdown effort against West Virginia that marks a common thread for Bryant over the last two weeks: unspectacular in yards, but effective and potent with regard to scoring.
The ground game has been productive as of late, with Larry Rountree III posting a 17-carry, 104-yard game with a touchdown against West Virginia followed by an 18-carry, 142-yard effort with a pair of touchdowns last week. Tyler Badie added 73 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Redhawks. Neither of the last two games has seen any Tigers receiver notch more than three receptions, but it was Jalen Knox who shined with the deep ball as both of his receptions went for at least 50 yards. Outside of Knox, Bryant has yet to establish a deep-ball connection with any of his receiving threats, but with the clear talent around him, that might change as early as this weekend.
If there’s a bright spot for South Carolina after allowing 47 points to Alabama, it’s that the Tide rushed for fewer than 100 yards, being held to 77 yards on 24 attempts (3.2 yards per carry). But Tua Tagovailoa torched the Gamecocks for 444 yards and five touchdowns, with just eight of his 36 passes falling incomplete. South Carolina recorded only two sacks and didn’t intercept Tagovailoa once, so it’ll be important to get pressure on Bryant and potentially force some rushed throws and poor decisions.
In the first divisional battle of the season for both teams, momentum will be key. A win would be the first in conference play for either side, with South Carolina hoping to extend its win streak in the series to four in a row and avoid a 1-3 start.
Prediction: Missouri 37, South Carolina 24
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.