When Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina squad took on Gary Pinkel’s Missouri Tigers in 2005, the game meant absolutely nothing. The Ol’ Ball Coach was busy building a formerly downtrodden program into an SEC power, while Pinkel and Co. were working at knocking off Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12.
No one paid much attention to the 38-31 Mizzou win in Shreveport eight years ago, but quite a bit has changed since then.
For starters, not only did Mizzou join the SEC, but the Tigers entered the Eastern Division fray, right alongside the Gamecocks. Secondly, after limping to a 5-7 finish in 2012, the Tigers are dominating in 2013.
Coming off huge wins over historical East powerhouses Georgia and Florida, Mizzou now stands at 7-0 on the year and in the top five of the BCS Poll.
Can the Tigers knock off South Carolina, and do so in front of the home faithful?
Moving to 8-0 on the season will not be easy, especially against a team which will be firing on all cylinders following an embarrassing upset loss at Tennessee.
Tigers redshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk will be making just the second start of his young career. Without a doubt, Mauk is the future of the program at the quarterbacking position – but that means next year. This season was supposed to be the triumphant swan song of senior James Franklin. It looked to be that way for Franklin after a 5-0 start that included 1,407 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. However, he separated his shoulder late against Georgia, forcing Pinkel to throw young Mauk into the fray.
Mauk looked very good at times against an excellent Florida defense last week, completing 18-of-36 passing attempts for 298 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also added a late rushing score.
With that being said, the Gators’ defense is beat up at the moment, and it does not feature a pass rusher of the likes of Jadeveon Clowney. Perhaps you have heard of him?
Spurrier will also be going with a backup quarterback on Saturday in Dylan Thompson. Starter Conner Shaw suffered a severely sprained knee and while he may dress, it will be Thompson’s game to win or lose.
While not nearly as many fans know who Missouri’s Michael Sam is, when compared to Clowney’s public stature, Thompson had better know where he is at all times. The 6-foot-2, 255-pound senior currently leads the SEC with nine sacks and 13.0 tackles for a loss. Both those numbers are well ahead of Clowney’s two and 5.5.
In fact, Sam’s pass-rushing has been a direct factor in all the turnovers Mizzou has forced this year. The Tigers are tied for No. 11 in the nation with 18 turnovers forced on the year. South Carolina? All the way down at No. 75 with just 10 turnovers forced all year.
Mizzou’s 14 interceptions on the year, courtesy of players such as E.J. Gaines and Kentrell Brothers, is tops in the entire nation. Can Sam cause enough disruption in the backfield to give his teammates chances to pick off a few Thompson passes? If that happens, will running back Mike Davis be able to shoulder an even larger role within the Gamecocks’ offense? He already boasts 879 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns, but Spurrier may ask even more of him if the passing game struggles to get going.
Then again, Spurrier may not need much offense if Clowney can be Clowney and knock young Mauk around a little bit. Yes, receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham form one of the most formidable duos in the nation, but what if Mauk doesn’t have tim to get them the ball?
Will Pinkel be able to turn to his three-headed rushing monster of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy? All three have rushed for at least 357 yards, but none more than 494. Can any of these three be expected to dominate against South Carolina?
Mizzou has raced out to an undefeated record on the strength of a balanced attack that doesn’t put too much pressure on the quarterback. If they can continue to do so, as well as create turnovers with their opportunistic defense, they should be able to beat the ‘Cocks at home.
But that’s a huge “should.” South Carolina will be angry. The Gamecocks will be ready. Will they be able to reassert themselves in the race for the SEC East crown?
We have no idea what the answers to these questions are, but perhaps you do.