COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri and South Carolina roll into their SEC matchup Saturday on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
The No. 20 Tigers are flying high after their best overall performance in years, when they survived an early blow from then-No. 24 Kentucky and rallied for a resounding 38-21 victory.
Missouri outscored the Wildcats 18-0 in the fourth quarter, and all that was left in fast-emptying Kroger Field by the end was a pocket of Tiger fans.
South Carolina, meanwhile, found itself leading Florida 37-21 with less than 5 minutes to go in the game, only for the Gators to score a pair of touchdowns down the stretch and escape with a 41-39 victory at stunned Williams-Brice Stadium.
“I don’t worry about our guys,” said Gamecocks coach Shane Beamer, who at some point broke a bone in his foot in frustration after the game.
“We got great people in this program. I’ve said it before, this culture is strong. The players care. Nobody was more hurt and upset about Saturday than the people in this building were. Because they care.”
The Gamecocks (2-4, 1-3 SEC) are desperate to pick up a win after a brutally difficult start to their season. Their other three losses came against No. 10 North Carolina in their opener, top-ranked Georgia on the road and No. 17 Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
One of the big problems has been defense, which has allowed 41 points each of the past two weeks.
“No,” Beamer said, “it hasn’t been good enough, but there’s also a lot of good we’ve done defensively as well. We just have to be better. It’s technique, it’s scheme, it’s the calls we make and all that stuff. We’re looking at everything.”
They better look fast because Missouri’s offense is starting to hit its stride.
The Tigers (6-1, 2-1) struggled mightily the first couple of weeks, and many fans wanted coach Eli Drinkwitz to bench starting quarterback Brady Cook. But sticking with the Missouri native has paid off. Cook is now third in the SEC with 2,046 yards passing to go with 14 touchdown throws and only three interceptions.
The Tigers are only a game back of Georgia in the SEC East.
“I think we’re in the middle of that part of the season where you can either choose to be tired and choose to let the grind get to your mind or you can choose to improve. And that has to be a choice,” Drinkwitz said. “You know, winning doesn’t negotiate — I mean, it costs what it costs to win football games. And we have to pay the price.”
DON’T CALL IT A COMEBACK
Missouri’s Luther Burden III was the nation’s leading receiver until last week, when he only had two catches for 15 yards in the win over the Wildcats; now he is merely No. 2.
But the sophomore sensation has a good chance to bounce back against the South Carolina secondary, which just allowed Florida’s Ricky Pearsall to catch 10 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown.
BUT CALL THIS A COMEBACK
The Tigers are 3-0 this season when they trail after the first quarter, which was the case last week at Kentucky.
Part of the reason they have been able to overcome those early deficits has been the play of their offense, which has scored at least 30 points in five consecutive games. That’s their longest such streak against FBS opponents since the 2019 season.
DIVISION II PRIDE
South Carolina’s Mario Anderson hasn’t met Missouri counterpart Cody Schrader, but he knows that what both have achieved is something special: Both started their careers at Division II schools before making it in the SEC.
Anderson spent three seasons at Newberry and has emerged as the Gamecocks’ leading runner with 287 yards and two scores in his last three games. Schrader was a standout at Truman State before joining the Tigers last year, and he is second in the SEC with 648 yards rushing.
South Carolina prized freshman Nyck Harbor had his biggest moment — along with his most extensive action — in the team’s loss to Florida last week.
The 6-foot-5, 241-pound freshman caught a 45-yard pass with a defender hanging all over him from Spencer Rattler on the Gamecocks’ second TD drive. His only other catch had been a touchdown reception against Furman.
BATTLE FOR COLUMBIA
The series between schools that call Columbia home — one in Missouri, the other the capital of South Carolina — has been rather one-sided in recent years.
The Tigers have won four straight, including a 23-10 victory last year to retain the Mayor’s Cup, and the Gamecocks have not won in Missouri since a 31-13 victory during the 2017 season.