football Edit

Sunday View: Sure win over, must win looms

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Missouri beat SEMO 50-0 on Saturday night. The game went pretty much exactly as everyone expected it would go, with the possible exception of a few SEMO players who thought they might absorb a few less devastating blows. It was a scrimmage with full uniforms and the Tigers took care of business.

And with that, we can move on to the real issue at hand for these Tigers. South Carolina comes to town next Saturday afternoon. The Gamecocks lost 47-23 to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday in their own Columbia. The score looked a little worse than the game was, or at least a good part of it. South Carolina was a botched snap and/or a potential replay from going into halftime down just seven points to the juggernaut from Tuscaloosa.

The Gamecocks lost their opener to North Carolina, causing Mack Brown to “dance” in the postgame locker room and people to largely give up on Will Muschamp’s group. The fact that quarterback Jake Bentley was knocked out for the season didn’t do anything to decrease the pessimism. But true freshman Ryan Hilinski came in and completed 24 of his 30 passes for 280 yards in a record-setting 72-10 win over Charleston Southern. He backed it up with a 36 for 57, 324-yard, two touchdown effort against the Crimson Tide. Carolina has run for 628 yards in its last two (to be fair, 493 of them came against Charleston Southern) and averaged 4.7 yards per carry against Alabama.

Suddenly the Gamecocks look formidable again.

Missouri, meanwhile, put its worst foot forward first, losing 37-31 to Wyoming in week one.

"We've had a tough game too," Barry Odom said. "Unfortunately."

They have since dominated a West Virginia team that looked awful in a 38-7 loss to Tigers then much better in a 44-27 win over North Carolina State and thumped their overmatched in-state FCS opponent on Saturday.

Barry Odom has faced Will Muschamp three times and hasn't come out with a win yet
Barry Odom has faced Will Muschamp three times and hasn't come out with a win yet (Jordan Kodner)

A quarter of the way through the season, we aren’t sure what to make of either team. Both have looked good enough to win most of the games on their schedule and bad enough to lose most. They have put themselves in a four-team pack as the potential second-best team in the SEC with Kentucky and Florida (the Gators beat the Wildcats Saturday night and both are also now without their starting quarterbacks for the rest of the season). Saturday’s game is the first chance for one of them to separate.

If history is a guide, this game will be competitive. The first game between the two in SEC play was an ugly (for Missouri) 31-10 Gamecock win. The next year, South Carolina dealt Mizzou its only regular season loss when Andrew Baggett’s overtime field goal clanked off the right upright. Maty Mauk led a 21-20 Mizzou comeback on the road in 2014 and Drew Lock handled the Gamecocks in his first career start the following year. Lock wouldn’t beat South Carolina again. The Tigers lost 31-21 in 2016, 31-10 in 2017 and 37-35 last year, a game which included what many would have described as the worst quarter of football they had seen out of Missouri until the second quarter at Wyoming this year.

"We just got to come back and go 1-0 next week," Richaud Floyd said. "It's been a while since we beat them."

South Carolina has had the upper hand, though the games have usually been competitive and turned on no more than two or three plays. It’s exactly the type of series you would expect from two teams that are usually very similar in terms of talent.

There’s no reason to expect anything different next Saturday afternoon. But for the Tigers, the result has to change. This is a game Missouri’s got to win. If Odom’s team can pick up a W, it will sit 3-1 with a bye week preceding visits from Troy and Ole Miss. It will be 60% of the way to a five-game home winning streak that would wash away a good amount of the stench of the loss in Laramie.

But if Mizzou finds another way to lose to South Carolina, the Tigers are going to be 2-2 with a win over a West Virginia team that looked nothing like a legitimate Power Five program and an FCS team. They will be a game behind Carolina and Florida in the SEC East with anything more than nine wins almost certainly off the table by the end of September. The attendance will continue to be an issue and what was hoped to be a giant step forward coming in will likely end up no better than a season’s worth of treading water.

Like many of the previous matchups, the visit from South Carolina is Missouri’s most important game. In seven days, we’ll know much more about what this season can be.