football Edit

Sunday View: Tigers get a big monkey off their backs

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There’s only one thing you know when Missouri plays South Carolina: Something weird’s gonna happen.

On Saturday, the weird got going early when Missouri failed to gain three feet in three plays from the one-yard line and every Tiger fan started having flashbacks to all the wasted opportunities of the last three games against the Gamecocks. But on South Carolina’s ensuing possession, Ryan Hilinski threw a pass that he completed to himself, then had some sort of allergic reaction to the ball after realizing he probably shouldn’t have caught it and tossed it backwards toward the end zone. As everybody else stood around and watched, Cale Garrett fell on it for perhaps the easiest touchdown anyone will ever score.

“That’s the first I’ve seen that,” fellow linebacker Nick Bolton said.

Ditto for pretty much the other 52,000-plus in the stadium. Barry Odom insisted it would be a teaching moment because his quarterback “would probably be in the same situation” later in the year.

Probably not coach. Especially because you don’t play South Carolina again until 2020.

The weird in this series has gone against Missouri far more often than not. A quarterback who wasn’t supposed to play coming off the bench to re-enact the Jordan Flu Game which wasn’t won until a chip shot field goal bounced off an upright. A ten-point lead disappearing in 30 seconds after a kickoff return and an interception return for a touchdown. A monsoon that, in hindsight of Missouri fans, somehow lessened every time South Carolina got the ball back on offense while the Tigers’ quarterback tried to fire wayward passes through hurricane force winds.

Yeah, you could write a “What the Hell Just Happened?” book on Missouri’s trials and tribulations against the Gamecocks.

Odom beat the Gamecocks for the first time in four tries
Odom beat the Gamecocks for the first time in four tries (Jordan Kodner)

There have been some weird ones go Missouri’s way too in this series, though we tend not to focus on those. A 99-yard interception return sparking one of the best halves of football for one of the best players in school history that won a bowl game and might have saved jobs. A quarterback going 12-for-34 and doing virtually nothing for the first 50 minutes of the game before leading a two-touchdown comeback in the fourth quarter on the road.

But none of that had happened in the last three years. The last three years of South Carolina have given Barry Odom and Missouri fans nothing but misery.

Not this time, even though every born and bred Mizzou fan kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. The Gamecocks had just 31 yards of total offense in the first half on Saturday, freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski looking every bit of a green kid making his first road start. But somehow they trailed just 17-7 because Missouri’s own offense wasn’t much better.

Then on the first play of the second half, Bryan Edwards (who only seems like he played in that 2005 Independence Bowl against the Tigers) took a screen pass and raced 75 yards for a touchdown. South Carolina tripled its total yardage and just like that the Gamecocks were back within three points. Everybody knew what was coming. We’d all seen this before.

But then something funny happened: Missouri answered.

“I think it was just good communication with everybody just realizing hey it was a bad call for us and it wasn't what we should have been in and we bounced right back,” safety Khalil Oliver said. “We knew this wasn't somebody getting athletically beat, it wasn't somebody missing a tackle, it was just we might have been in the wrong call for the situation and we went out there and realized hey if we get put in the situation we're going to go out there and make the plays.”

The defense was dominant. The offense was good enough. The special teams was a plus. And Missouri finally beat South Carolina.

The truth is, if the Tigers can beat South Carolina and Kentucky, they’re going to win eight games most years. Sometimes more than that. The non-conference slate should usually hold at least three wins. Vanderbilt is no juggernaut. Tennessee once was, but those days are looking less and less like anything that’s going to be recaptured anytime soon. Mizzou still gets to play Arkansas every year.

South Carolina is a swing game. Every year. The programs are relatively similar in stature and history. Mizzou’s highs have been higher, but the lows have been a little lower of late. Most years, these are teams that are going to be fighting with each other to get into the upper half of the SEC East standings. The winner has a big leg up. Missouri hasn’t been that winner for a while.

The win put Mizzou 3-1 on the season and got the Tigers off to a winning start in the SEC. Only one game looks incredibly difficult the rest of the way and Missouri should be favored in at least six of the last eight. Those that had thrown a nine (or more) win season out the window after the opening loss to Wyoming might need to reconsider. With every week that passes, that game looks a little more like a fluke. After all, if Missouri can beat South Carolina, anything is possible.