Has good timing struck again for South Carolina?
Coming off an ugly defeat last weekend, the Gamecocks returned to the .500 mark by beating a winless UCF team at Williams-Brice Stadium. When they take the field in Missouri on Saturday, another prime opportunity will present itself: An also-injured Tigers team that has suspended its starting quarterback. If coach Steve Spurrier’s squad can take advantage, the season will seem much more salvageable.
Below is a detailed look at everything else important about this game:
South Carolina (2-2, 0-2 SEC) at Missouri (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3, noon ET (SEC Network)
Weather: 57 degrees, clear skies and a zero percent chance of rain (weather.com)
Line: Missouri is a 3-point favorite (Bovada)
All-time series record: Missouri holds a 3-2 advantage after winning last season’s meeting, 21-20
By the numbers
7.97 – That’s freshman quarterback Lorenzo Nunez’s yards per carry average on 30 attempts. His mark trails only LSU’s Leonard Fournette and UGA’s Nick Chubb among SEC players with at least 15 rushes this season. Nunez’s legs simply added an entire new dimension to South Carolina’s offense during the UCF game, and that electric athleticism should no doubt play another prominent role on Saturday.
41 – Missouri is tied for the FBS lead with 41 tackles for loss (that’s just over 10 per game for you math whizzes out there). Tough defensive line play has been a staple for the Tigers under coach Gary Pinkel, and this year is certainly no different. Sophomore Charles Harris leads the way with 9.5 TFLs.
38 – South Carolina has only scored five touchdowns on 13 trips to the red zone, while Missouri has fared no better (three touchdowns in eight chances). Those rates, which rank 121st and 122nd in the nation, respectively, average out to a mere 38 percent. Both teams have simply been abysmal at capitalizing near the goal line.
Storylines to watch
Nunez and receiver Pharoh Cooper (muffed punt notwithstanding) were far and away the most dynamic players on the field last Saturday. But with tailback Brandon Wilds, receiver Deebo Samuel and center Alan Knott all ruled out for this weekend, what other weapons can the Gamecocks rely on? Backup running back David Williams has struggled, averaging just over 3.2 yards per carry, and freshman receiver D.J. Neal (one catch this season) will have a lot expected of him with Samuel out. Missouri fields the SEC’s best scoring defense, and navigating around a front seven as talented as that one should prove extremely difficult for such a young, shorthanded offense.
Keep Lock locked down
Out goes suspended starter Maty Mauk, and in comes Drew Lock for Missouri. The true freshman quarterback has shown some promise in limited playing time this season, completing 60 percent of his passes for 225 yards, a touchdown and an interception, and South Carolina’s secondary has looked vulnerable in the early going. The Gamecocks improved certain facets of their defense last week — they recorded season-highs in passes broken up (five) and quarterback hurries (seven) — but conservative coverage assignments have still left the cornerbacks vulnerable to underneath passing routes, such as quick hooks and slants. South Carolina has allowed 7.8 yards per pass this season, which is the second-highest rate in the SEC. Will the strategy change this week?
Matchup to watch: South Carolina O-line vs. Missouri D-line
The offensive trench battle is vital for South Carolina. Nunez can’t move the pocket every play, and he’ll absolutely need some balance to prevent Missouri from stacking the box or setting a spy defender on him constantly. The play-calling trio of Spurrier, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott has to find some way — whether via misdirection runs, option plays or even some Wildcat looks — to manufacture yards on the ground. If they can’t, expect punter Sean Kelly to be very active.
Prediction: Missouri 16, South Carolina 13
The similarities between these two teams are striking. Two freshman will be under center for two grind-it-out offenses that are far from 100-percent healthy. The difference is on the defensive end, where Missouri already holds a clear advantage without the benefit of the home crowd. Lock should outperform his predecessor and Nunez could take a step back with more film on him available. Prepare for plenty of field goals.