COLUMBIA, S.C. – With Missouri on the ropes, it’s up to South Carolina to deliver a knockout punch.
The Gamecocks (4-4, 2-4 SEC) will host the Tigers (2-6, 0-4 SEC) at 4 p.m. Saturday on SEC Network.
When South Carolina is on offense…
With head coach and former defensive coordinator Barry Odom back to making the defensive calls, Missouri yielded 582 total yards to Kentucky, including 377 on the ground.
The strength of the Tigers defense is in the secondary. They’re first among SEC teams (13th nationally) with 11 interceptions this season. Their 53 passes defended is third-best in the country. Senior cornerbacks Aarion Penton and John Gibson both have 3 picks.
Muschamp thinks highly of Penton, who he thinks is “a guy who is as good of a cover guy as there is in our league,” so the two cornerbacks will challenge Bentley and his top two receivers, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards.
Most of South Carolina’s production on Saturday will probably be on the ground. Including the Kentucky game, Missouri has given up an average of 348.3 yards and 3 touchdowns per game over the last four contests.
At least two starters will be missing from the Tigers starting lineup: linebacker Michael Scherer and defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr. Outside linebacker Donavin Newsom suffered a strained quad against Kentucky and his status is unknown for Saturday.
The Gamecocks ground game continues to improve with Rico Dowdle running behind an offensive line that’s had the same starting five for the last four games. He’s now second on the team with 291 yards rushing and a team-high 3 touchdowns.
With A.J. Turner, David Williams and Brandon McIlwain, South Carolina has plenty of options to roll out against Missouri. And, of course, there’s Bentley, who showed off his wheels against Tennessee.
Key matchup: South Carolina run game vs. Missouri front-seven
Key Gamecock: Rico Dowdle
Overall advantage: South Carolina
When South Carolina is on defense…
Missouri’s ground game has warmed up over the last three contests, rushing for 265 yards against Florida, 348 yards versus Middle Tennessee and 157 against Kentucky.
As a whole, the Tigers offense has made tremendous strides since last season. Missouri averaged 115th nationally in 11 statistical categories last season. This season’s national average is 28, which includes total offense, first-downs, yards per catch and passing yards.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock is first in the SEC in passing touchdowns (29) and yards/completion (14.29). He’s also second in completions/game (19.38), passing yards (2,215) and passing yards/game (276.9).
Junior J’Mon Moore, the leading receiver, has caught 33 passes for 551 yards and 6 touchdowns. Freshman running back Damarea Crockett is first with 601 yards rushing and 7 scores.
South Carolina has yielded some high totals to running backs this season, which could be cause for concern, in part because of Missouri’s up-tempo attack. Fortunately, for the Gamecocks, there’s a lot of carryover from last week’s game against Tennessee.
Taylor Stallworth, Jonathan Walton, JaMarcus King, Chris Lammons and the South Carolina defense will see many of the same things they did against the Vols.
The Gamecocks are giving up 21.3 points per game this season, which is 25th in the country. That number could shrink after Saturday.
Key matchup: Missouri passing attack vs. South Carolina secondary
Key Gamecock: JaMarcus King
Overall advantage: South Carolina