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South Carolina vs. Missouri: Keys and a pick

This is a tough one to get a read on.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks return home to welcome the Missouri Tigers into Williams-Brice Stadium this afternoon, looking to bounce back from yet another disappointing result against Kentucky. That task got even tougher, though, with the announcement that starting quarterback Jake Bentley is still dealing with a knee injury and may not play against the Tigers. That’s obviously a big deal, but here are some other considerations.

The keys

Create some turnovers. A year ago, the Gamecocks led the SEC in turnover margin and were seemingly always coming up with the ball when they were on defense. This season, South Carolina has just four turnovers through four games. While some of this could simply be regression to the mean after a particularly lucky 2017, it’s still troubling that a point of emphasis for this defense has fallen off so much. It was a major ingredient of South Carolina’s success in close games last year, and with all the uncertainty on offense right now, the Gamecocks could really use a couple Drew Lock interceptions this afternoon.

Don’t beat yourselves. Against Georgia and Kentucky, South Carolina obviously ran into better and more prepared competition, but they also helped those teams step on their necks with a bevy of unforced errors. The Gamecocks are just not playing disciplined football right now, and once again, this is despite being a year removed from leading the SEC in fewest penalties. South Carolina is not the type of team that can afford momentum-killing unsportsmanlike conduct flags, or ticky-tack procedural penalties that nullify a big gain. The Gamecocks have to find a way to clean things up.

Catch some balls. I’ve already included this one as a key this season, but unfortunately, it’s still relevant. With the possible lack of Bentley, the receivers, tight ends, and running backs absolutely have to make the easy plays and avoid dropping touchdowns, tripping over grass, etc. Honestly, if the skill players can’t execute better, it may not even matter who’s playing quarterback.

The pick

Given Bentley’s status and how the team had already been struggling, this game is hard to get a firm grasp on. I like that the Gamecocks are at home, and I’m glad the national spotlight isn’t shining on this particular matchup. But I’m scared to death of seeing extended snaps from South Carolina’s very green backups, and I worry about how they’ll score points. With a two-game winning streak over the Tigers, the Gamecocks have been doing a good job of limiting Drew Lock and that explosive offense, but if the defense has to be on the field too much from an inept Gamecocks offense, watch out. I think Missouri could take this one by a double-digit margin — let’s say 31-17.