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South Carolina at Missouri: Keys and a pick

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More than the Mayor’s Cup is on the line here.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The South Carolina Gamecocks defend the honor of the One True Columbia and the Mayor’s Cup trophy this afternoon when they take their first road trip of the season to face the Missouri Tigers. The Gamecocks currently own a three-game streak over Mizzou in a series that has already seen plenty of wild moments over its short span, and I’m sure more of that is on tap today.

The keys

Make some plays on special teams. This is the dictionary definition of a toss-up game, and special teams loom large in such scenarios. The Gamecocks have actually put a pretty good unit on the field this season, too — they’ve had some nice returns, haven’t given up any that were back-breaking, and Parker White has been more reliable than not (he even had a nice touchdown scramble on a fake field goal, refs be damned). White, who hit a game-winner against the Tigers last year, might be called on to do the same again. It’d also be nice to see Ryan Hilinski and the offense get some short fields after kick returns.

Keep running the ball. Possibly the strangest takeaway from the Alabama game was that South Carolina’s rushing attack was actually...good? Rico Dowdle is running angry and looks the best he has since he was a freshman, putting up 102 yards on 12 carries (with yet another possible touchdown that was erased). Tavien Feaster added 33 yards on the ground and another 17 on a couple receptions, and the Gamecocks as a whole out-rushed the Tide 135-76 (!!). The running game has been subject to a lot of deserved criticism, but could finally have a little something cooking right now. No time is better than the present, with a true freshman quarterback making his first road start.

For the love of god, actually tackle. This is absolutely a key to the game, but also just a frantic plea to the football gods. South Carolina’s defense has been incredibly disappointing so far after expectations that increased talent and depth would pay dividends. So far, that hasn’t happened, and we’ve instead seen an absolute clinic on how not to tackle: Alabama seemingly scored all of its touchdowns off 6-yard slants that had 3450984509 yards after contact. That’s not a winning formula against any team, and it has to change.

The pick

I’ve been saying it all week, so I’m going to stick to it: I envision this game as a back-and-forth shootout that goes down to the wire, because historically speaking, that’s what we get when these teams link up. Missouri is well-known for not playing much in the way of defense and the Gamecocks have been doing their own poor imitation of it lately, so this could come down to whoever has the ball last or makes one less mistake. (So comforting!) I’m going to give South Carolina the edge here in a 35-28, 31-28 type of affair, since Will Muschamp has strange voodoo over Barry Odom and the Cocks have shown a knack for knowing how to close out the Tigers.