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Game Preview: South Carolina at Missouri

The clash for the Mayor’s Cup.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The suddenly resurgent South Carolina Gamecocks will close SEC East divisional play tomorrow afternoon against the Missouri Tigers, bringing a new starter and hopefully a new lease on life with them to Bizarro Columbia. As we discussed earlier this week, this game has taken on additional and incredible importance, as it likely remains the Gamecocks’ best chance at a bowl-earning sixth victory. No pressure, right?

What have they been up to lately? The Tigers currently sit at 4-5 and will be coming home after splitting a two-game road swing that saw them snag a 37-28 win against Vanderbilt before getting mauled by Georgia, 43-6. Missouri has just one SEC victory under its belt, is loitering just above the Commodores in the division standings, and has otherwise not been terribly impressive outside of blowout wins against non-conference opponents (although the Tigers did hang in there and give Kentucky a game).

What happens when the Gamecocks have the ball? Is it possible that I finally have some idea of how to answer this question now, in Week 10 of this season that is rapidly drawing to a close? I think and hope so! New quarterback Jason Brown will take the reins for USC again, looking to build on his coming-out performance against Florida. Versus the Gators, South Carolina’s offense resembled something that was not only functional, but effective: Brown’s ability to improvise behind a struggling offensive line and find receivers downfield was a welcome change, as was the ability of said offensive line to finally open some holes for Kevin Harris, ZaQuandre White, and MarShawn Lloyd. With Missouri sporting an absolutely miserable defense (123rd nationally), particularly against the run (129th, and yes, that is second to last), I expect to see a steady diet of the Gamecock running backs, if nothing else.

What happens when the Tigers have the ball? This is a pretty big question mark given the health of Mizzou’s starting quarterback, Connor Bazelak, who’s currently recovering from what’s being called a soft tissue injury and is uncertain for Saturday. Against Georgia, the Tigers were forced to rotate backups Tyler Macon and Brady Cook, and as the old saying goes — if you’re playing two quarterbacks, you have none. Bazelak was a solid 21-of-33 for 203 yards with one touchdown and one interception against the Gamecocks last year in the Tigers’ 17-10 win, but this is a different USC defense. On the other hand, Mizzou does have an impressive 1,000-yard rusher in Tyler Badie, who I assume will be a focal point of this offense regardless of who is taking snaps.

What are we wearing? As usual, no idea since the Battle Armor videos have been retired, so I’m going to use this space to express a little wishful thinking: I’d love to see us break out the garnet helmet/white shirt/black pants combination. South Carolina’s three-color looks are classic and some of the best we have, in my book.

How are we feeling about this? I’m terrified. The Gamecocks have a chance to really step up and Do Something here, which is traditionally when they trip and fall flat on their faces. Numerous times throughout this program’s history, we’ve seen a signature win be immediately nullified by a head-scratching loss, rendering that huge victory as just a bright spot in another ho-hum season instead of the narrative-changing turning point it could have been. If Shane Beamer can buck that trend and get these Gamecocks to a bowl in his first season — which would also match the win total of the two previous years combined — that speaks well to his future and the direction of this program. There’s a lot riding on this one, and after getting such a spark against Florida, I’m hopeful South Carolina can meet the moment.