Two of the last four meetings between South Carolina and Missouri ended with less than a possession difference. In each of these games, special teams were the ultimate factors in the outcomes. This weekend stands to follow that same pattern.
If you compare South Carolina’s week 1 performance with Mizzou’s win over Missouri State, you’ll find the teams are likely to be evenly matched. South Carolina finally has an offense with the ability to score. The Gamecocks showed great improvements physically and fundamentally in several crucial positions on the field, especially our offensive line. South Carolina performed well, gaining 246 yards against a nationally ranked defensive line. Missouri’s defense continues to cause concerns for coordinator DeMontie Cross. Their secondary struggled against Missouri State, and tackling was certainly an issue. This is great news for Deebo Samuel and company.
Mizzou’s offense had a strong showing in week 1, but it was against considerably lower-level competition. South Carolina’s defense should have a solid performance against the Tigers. Last week, the Gamecocks recorded 11 tackles-for-loss and forcing two turnovers against a highly touted NC State offense. This nearly doubles the averaged six tackles-for-loss per game from last season.
This game has the potential to become an offensive shootout. Field position is going to be crucial; therefore, kick coverage is paramount. In the first half against NC State, the Gamecocks were able to hold kick-off returns to touchbacks and gains that were less than 10 yards per return. However, in the second half, we allowed Nyheim Hines to return a kickoff for 27 yards and a punt for 29 yards. In their week 1 showing, Missouri averaged 26 yards in kickoff returns, and consistently returned punts. However, there is no indication that South Carolina will be unable to contain their star returner, Demetrios Mason.
The performance on special teams is what will ultimately decide the victor of the “Battle of Columbias.” South Carolina’s biggest challenge this week in special teams will be consistency. While we think of Deebo’s kickoff return for a touchdown as a game-breaker, but it is the subtle things that will mean the difference. For instance, catching the football on punts. Doing this EFFECTIVELY can save up to 15 yards of field position, if not more. Smart play and reading the punt is crucial as well. (I know, groundbreaking stuff here.) The rule of thumb is if you have to backpedal to catch the ball, let it roll. There is no point in risking a dropped punt or having near-death situation like we had with Chris Lammons against NC State. Sophomore punter Joseph Charlton struggled in his first major outing as a Gamecock. However, he did show promise with a 50-yard punt in the fourth quarter. His performance and consistency will be a major factor in the Gamecock’s success this weekend.
At the risk of stating the obvious, as long as the Gamecocks control battle for field position with smart play on special teams, they have a real chance at beating Mizzou in the other Columbia, and facing Kentucky as an undefeated leader in the SEC East.