By Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth
South Carolina did everything it needed to beat NC State in the season-opener last week.
The offensive line protected Jake Bentley, allowing him to work his magic and orchestrate the Gamecocks' high-powered offense. Bentley got the ball to his playmakers, tossing three TD passes to Deebo Samuel and running back Rico Dowdle.
The offensive line contained one of the best defensive lines in the country. And the Gamecock defense created turnovers, scoring 14 points off two big takeaways. The special teams did its part as well, with Samuel's 97-yard kickoff return sparking the team.
Now it must do all those things again to beat Missouri in its first SEC game. On the road.
As we said last week, turnovers and the offensive line were the keys to beating NC State, setting up the big plays and allowing Bentley to find his playmakers.
But the most impressive part of South Carolina's win was the performance of the defense in the second half. After getting torched in the first half, the defense stepped up big-time in the second half, holding NC State to just 119 yards and seven points.
More importantly, it got to State quarterback Ryan Finley, sacking him four times and collecting 11 tackles for loss. It was in the backfield several more times, just missing sacks when Finley got the ball out quickly. The Gamecocks were in the backfield almost as much as State running backs Nyheim Hines and Reggie Gallaspy.
If South Carolina's defense can duplicate that kind of performance against Missouri, it will win in Columbia, Mo. and start the season 2-0.
Missouri's offense put up shocking numbers in its 72-43 season-opening win over Missouri State. It compiled 815 yards of total offense, including 521 passing by quarterback Drew Lock, who beat South Carolina as a freshman.
The offensive explosion was no fluke. The Tigers averaged 500 yards and 31 points a game last year and Lock led the SEC in passing.
But as impressive as Missouri's offense was, its defense was just as glaring. The Tigers, which struggled on defense last season, gave up 43 points and 492 yards to Missouri State, an FCS school from the Missouri Valley Conference. The Bears, who finished 4-7 last year, led the shootout 35-34 in the second quarter.
If Missouri State can put up 43 points on Missouri, imagine what Bentley and the Gamecock offense can do. Carolina put up 35 points on a highly regarded NC State defense. It should shred Missouri's porous defense.
But unlike last week, South Carolina's running game also should be a big factor, helping keep Missouri's offense off the field. The Gamecocks rushed for 174 yards against Missouri last year, with Dowdle running for 149.
This won't be a shootout — not of the 70- or 80-point variety — because South Carolina's defense won't allow it.
As good as Missouri's offense was last season, it scored just 21 points in a 31-21 loss to South Carolina at Williams-Brice. It will face what appears to be a much better Gamecock defense this year.
The Gamecocks, which feature eight seniors on defense, proved against NC State that it can rush the passer and create turnovers. Led by defensive ends Dante Sawyer and D.J. Wonnum, they pressure on Finley in the second half, forced errant passes and got off the field on third and fourth down.
That will be the key again this week.
"Get off the field," head coach Will Muschamp said. "You eliminate tempo by getting off the field, and getting off the field on third down. They’ll go for it, depending on the field position, in fourth-down situations, then you have to get off the field on fourth down and create some turnovers."
The Gamecocks created two big turnovers last week with Sawyer forcing two fumbles, one during a sack attempt. They put a major emphasis on creating turnovers and rushing the passer during training camp and it showed in week one.
Bentley and the offense can keep pace with the Missouri offense and the run game should help neutralize the Tigers. But once again, the defense will be the difference.
The Gamecocks will get to Missouri's Lock and force some turnovers. That will lift the team to another big win on the road and a 2-0 start.