Monday, September 29, 2014

After shocking defeat, Missouri opens SEC play at South Carolina

After a long and sometimes strange afternoon at Faurot Field last Saturday, Indiana’s D’Angelo Roberts leapt over the line and landed in the end zone to put the Hoosiers on top with 22 seconds left. A hush fell over the old stadium. Indiana held on for the shocking 31-27 win, a usual Big Ten bottom feeder going on the road and beating the defending SEC East champion.

The stunning defeat knocked Missouri (3-1) out of the rankings and raised some doubts after three straight wins kept upping the optimism.

The teams played a close contest, but Indiana (2-1) took control of the line of scrimmage, and Missouri was unable to extend its nation-leading streak of 47 straight games forcing a turnover. The absence of injured defensive end Markus Golden hurt, but this was still a game Missouri should have won.

To keep perspective, this loss doesn’t affect Missouri’s chances of winning the SEC East agin. The season can still be a great one. But like all games, it affects the Tigers’ bowl status and program image. Every time the team runs out in Mizzou uniforms, it matters whether they win or lose.

It was probably a classic look-ahead game, with Missouri’s huge game at South Carolina looming on Saturday (6 p.m. on ESPN). This can happen almost subconsciously, even if players try to focus on the task at hand. I know it happened for me.

But in my defense, this Saturday’s game should be quite a scene. Tiger fans know Missouri’s Columbia is the best one, but the Columbia in South Carolina provides a great setting for a college football game. Coach Steve Spurrier, the SEC legend who won the Heisman Trophy at Florida and has more SEC coaching wins than anyone except Bear Bryant, has the Gamecock program up and running. Williams-Brice Stadium right before kickoff is a sight to behold, with fans frantically waving white rally towels and the speakers thumping out “Sandstorm.”

The loss to Indiana has not dampened my enthusiasm for making the trip East to see this game. ESPN’s College Gameday morning preview show will be airing from South Carolina’s Columbia. Other than money and TV deals and all that, games like this are what Missouri had in mind when it moved to the SEC.

Gamecock senior Dylan Thompson is a capable quarterback. Running backs Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds give South Carolina options in the ground game. But the Gamecock defense is a work in progress, yielding 36.0 points per game.

South Carolina (3-1, 2-1 in SEC play) opened with a blowout home loss to Texas A&M, notched a huge win over Georgia, and last week escaped with a win at lowly Vanderbilt that prompted Spurrier to say, with his bluntness uncommon to football coaches, “We’ve all seen good football teams, we ain’t one.”

While the Gamecocks aren’t a juggernaut, neither is Missouri. But both are decent teams that should stage a thoroughly entertaining ballgame Saturday night. After this Missouri hosts Georgia then travels to the Swamp to play Florida. The most important part of the Tigers’ season has arrived.

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