Missouri football: Tigers' underrated defense shows itself again in upset of South Carolina
South Carolina’s passing game failed to get going in a big way in the Gamecocks’ 23-10 home loss to Missouri on Saturday afternoon.
But the fail came from far more than what was a hot team’s shortcomings.
Missouri’s defense has been one of the best in the nation since the beginning of the season. But the unit has been overshadowed at times by the lack of production from an offense that has suffered from poor play-calling or has faltered late in games because it has simply been left on the field for too long on multiple occasions.
The Tigers (4-4, 2-3 SEC) came into Saturday’s game with the No. 4 total defense in the SEC that also ranked 22nd in the nation, allowing an average of 5.02 yards per play and 325.4 yards per game. Missouri had allowed a total of 19 opposing touchdowns.
By halftime, the Tigers led 17-7. The 25th-ranked Gamecocks (5-3, 2-3) weren’t able to put their first points on the board until quarterback Spencer Rattler led a 12-play, 82-yard drive that culminated in a short rushing touchdown by Rattler. It was just his 2nd touchdown on the ground this season.
Despite that drive late in the 2nd quarter, Missouri’s defense still held South Carolina to 104 total yards — 67 passing and 37 rushing — with the 1 score by the transfer signal-caller through the 1st 2 quarters.
South Carolina managed just 203 combined yards of offense (171 passing, 32 rushing) by the end of the game. One of the keys for Mizzou was taking the ground game away from the Gamecocks, who have shown in recent history that they usually find themselves in trouble and on the wrong side of the win column when they can’t get things rolling with the run.
Missouri consistently brought the pass rush to limit things through the air as well and had a number of standouts on the defensive side of the ball. In terms of leading the stat sheet, defensive back Martez Manuel and defensive lineman Isaiah McGuire finished at the top. Manuel had 5 combined tackles (4 solo) with 1 sack, 1 tackle for loss and 1 quarterback hurry. McGuire also had 5 combined tackles (4 solo), 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss.
Defensive back Daylan Carnell also drew some attention, finishing with 3 solo tackles while recovering a fumble of Rattler’s inside the 10-minute mark of the 3rd quarter. He returned the fumble to the South Carolina 10-yard line, where kicker Harrison Mevis missed a 21-yard attempt.
Defensive backs Ennis Rakestraw Jr. and Jaylon Carlies each had 1 forced fumble, and defensive back Dreyden Norwood made things even sweeter for the Tigers with an interception in the final 3 minutes of the game.
And while Missouri’s offense did not put up an incredible number of points and had some missed opportunities to make it a much more lopsided game, this was one of Brady Cook’s better games. He and wide receiver Dominic Lovett — in addition to 4 other targets who all caught passes — were able to get the vertical passing game going in a way that has not been seen against quality competition.
Cook went 17-of-26 passing for 224 yards, and he also carried it 11 times for 53 yards with 1 rushing touchdown. Lovett, despite not getting as much national attention as some of the other wideouts across the nation, continued to show why he is arguably the SEC’s best pass-catcher. Lovett reeled in 10 catches for 148 yards, with a long catch of 57 yards.
Running back Cody Schrader was also solid on the ground, flirting with the century mark while settling for 81 yards on 22 carries and 1 touchdown.
This is the type of football that Missouri needs to play to be consistently successful, and it’s easy to get the sense that the Tigers are close to becoming a good team, as 3 of their 4 losses have been by 1 score — including that 26-22 defeat to top-ranked Georgia in which they led for the majority of the contest.
For much of the season, in addition to some of the aforementioned questionable play calls and game-planning, the Tigers have simply not played complementary football. That made all the difference on Saturday.
Missouri will look to put it all together again as it hosts Kentucky on Saturday.