Mizzou football: Why Saturday’s game at South Carolina is dangerous, even without Will Muschamp
The Missouri Tigers snapped a 3-year losing streak against South Carolina last season, routing the Gamecocks 34-14 at Faurot Field.
This year, they’ll be expected to make it 2 in a row against the team from the other Columbia, especially since the Gamecocks just fired coach Will Muschamp. OC Mike Bobo will be the interim coach as the Gamecocks search for a full-time replacement.
This should be an easy win, right? Well, in the words of the iconic Lee Corso — not so fast, my friend. The Tigers can’t be caught looking past the Gamecocks. If the Eli Drinkwitz era is really different from the Barry Odom era, this is a game Mizzou has to win.
Here are 3 reasons the Gamecocks won’t be a pushover Saturday night in South Carolina:
1. Potential re-energization of the Gamecocks
Teams that fire their head coaches often have a resurgence in the weeks immediately after. Heck, the Atlanta Falcons were 0-5 when they fired Dan Quinn this season. Since then, under interim Raheem Morris, they’ve won 3 of their 4 games. The Houston Texans fired Bill O’Brien after an 0-4 start. The very next week? Their first win of the year.
In the SEC, there hasn’t been a midseason firing since 2017. That year, Randy Shannon went 1-3 as Florida’s interim post-Jim McElwain. Brady Hoke went 0-2 at Tennessee as Butch Jones’ replacement.
But that doesn’t mean the Tigers can take it easy on Saturday night. Bobo has plenty of coaching experience (he led Colorado State to bowls in his first 3 seasons). And, now that he doesn’t have to answer to Muschamp, there’s a chance he could do something completely different with the offense. Will he stand by QB Collin Hill, who followed him to South Carolina from Colorado State? Or, will he turn to Ryan Hilinski or Luke Doty?
The Tigers will need to be ready for everything on Saturday night. Bobo will be eager to show he deserves to be a head coach again.
2. Mizzou’s long layoff
No, the Tigers won’t have to deal with star South Carolina CB Jaycee Horn, who opted out of the rest of the 2020 season after Muschamp was fired. But the Tigers also won’t have played for 3 weeks when they take the field Saturday night.
Yes, this team should be well-rested, but that doesn’t mean they’ll come out on fire. In fact, there’s a chance they could be rusty, especially with some COVID-19 related quarantining and contact tracing that has impacted the Tigers during recent practices.
Plus, the Tigers won’t have been in a live situation since Halloween. There’s only so much you can simulate in practice. The feel of an actual game is much different. This one will be in front of a limited crowd, too.
If the Tigers come out sluggish and dig themselves a hole early, it could be difficult to climb out. The Gamecocks are sure to be playing hard after last week’s disappointing loss and the firing of Muschamp.
3. Kevin Harris
The Gamecocks have a breakout star this season, and he does his work out of the backfield. His name is Kevin Harris, and the sophomore back has run for an SEC-best 817 yards this season. He also has 13 rushing touchdowns and 1 receiving score.
He was absolutely electric against Ole Miss on Saturday, running for 243 yards and a whopping 5 touchdowns. South Carolina didn’t win, but Harris was spectacular.
Bobo has been getting him the ball early and often this season. Harris has gone over the 100-yard mark in 4 of South Carolina’s 7 games.
Now, of course, here’s where I mention that Mizzou’s defense is much better than Ole Miss’s. Mizzou has the No. 5 run defense, giving up 131.2 yards per game. The Rebels, on the other hand, are giving up an average of 243.4 yards on the ground per game (ironically, the same number of yards Harris ran for). That’s the worst run defense in the SEC.
Still, Harris has shown he can run against tough defenses. LSU has the No. 6 run defense in the SEC, and Harris torched those Tigers for 126 yards and 2 scores.
DC Ryan Walters will need to have a strong plan in place to stop the Gamecocks’ biggest bright spot on offense.