At the end of each football game, only one stat really matters.

The numbers on either side of the scoreboard.

There is no better example of this universal truth than the 2014 Missouri Tigers.

A team that lost to a four-win Indiana squad and got hammered 34-0 against Georgia — both at home — wound up playing in the SEC Championship Game after winning seven league games, six of them by 10 points or less.

So, how did they do it, and why should South Carolina fans care as the Gamecocks prepare to host Kentucky Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, SECN)?

It’s a simple two-step formula, and it starts with…


Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for 2,008 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground last season. The ability to turn around and hand the ball off often takes the pressure off of a young quarterback, and then-sophomore Maty Mauk knew that he didn’t have to go out and win games, but could relax and pick his spots to make big plays downfield.

In the last five SEC games before its loss to Alabama in the title game, Missouri never ran the ball fewer than 41 times while averaging almost 4.8 yards per carry.

A high school coach once told me that three bad things can happen when you pass the ball, but only one bad thing can happen when you run it. So, it makes sense for teams with young quarterbacks to use a risk-averse approach when devising offensive game plans.

The Gamecocks took a page out of that playbook in Week 1, piling up 254 yards and a score on 47 attempts (45 if you don’t believe in counting kneel downs). The workload was spread around nicely, as Brandon Wilds (14), David Williams (10) and quarterback Connor Mitch (10) took turns chewing up yardage — and clock — in a 17-13 victory over North Carolina.

It was a good thing that the ground game was so effective for South Carolina, as Mitch was a bit inconsistent in his first career start. He’s a talented player with lots of potential, and a strong running attack for the Gamecocks will give him the time he needs to develop.


A simple concept, but one that is central to any team’s goals for a given season.

Aside from the Georgia and Alabama games, Missouri’s defense didn’t allow more than 27 points in a league game last season, while holding four of those opponents under 20.

The Tigers were seventh in the SEC in total defense in 2014, but led the way with 42 sacks behind Shane Ray (14.5) and Markus Golden (10). In addition, Missouri was fifth in turnovers created and, coupled with a conservative running attack on offense, third in turnover margin.

Or, put more simply, a bend-but-don’t-break brand of defense with an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and forcing turnovers.

South Carolina wasn’t outstanding on defense in its opener, but it made plays when they mattered. The Gamecocks sacked Marquise Williams four times, and intercepted him on three different trips inside the 20 — with Skai Moore coming up with two of those in the end zone.

So, while the Tar Heels had more total yards on offense, South Carolina won the game.

It’s not always stylish, and Missouri fans can attest that this method can be a little nerve-racking, but it is an effective way to win football games.

We’ll see if the Gamecocks can adhere to this formula when the Wildcats come calling Saturday night.