This year, Missouri returned the favor.
“A great fourth quarter victory for the Missouri Tigers!” exclaimed a delighted Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, following his team’s hard-fought come-from-behind road win. “A never give up attitude that you keep battling……………………………………………… There’s a lot of pluses here. But the greatest thing is that you just never give up. You never, ever, ever doubt it! And, I’m proud of our team!”
With 7:25 remaining in the 4th quarter, Dylan Thomson stood in the face of a furious Missouri pass rush and found Pharoh Cooper down the middle near the goal line for a 23-yard TD pass completion that put South Carolina up 20-7. Cooper went up between three Missouri defenders to snatch the ball out of the air. Then, he held on through contact . That score capped off an 8-play 63-yard Gamecock drive that had grabbed all of the momentum and that seemed to have worn down the Missouri defense.
But Missouri quickly reclaimed the momentum, as the Tigers scored in 36 seconds on a 3-play 68-yard drive. From his own 32-yard line, Maty Mauk found Bud Sasser down the left sideline for 41 yards and a first down at the South Carolina 27-yard line. It was a great throw and catch, as Sasser went up and high-pointed the ball over a single defender. On the next play, Mauk found Wesley Leftwich for 26 yards on a post, and Leftwich fought his way down to the 1-yard line. Russell Hansbrough took a hand-off and started left, then he reversed his field and waltzed into the end zone. Missouri trailed 14-20 with 6:49 remaining in the game.
Then, the Missouri defense, which had kept the Tigers in the game throughout, while the Missouri offense struggled mightily, forced a three and out, and Marcus Murphy returned the punt to near midfield at the Missouri 49-yard line.
Two incompletions later, Missouri was facing third and 10 from right where they started the drive. Hansbrough took a pitch on the speed option and found a running lane along the left sideline where he was forced out of bounds at the South Carolina 42-yard line. On fourth and one, Mauk pivoted out to his left and found Sean Culkin near the sideline for the first down at the South Carolina 39-yard line. On the next play, Mauk had Sasser singled up down the left sideline, but the South Carolina defender climbed onto Sasser’s back and was flagged for interference. Missouri had a first down at the South Carolina 24-yard line. Murphy took a hand-off and ran right for 21 yards and a first and goal at the South Carolina 2-yard line. Murphy moved it to the 1-yard line. Then Mauk lost a yard, before Murphy moved it to inside the 1-yard line. Finally, on fourth down, and with a strong second effort, Hansbrough drove his way into a mass of humanity and into the end zone to put the Tigers ahead with 1:36 remaining.
Once again, the Missouri defense stepped up and stopped the Gamecocks on downs, before Mauk and company lined up in their victory formation.
“The defense kept us in, kept us in, kept us in,” explained Coach Pinkel. “Then the offense did the things for this team that they needed to do. Then the defense goes back out and holds them again to get another shot at the 50-yard line.”
South Carolina outgained the Tigers 338 yards to 280 yards. But the Tigers had the better of it on the ground, as Missouri rushed for 148 yards on 36 carries (4.1 yards/carry), and the Gamecocks rushed for 119 yards on 42 carries (2.8 yards/carry). Mauk, who was without two of his favorite targets in Jimmie Hunt and Darius White, finished 12-34-0 for 132 yards.
South Carolina took the game’s opening kick-off, and went for it on fourth and one from their own 42-yard line. Kentrell Brothers broke through into the backfield, and got a hold of Mike Davis, then Michael Scherer came on to help prevent Davis from reaching the first down marker.
So, Missouri took over on downs at the South Carolina 42-yard line. Maty Mauk found Bud Sasser twice before Russell Hansbrough found the end zone from 18 yards out. Missouri led 7-0 with 12:06 remaining in the 1st quarter.
South Carolina came back and drove to mid-field before pinning Missouri deep in their own end on the punt-exchange. Missouri put together a 14-play 60-yard drive that stalled at the South Carolina 30-yard line. Andrew Baggett missed badly on a 48-yard field goal attempt.
Dylan Thompson found Pharoh Cooper for 27 yards and a first down into Missouri territory. A pass interference penalty moved the ball into field range and South Carolina cut the Missouri lead to 7-3 on an Elliot Fry 33-yard field goal with 2:07 remaining in the 1st quarter.
Missouri struggled to move the football. The Gamecocks had figured out that Mauk was going to go to Sasser, so they took him away. The Tigers were having trouble handling South Carolina’s blitzes, and when they did get open, the young Missouri receivers were dropping passes.
The two teams exchanged several punts throughout the 2nd quarter. Missouri was on the move, and Mauk had converted a third down on a slant to Sasser into South Carolina territory. But Lawrence Lee was flagged for offensive pass interference on the play, as he too aggressively set a pick on the opposite side of the field.
That pushed the Tigers back across mid-field, and Cooper returned the punt 24 yards to the South Carolina 41-yard line. From there, Mike Davis ran the football for 11 yards on a third and three. Then, Thompson found Davis on a screen pass up the left side for 24 yards to the Missouri 17-yard line. On the next play, Davis took it in from 17 yards out and the Gamecocks led 10-7 with 1:36 remaining in the half.
In the 1st half, South Carolina outgained Missouri 179-117 in total yards. Mauk was just 6-19-0 for 57 yards before halftime.
Neither offense could get much going in the 3rd quarter, until Thompson found a wide-open Nick Jones running free in the Missouri secondary for a 47-yard catch and run. Charles Harris hustled back down the field to get in on the tackle to prevent the TD. Harold Brantley came up with a sack on third down, and the Gamecocks had to settle for a field goal that extended their lead to 13-7 with 6:38 remaining in the 3rd quarter. That turned out to be a huge goal line stand.
The Missouri defense really came to play at South Carolina. Kentrell Brothers played like he’s supposed to, and the defensive line play was outstanding! In passing situations, Coach Kuligowski repeatedly utilized a defensive line that featured Shane Ray lined up inside along with Harold Brantley, and with Markus Golden and Charles Harris lined up on the outside.