5 Things to Watch: Missouri at South Carolina

True freshmen could play a big role in Saturday's Southeastern Conference game between Missouri and host South Carolina.

Here are five things we’ll be keeping an eye on when the Missouri Tigers (2-6, 0-4) play at South Carolina (4-4, 2-4) in a Southeastern Conference contest on Saturday afternoon…

MIZZOU RUN DEFENSE

Missouri has allowed 1,382 yards rushing the past four games — an average of 345.5 rushing yards per game — in losses against LSU, Florida, Middle Tennessee and Kentucky. 

LSU gained 418 yards on the ground, the most Missouri has allowed this season. Kentucky rumbled for 377 yards rushing last week, with Benjamin Snell going for 192 yards and two TDs on 38 carries and Stanley Williams gaining 182 yards and a score on 19 carries. 

The Tigers may have changed their scheme against Kentucky, but the results looked familiar. 

Playing without redshirt senior linebacker Michael Scherer, who suffered a season-ending ACL injury vs. Middle Tennessee, didn’t help. Neither did losing redshirt senior linebacker Donavin Newsom in the first half to quadriceps injury. Scherer and Newsom are the leading tacklers on a defense that has struggled to tackle this season, so playing without one or both is a difficult proposition for Missouri.

The good news for the Tigers, who have allowed 240 rushing yards per game this season? 

South Carolina ranks last in the SEC in rushing at 113.25 yards per game. (Though the Gamecocks rushed for 352 yards the past two weeks in wins over UMass and Tennessee.)

DREW LOCK 

Through the first four weeks, Mizzou sophomore quarterback Drew Lock completed 59.3 percent (96 of 162) of his passes for 1,508 yards, with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. The Tigers went 2-2.

Over the last four games, Lock has completed 46.8 percent (59 of 126) of his passes for 707 yards, with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Missouri lost all four games. 

The Tigers have run the ball better the past four games — averaging 211.8 rushing yards per game, compared to an average of 178.3 over the first four games — but the offense has struggled to make a difference, particularly the past two weeks. 

Missouri needs more from the offense and Lock is the guy that makes the offense go.  This week he’ll have to produce against a South Carolina defense that is allowing just 180.8 passing yards per game. 

“Drew Lock can make all the throws,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said during the SEC teleconference on Wednesday. “He’s a very talented guy that has got big-time arm talent, can throw the touch throw, can zip it. But they’ve got really good speed at the wideout positions — that’s what jumps out to me. J'Mon Moore and Johnathon Johnson, Emanuel Hall, all those guys run extremely well and they take 10 to 12 shots in the game. He’s got the arm strength and the accuracy to get it there and they’ve got some guys that can finish down the field.”

J’MON MOORE

Lock could get more help from junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore. 

Moore had 26 catches for 434 yards and six touchdowns the first four games — including three games with eight receptions — but has only had seven catches for 117 yards and no touchdowns the past four games. 

“When he started putting up the big numbers (opponents) had a lot of safeties start rotating over the top of him,” Lock said before the Kentucky game, “just to kind of take away some of the vertical threats, and even backers shade a little more to his side.”  

Defenses have adjusted their coverage of Moore after his hot start, including shading a safety to his side of the field, but the talented junior wide receiver needs to find a way to make more of an impact. 

The Tigers have other playmakers at wide receiver and guys like freshman Dimetrios Mason and sophomore Emanuel Hall have stepped up, but the Tigers need more from Moore. 

MIZZOU'S FRONT FOUR

The talk from Missouri’s defensive players about the switch back to last year’s scheme sounds like it will most help a front four that hasn’t seemed to make much of an impact this season. 

The Tigers have just 11 sacks in eight games — only Vanderbilt, with nine, has less among SEC squads — and only 8.5 of those have come from the front four, with Charles Harris accounting for 3.5 of that total. 

A year ago Missouri had 28 sacks in 12 games and 20 of them came from the defensive line (or 21 if you want to include a “team” sack). Harris and Walter Brady led the way with seven apiece and Terry Beckner Jr. was next with three. 

The Tigers have just four sacks over the past four games — one per game — and an improved pass rush, led by Harris and the front four, could go a long way toward the defense performing better as a whole. 

FRESHMEN IMPACT

South Carolina had two true freshmen step up in their 24-21 win over then-No. 18 Tennessee last Saturday. 

Quarterback Jake Bentley completing 15 of 20 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns and running back Rico Dowdle rushing 27 times for 127 yards and a touchdown. 

Missouri’s offense has gotten a big boost this fall from true freshmen running back Damarea Crockett and wide receiver Dimetrios Mason. 

Crockett leads the Tigers with 601 yards rushing and seven touchdowns while Mason ranks second on the squad with 26 receptions for 350 yards and is tied with five others for second with two receiving touchdowns. 

Which freshmen will make the difference this Saturday? 

Coming off back-to-back career games, Crockett gained just 55 yards on 13 carries in the loss to Kentucky. The Tigers need to get more from the running game, led by Crockett and junior Ish Witter.

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @NateLatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.

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