Special teams costly again

Special teams have cost Missouri the last few weeks. Against seventh-ranked South Carolina Saturday it cost them dearly. Special teams gave Carolina all the momentum on two separate occasions as South Carolina dominated Missouri in all three phases of the game in a 31-10 Carolina win.

Missouri knew coming into Saturday's game against seventh-ranked South Carolina that they would have to play well in all three phases of the game. They were outplayed in all three phases and the result was another 21-point loss in SEC play, falling to the Gamecocks 31-10 to fall to 0-2 in conference play.

"South Carolina is a really good football team and I think we have to give them a lot of credit," Tiger head coach Gary Pinkel said following the game. "Personally I think they deserve it. They are very well coached, didn't make many mistakes and in turn took advantage of some of the mistakes we made. That was a pretty dominating performance so we will learn from it and get better."

Missouri was outgained 396 to 255 and the patch-work offensive line for Missouri could not stop the Carolina front four. After giving up just five sacks in the first three games, James Franklin was sacked three times against the Gamecocks.

"The difference in South Carolina's defensive front apart from the rest of the SEC is their depth," tackle Jake Meiners said. "Their first-string guys are world class defenders, probably going to be high-round draft picks, especially their two starting defensive ends."

With the exception of a 76-yard drive that resulted in a field goal in the second quarter, and a 75-yard touchdown drive on the last drive of the game Missouri had a hard time getting into any kind of a rhythm. The key to the up tempo offense is to sustain drives and keep the defense on the field for extended periods of time. That was not the case Saturday as the Carolina defense was able to get off the field on third downs, limiting the Tigers to just 2-of-12 on third down conversions.

"I think you give their front six a lot of credit, because they are very talented," Pinkel said. "Obviously, we are very young, and overall, they won that battle. You get in third and long situations and that's not the ideal situation to be in with that group up front for the Gamecocks. They put pressure on you and are very difficult to block. We will learn from that, but they are very talented and they played very well."

The most glaring difference in the game was special teams, the Achilles Heel of Missouri the last few weeks. After holding Carolina on consecutive plays from the Missouri one to turn the ball over on downs, Missouri was unable to move the ball and was forced to punt from inside their own 10. Trey Barrow had a decent 45-yard punt, but it was a low kick and allowed Carolina returner Ace Sanders some room to return. That was all Sanders needed as he took it 49 yards to the Missouri four and the Gamecocks scored two plays later to take a 7-0 lead.

What Missouri will see when they break down game film is that Sanders should not have gotten anywhere near the four yard line. After bouncing off Demario Jeffery just inside the Missouri 45, Tiger cornerback Kip Edwards had Sanders in his grasp near the 30. Instead of going for the sure tackle Edwards tried to strip the ball, but Sanders was able to slip out of his grasp and nearly take it the distance before stepping out.

"That's an underclassman mistake I made," the senior said. "I should have made the tackle, and I blame the whole momentum shift and the way the game went on me because if I make that tackle we could have stopped him and the game would have still been 0-0."

Even after falling behind 14-0 on Lattimore's second touchdown run, Missouri had a chance to grab the momentum before the half. Kicker Andrew Baggett connected on a 22-yard field goal with just under 1:30 left in the first half to trim the lead to 14-3. Down 14-3 at the half and knowing you're going to get the ball back to open the second half, Missouri would have felt good about their chances to get back in the game.

That didn't happen.

Barrow's kickoff was fielded by Bruce Ellington several yards in the end zone. Instead of taking a knee, Ellington chose to return it for the first time in the 2012 season. Ellington found a seam set up by the return team and eluded several defenders to return the ball to midfield. Steve Spurrier may have chosen to sit on it and take a 14-3 lead into the locker room had Ellington not returned it, but was able to go on attack mode. Four plays later, Shaw lofted one up to the end zone that Sanders ran under and was just able to snag the ball with his finger tips for a touchdown and a 21-3 Carolina lead at halftime. The Gamecocks seized the momentum heading into the locker room and cruised in the second half to the victory. In the process, Carolina finished the half with more return yards than Missouri had total yards.

"I said something about that at halftime in the interview with CBS that field position was staggering," Pinkel said. "So much of it was tackling and a lot of it was hang time. When you only have two or three seconds hang time on a punt, you have serious problems. Especially with the quickness of the players they have back there waiting to return the ball. That was huge, and we gave them short fields to capitalize on."

For the Tigers it is back to the drawing board as they step out of conference play to face UCF in Orlando next week. They return to conference play in two weeks in search of their first SEC win when Vanderbilt comes to town.

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