Thus far in the 2012 season, there haven't been a lot of complaints for the South Carolina Gamecocks. But there is no question that a big test comes to town on Saturday in the form of the Missouri Tigers.
The season hasn't been quite as magical for Missouri, which failed in its one big test of the season: Week 2, then-No. 7 Georgia, at home. One surrendered halftime lead, one fourth quarter of futility and the Tigers' dreams of knocking off a top-10 opponent were no more.
The positive is, beating the Gamecocks—who have since assumed Georgia's No. 7 spot in the AP poll—will feel just as good as it might have felt to beat the Bulldogs. And a road victory over an SEC opponent is a necessity if the Tigers want their season to amount to anything.
Similarly, avoiding an upset here is a necessity for the Gamecocks, too.
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia, S.C.
When: Saturday, September 22 at 3:30 p.m. ET
South Carolina is the nine-point favorite over Missouri according to OddsShark, which isn't as big a spread as some may have been expecting. The Gamecocks are the home team, they're in the top 10 and they're facing an unranked opponent—granted, an SEC opponent, but unranked nonetheless.
You might think that would get them a bit more respect from the oddsmakers, but when you consider the teams South Carolina has faced in the first three weeks—Vanderbilt, East Carolina and UAB—the Gamecocks have only managed to destroy their smaller-conference opponents. Against the only other (unranked) SEC team they've faced this season, the Gamecocks registered a slim 17-13 win.
But that was on the road, and it was in Week 1. Since then, the Gamecocks have been able to put up more than enough points to suggest they can cover this.
OddsShark has the over/under at 50.5. There's little doubt that the Gamecocks are going to put up big points this weekend, but Missouri hasn't shown the same offensive proficiency.
After a questionable start to the season in which it scored just 17 points, South Carolina rebounded with two consecutive games in which it scored 48 points or more and outscored opponents 97-16. Just what you'd expect of the No. 7 team in the nation.
Missouri, on the other hand, followed the opposite path. It opened up with a resounding 62-10 thumping of Southeastern Louisiana, but in its two games since, it has failed to score more than 24 points. After that 41-20 loss to Georgia, the Tigers have actually been outscored 61-44 in their last two games.
That is one fact that bodes well for the Gamecocks.
Missouri Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- LB Zaviar Gooden (hamstring) is questionable for Saturday's game
- OL Elvis Fisher (knee) is out indefinitely
- WR Wesley Leftwich (foot) is out indefinitely
- OL Travis Ruth (triceps) is out for the season
- OL Taylor Chappell (knee) is out for the season
- HB Henry Josey (knee) is out for the season
South Carolina Injury Report (via USAToday.com)
- QB Connor Shaw (shoulder) is probable for Saturday's game
- S Sharrod Golightly is eligible to return from a three-game suspension on Saturday
- RB Brandon Wilds (ankle) is questionable for Saturday's game
- S D.J. Swearinger has been suspended one game for a flagrant hit
- CB Akeem Auguste (groin) is out indefinitely
- RB Shon Carson (wrist) is out indefinitely
They really couldn't be bigger for the Gamecocks, who have been steadily crawling up in the polls ever since that almost-scare against the Commodores in Week 1.
They started off the year at No. 9 and stayed put after Week 1, but it was their 48-10 win over East Carolina that helped them make the jump to No. 8, and another dominant offensive performance helped them climb one spot higher to No. 7.
There's a lot that is out of South Carolina's control this season—namely, the fact that there are so many explosive teams still ahead of them in the polls, three of which are in the SEC. The bad news is, the conference is stacked; the good news is, it will give the Gamecocks ample opportunity to prove that they're just as good.
Needless to say, the Gamecocks can't afford a loss before they face the likes of Georgia and LSU if they want to hold on to their ranking.
Keys for Missouri
You saw what happened the last time the Tigers faced a top-10 opponent: They started off OK but totally dropped off in the second half. That can't happen against a team that can score the way the Gamecocks can.
Against Georgia, Missouri was shut out in the first quarter, but its defense was good enough through the first half to compensate for it. Not so in the second half, though—the Tigers' defense allowed four Georgia touchdowns and a field goal in the final 24 minutes of the game.
The key against South Carolina will be staying strong defensively through all four periods. Otherwise, the Tigers will have no chance. They can't just rely on their offense to keep up.
Keys for South Carolina
Despite the fact that the Gamecocks are currently 3-0, it hasn't been a joyride.
Starting quarterback Connor Shaw suffered a shoulder injury in the season opener, then missed the game against East Carolina, and then re-aggravated the injury in the first half of the win over UAB. According to the Associated Press, Shaw has a hairline fracture.
To expect him to be at 100 percent against Missouri would be foolish. Perhaps starting him is foolish, too, but Steve Spurrier has to. This is a huge game, and despite the way Dylan Thompson has admirably filled in, the Gamecocks need their dynamic starting QB and his impact on the run against the Tigers.
And if they need Thompson to step in yet again, he'll be ready. But because there's no room for error in this one, Shaw will have to be as close to perfect as he can be with a fractured shoulder. He can't give the Tigers any extra opportunities or any extra hope.
Prediction: South Carolina Wins
Missouri hasn't looked good when it has had to face good teams early this season, and South Carolina could very well be another big challenge the Tigers aren't quite up to facing. The defensive breakdowns on the part of Missouri have been a huge problem, and the Gamecocks are good enough to take advantage.
And even though Shaw isn't at 100 percent, the Gamecocks have proven to be deep enough at quarterback that they won't be in dire straits should he be knocked out of the game.