South Carolina vs. Missouri: 10 Things We Learned in Gamecocks' Win
It was an absolutely thrilling comeback for South Carolina, scoring 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to force overtime, where the Gamecocks eventually knocked off then-No. 5 Missouri. But other than keeping South Carolina's slim SEC East Division title hopes alive, what else can we take away from Saturday's victory?
Connor Shaw, Dylan Thompson, Mike Davis and, of course, Jadeveon Clowney will all be topics of conversation along side others in our 10 things we learned about the South Carolina Gamecocks in their win over the Missouri Tigers.
Jadeveon Clowney Is Back?
Is it possible for one player to simultaneously be the best player in college football and be the most overrated player in college football?
If so, Clowney is certainly making a run for such a title.
The expectations for Clowney were so lofty this preseason, it's difficult to imagine any player reaching them. Still, Clowney is so good, every South Carolina opponent schemes around him. But Saturday, we saw Clowney run around, over and through like we rarely have to this point in his career.
Saturday's performance can be summed up in one play. In the first quarter, Missouri's Marcus Murphy ran the ball around the edge, and straight into Clowney. Somewhat surprisingly, Murphy just kept right on running, breaking through a sprawling Clowney and straight into the end zone.
There were also a few other instances of Missouri ball-carriers making it past—or even through—Clowney.
We couldn't help but be struck by the fact that if his name wasn't Jadeveon Clowney, none of these plays would even be talked about. It's because we expect him to be so good that these lapses jump out at us.
Is Clowney one of the best defensive ends in the nation? Sure. Is he as great as we all thought he would be this season? With the rare exceptions of a play here or there, we'd have to say no.
Big Plays Can Kill You
Murphy running through Clowney's tackle attempt could probably be considered a "big play" by many, but we're talking about the big-yardage daggers Missouri was throwing up early in the game.
Giving up a fumble in the red zone is bad enough, but when your defense heads out and promptly gives up a 96-yard pass play for a touchdown, it can be absolute murder to morale on the sideline.
Had that play happened late in the second half, it could have been lights out for the Gamecocks.
How many times have we seen one team dominate another, or even battle to what looks to be a draw only to have the opponent break open a big play that ultimately decides the game? Big plays can absolutely kill you, and South Carolina should count its lucky stars it was able to recover from the haymakers Missouri was throwing early on.
Gamecocks Have Some Missouri Magic
Call it whatever you want. Magic. Luck. Karma. Maybe, as Steve Spurrier believes, God was smiling.
Whatever it was, Missouri had it through its first seven games. South Carolina had it Saturday night.
There's often more to winning the close games between two great programs than X's and O's, stats, completions, conversions, field goals and touchdowns. It's that intangible je ne sais quoi that is the razor's edge between elation and despair.
Sometimes it's with you—sometimes it's not. But Spurrier manages to find more than his fair share of it, doesn't he?
Maybe one day he'll share his secret.
Ball Security Must Improve
Mike Davis has had an excellent year thus far. He came into the game against Missouri as the SEC's leading rusher and was 10th in the FBS in yards per game.
Still, this is football, and the difference between winning and losing often comes down to turnovers. In the first half, South Carolina committed three of football's most heinous mistakes, with two of them coming on back-to-back carries by Davis.
We don't expect many two-fumble nights from Davis, but it underscores an important point.
Turnovers are certainly drive-killers, but when you fumble inside of your opponent's 5-yard line, they're morale killers, too. South Carolina was able to escape from Columbia, Mo. with an overtime win, but that escape wouldn't have looked so lucky had Davis been able to hang onto the football.
Against Missouri, the Gamecocks got away with turnovers, even red-zone turnovers. There are plenty of other opponents around the nation, many in the SEC, who don't vie up trips to the red zone very often. South Carolina has to start making every one count.
Dropping a Pass Can Be the Difference Between Winning and Losing
In the first half, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson was 15-of-27 for 222 yards and one interception. Not terrible numbers, but things would have looked a lot better if he had received a little help from his receivers.
At times, it looked as if the Gamecocks had coated their hands with Crisco. Balls off of fingertips, or even right off of the center of the palms, didn't help Thompson guide his team down the field.
Heading into the game against Mizzou, South Carolina didn't have a single receiver in the SEC's top 10 in yards per game, and we're beginning to think that might be because too many receivers are dropping too many passes.
As a team, South Carolina is completing just over 61 percent of its passes. That number really needs to start heading north if the Gamecocks want to start consistently beat top-ranked SEC teams like Florida, Georgia, Alabama, LSU or, in the case, Missouri.
Good Defense Is Nice, but Good Offense Is Critical
So much of the talk heading into 2013 was about Clowney. Even during the season, all of the media seems to focus on the various ups and downs of Clowney, essentially ignoring the rest of the team.
While having an All-Universe player like Clowney at defensive end is every defensive coordinator's dream, that defensive power has to be backed up by an ability to score points.
"Defense wins championships" may be the saying we all know, but you can't win a game without points. Through three quarters, despite holding Missouri to 17 points, South Carolina looked to be coming up far short mainly because the offense couldn't move the ball on the Tigers. It wasn't until the fourth quarter when Shaw was able to start clicking with his receivers that the Gamecocks were able to make a game out of it.
As good as Missouri's is, it's still no Crimson Tide defense. While South Carolina's title chances are slim, the Gamecocks need to move forward as if Atlanta is the logical destination.
If South Carolina does make it to Atlanta, Saturday's offensive performance simply won't cut it.
Bruce Ellington Is a Beast
We all knew Bruce Ellington was good. But his performance against Missouri showed us exactly how good.
Ellington has developed into a classic "go-to" receiver, and his 10 receptions for 136 yards and two touchdowns were of supreme importance to South Carolina—and may have even won the game for the Gamecocks.
Ellington's sure hands and his size and strength combine into one of the SEC's premier receivers. Ellington came into the game with just three TDs on the season, but the junior showed that he's capable of contributing so much more.
We're excited to see exactly how good he can become. If he can continue to improve, he could very well start his senior season as a preseason All-SEC selection.
Just what South Carolina needs to compete for a conference title in 2014.
Don't Underestimate Luck
To be sure, South Carolina's victory wasn't all based on luck. But in the end, one play probably will be used by Missouri fans to lament this loss for years to come.
What might have been, we'll never know.
But if you're a South Carolina fan, one thing is certain: A little luck (or lack thereof) can go a long, long way.
Connor Shaw Is Critical to Success
Are there any doubters out there that South Carolina's fortunes completely reversed themselves when Shaw made his return to the field for the Gamecocks? Heading into the second half, South Carolina was down, 14-0, and had shown no real aptitude on offense.
After trading punts, Missouri extended its lead to 17-0 in the third, when Spurrier decided he had seen enough. It was time for the veteran quarterback to come back, injury or no, to guide the Gamecocks.
Dylan Thompson wasn't particularly awful, going 15-of-27 for 222 yards in two-and-a-half quarters of work, but he didn't have that killer instinct and veteran experience that a comeback requires. Shaw clearly does.
As soon as the senior stepped onto the field, South Carolina's offense had a different feel to it. Suddenly, receivers found balls somehow easier to catch. Running backs had a renewed impetus. The whole team responded to the leadership of Shaw it had become accustomed to over the previous years.
Shaw then proceeded to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes on the night, finishing 20-of-29 for 201 yards and three touchdowns.
Is there any doubt now about Shaw's importance to this offense?
Finally, and this might go without saying, but we learned that Spurrier-coached teams simply don't surrender.
It might sound a little like coach-speak, but most people would assume that's exactly what it is when you go up and down your sideline at the start of the fourth quarter, down by 17, talking about not giving up. "Don't quit," or "play with pride" would often be phrases you hear a coach bark out to his players in such a situation. But when it comes to South Carolina, it's clear that the players actually buy what the head ball coach is selling, hook, line and sinker.
And why not? It worked against Missouri, didn't it?
Crazier things have happened in college football, but this comeback by South Carolina will likely long be remembered by both teams. And it never could have happened if the Gamecocks had simply decided to coast toward the finish with a respectable-looking loss.
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