COLUMBIA. Mo. – Two teams trying to overcome early stumbles and challenge for the SEC East title square off Saturday, when South Carolina visits Missouri. The Gamecocks have won the last three meetings to take a 5-4 lead in the Mayor’s Cup series, which has developed into a heated rivalry since the Tigers joined the conference.
TV: 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network. LINE: Missouri -9.5
The series has been marked by wild finishes, going back to Missouri’s Brad Smith leading the largest comeback win in program history in the 2005 Independence Bowl. Last year’s meeting was no different, as the teams traded go-ahead field goals in the final minutes of South Carolina’s 37-35 triumph. Both teams started the season with disappointing losses – Missouri to Wyoming and South Carolina to North Carolina – but the Tigers have rebounded to win their last two games in dominant fashion, outscoring West Virginia and Southeast Missouri 88-7. The Gamecocks hammered Charleston Southern 72-10 but opened SEC play with a 47-23 home loss to No. 2 Alabama last week.
ABOUT SOUTH CAROLINA (1-2, 0-1 SEC)
With freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski making his second collegiate start, the Gamecocks rolled up 459 total yards against Alabama, which is a promising sign. The offense has been fairly balanced as South Carolina wants to establish the run with Rico Dowdle (251 yards, two touchdowns) and Tavien Feaster (169, one), but Hilinski also has thrown for 606 yards and four touchdowns in two games. The Gamecocks’ biggest issue has been the pass defense, which is surrendering an average of 311.7 yards through the air and will be tested by Missouri’s passing game, but the run defense has been stout as the team held Alabama under 100 rushing yards for the first time since 2014.
ABOUT MISSOURI (2-1)
After a wake-up call to open the year in Wyoming, the Tigers have been dominant in their last two contests and outgained Southeast Missouri 501-94 last week. Clemson transfer quarterback Kelly Bryant has put up big passing numbers (798 yards, six TDs) but hasn’t been much of a factor in the running game, as Larry Rountree III (287 yards, four TDs) and Tyler Badie (197, two) have carried the load. The Tigers’ pass defense has been outstanding, holding opponents to 95.7 yards per game through the air – the second-fewest in the nation , while the run defense has shown dramatic improvement since giving up 297 yards against Wyoming.
1. The Tigers are 2-5 in SEC openers since joining the conference in 2012, losing each of their last four.
2. Missouri has scored at least 31 points in eight consecutive games.
3. The Gamecocks have scored at least 31 points in five of their nine meetings with the Tigers, including four of their five wins in the series.
PREDICTION: Missouri 34, South Carolina 27
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