Missouri fans had waited eight months for their first SEC game, and now, with Faurot Field in a full-throated fervor, only 16 minutes separated them from their first SEC win.
With one minute remaining in the third quarter of their inaugural conference game against #7 Georgia, the Tigers clung to a gritty, 20-17 lead. A sellout crowd, striped in Missouri gold, seemed primed for an upset. But just as quickly, the Tigers' lead evaporated.
The Bulldogs got a quick touchdown in the final minute of the third quarter to pull ahead. Then, a punishing Georgia defense forced back-to-back Missouri turnovers. A Tigers offense that turned in several big plays suddenly went cold. And Georgia's running game grounded Mizzou into submission. Faurot Field emptied, Missouri's 20-17 lead now a 41-20 defeat, its shot at a first-ever SEC win having to wait.
That next opportunity comes Saturday afternoon. The Tigers will seek redemption in another Columbia, against another SEC East opponent -- and another #7-ranked team -- when Missouri faces South Carolina (3:30 p.m. EST, Gamecock IMG Sports Network).
Missouri's finish against Georgia - and Texas A&M's fade earlier in the day against Florida - reignited questions of whether the league's newest members have acclimated themselves to the 60-minute physicality of the SEC. Until Texas' rout of Ole Miss last Saturday, I checked the last five games between current or former Big XII schools and their "traditional" SEC opponents.
Check out the numbers from the fourth quarters of those games:
Fourth Quarters - "Big XII" (current or former) vs. SEC
Yards Gained: 318
Scoring Margin: -53 (Outscored 56-3)
(Games: Arkansas vs. Texas A&M '11; Arkansas vs. Kansas State '11; South Carolina vs. Nebraska, Capital One Bowl '12; Florida vs. Texas A&M '12; Missouri vs. Georgia '12)
Do those numbers mean something? Do they mean nothing? Hard to say. A spread offense like Missouri's can just as easily wilt a defense in the fourth quarter, too. Missouri also allowed Arizona State to outscore them 13-0 in the 4th quarter last week (the Tigers hung on for a 24-20 win). If the Gamecocks and Tigers enter the fourth quarter with a narrow margin on the "BeastBoard," it could make for some fascinating viewing.
Other nuggets we've found during our chart prep for the Tigers:
Get Out Quick: Forget the fourth quarter - it may be a race to the first 15 minutes. Missouri and South Carolina have outscored opponents 66-3 in the 1st quarter this year.
Advice From a Veteran: Before T.J. Gurley makes his first career start at free safety Saturday, the last Gamecock freshman to start at safety was now-senior DeVonte Holloman. Holloman a received a baptism-by-SEC in 2009, starting at strong safety in Carolina's 31-13 loss at Tennessee. Holloman finished with 3 tackles.
Spur DeVonte Holloman (left) made the last start by a freshman at safety.
"It's a happy feeling. Everybody wants to come here and play. It's nerve-wracking at the same time, being out there with the '1''s and being up against the big crowd," Holloman told me.
The South Pointe HS product has some advice for the young, unrelenting freshman:
"The key is not to make it as big as it seems. Just take it like it's practice. T.J. will do a good job. He's a hard worker. He'll hit. That's one thing you can't really teach anybody to do. He's a hitter."
In Deep: Will Gurley be the object of attention from the Missouri passing game? Head coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator David Yost both said that they hope to throw downfield more against Carolina. In their 24-20 win over Arizona State, only 9 of quarterback Corbin Berkstresser's 41 pass attempts traveled more than 10 yards. Like the Gamecocks, the Tigers are also dealing with a banged-up starting QB: junior James Franklin missed the ASU game with soreness in his throwing shoulder.
And Another Thing: Coming out of high school, Gurley said several schools offered him... as a cornerback. "They thought I was too small to play safety," he told me while walking toward the locker room. The 5'10," 183-pounder, who says he admires the play of NFL safeties Ed Reed and the late Sean Taylor, signed with the Gamecocks in part because of their commitment to playing him at safety.
Freshman safety T.J. Gurley (right)
Also, Gurley's high school has a much cooler nickname than yours: the Cairo (Ga.) HS Syrupmakers. The old plant in Cairo (pronounced KAY-row) used to churn out Roddenberry's syrup. The school has produced, among other players, former Syrupmaker and Florida State wide receiver Cameron Wade - Gurley's cousin.
Long Shots? As potent as its spread offense can be, Missouri has yet to convert a third down of 10+ yards this season (0 for 13).
3rd Down & 10+ yards
Run Plays 0-1
Pass Plays 0-12 (3 of 12 passing)
The Tigers' 25.0% completion percentage on 3rd-and-10+ also ties for the third-worst percentage in the nation.
That could bode well for Carolina. Led by a ferocious performance from Jadeveon Clowney - and helped along by a few panicked penalties - the Gamecocks forced an astounding 10 3rd downs of 10+ yards against UAB.
Check back Friday for our final "Pre-Snap Reads" before the Gamecocks and Tigers get together. -AD--