Missouri withers in the weather, falls to Gamecocks

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Barry Odom wasn’t expecting rain.

Before he headed to Williams- Brice Stadium on Saturday morning, he checked the weather. When Odom saw there was a 20 percent chance of rain in Columbia, South Carolina, he figured he was in the clear.

“In my mind, I was thinking there was a 80 percent chance that it wasn’t going to,” he said.

The forecast didn’t warn Odom about the torrential rain that poured down for much of the second half of Saturday’s 37-35 South Carolina win over Missouri, and no weather app on the market could have foretold him of what unfolded later in a game South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp dubbed one of the craziest he’s ever been a part of.

“That will probably be No. 1,” Muschamp said.

The contest featured a little bit of everything. It had that rain Odom talked about — lots of it. It had five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. It had a blocked punt, a muffed punt and a 70-yard touchdown called back after a review. For a good chunk of the third quarter, it had a game clock that didn’t work. And of course, it had a lightning delay at the 2:41 mark of the fourth quarter that paused the game for a total of 76 minutes.

But lastly, and most importantly, it had Parker White’s 33-yard field with two seconds remaining. That one sealed it for the Gamecocks.

The Tigers (3-2, 0-2 SEC) weathered it all Saturday afternoon, but ultimately succumbed to the storm, falling to South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) in the dying moments of the five hour and 14 minute affair. Missouri continued to assert its will in the running game, racking up nearly 300 yards on the ground, and the Tigers’ front seven put on their best performance of the season.

But none of it was enough to overcome the Tigers’ sloppy third quarter in this decidedly unusual Southeastern Conference road opener. Not even Tucker McCann’s 57-yard go-ahead field goal with 1:18 remaining could do that.

Missouri entered the contest short-handed. Just one hour before kickoff, the team confirmed that receivers Emanuel Hall (groin) and Nate Brown (groin) did not make the trip to South Carolina, leaving Missouri’s offense without its top pass catcher and another of its veteran wideouts.

Quarterback Drew Lock and Co. functioned serviceably in their absence, and alleviated any concerns with a touchdown on the first offensive possession of the game. After a 45-yard connection from Lock to freshman wide receiver Jalen Knox that took Missouri to the goal line, a one-yard rushing score by Larry Rountree III put the Tigers ahead 7-0.

South Carolina responded on the ensuing possession with a touchdown of its own. After a curious onside kick attempt resulting from a miscommunication between McCann and special teams coordinator Andy Hill, the Gamecocks were left with stellar field position. Three plays later, South Carolina’s stand-in quarterback, Michael Scarnecchia, found Bryan Edwards in the left corner of the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown to knot the game at 7.

Damarea Crockett was the running back of choice for Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley on Saturday, and gave his finest performance of the season, rushing for 154 yards and a first-half touchdown. He nearly had a second score on the 70-yard scamper that was called back. Crockett, along with Rountree and freshman back Tyler badie combined for 289 yards on the afternoon.

Lock, on the other hand, struggled for a second consecutive week, and finished without a passing touchdown. The senior gunslinger, who led the nation in touchdown throws a year ago, has not registered any since the second helf of Week 3 against Purdue. Without his top target on the field, Lock finished 17-for-36 for 204 yards and two interceptions.

Hall was missed most — as he was two weeks ago against Georgia — in the red zone where the Tigers failed to execute on a number of occasions. With Hall out and tight end Albert Okwuegbunam smothered by the South Carolina secondary, Missouri couldn’t get the ball into the end zone through the air when it got close. Four times, McCann was called upon to kick from the red zone; and on three of those four times, he converted. But the missed chances for touchdowns cost the Tigers.

“We set ourselves up for so many opportunities in the red zone and we didn’t capitalize,” right tackle Paul Adams said. “It’s one of those things you get so pissed off at. The entire flight home, that’s all I’ll think about.”

On the legs of the running game, the foot of Tucker McCann and a strong showing from the Tigers’ defensive front seven, Missouri went into the half up 23-14.

Then came the weather. As a heavy, mid-afternoon rain poured down on the Tigers early in the second half, so did the mistakes. And so did the Gamecocks.

South Carolina opened the scoring after the break with a 12-play, 66-yard touchdown drive, culminating in an 8-yard touchdown reception for Tiger-killer Deebo Samuel that brought the score to 23-21.

On the ensuing possession, working from the 10-yard line following the Crockett touchdown that was wiped off the board, Missouri fell apart in a matter of plays.

The Tigers committed two false starts — courtesy of Okwuegbunam and backup offensive lineman Case Cook — and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Crockett. The flags set the Tigers back 25 yards.

Lock dropped a snap too, and then confusion took over as the game clock stopped working. On fourth down, a high snap slipped through the hands of punter Corey Fatony. South Carolina recovered near midfield.

The Gamecocks converted that turnover into a field goal to take the lead. A possession later, linebacker Sherrod Greene picked off on an ill-fated screen pass from Lock and took it back to the house to put the Gamecocks up 31-23.

A block of a South Carolina punt by linebacker Tavon Ross early in the fourth quarter turned the tide back toward the Tigers and, at least for a time, changed the complexion of the game. Rountree ran in his second score of the day three plays later, but Missouri failed on a two-point conversion try. After trading field goals and a series of turnovers with the Gamecocks, Missouri found itself with ball at midfield, down two points with 2:41 remaining.

But the Tigers didn’t snap the ball again for another 76 minutes. The lightning delay put the game on hold on the precipice of its biggest moments, and served as the icing on the cake of a truly peculiar game. Odom and Muschamp handled the break in different ways, and each acknowledged they’d never had it happen to their teams before. Neither suggested it impacted the outcome of the game, but they certainly weren’t pleased.

“I wouldn’t sign up to do that every week,” Odom said.

When they finally returned to the field, the Tigers faced a first-and-20 at their own 48-yard line. Three plays later, it was up to McCann to attempt a career-long 57-yard field goal to put the Tigers ahead.

He nailed it, and the Tigers led 35-34 with 1:18 to play, but those 78 seconds were too much time. Missouri’s defense — needing to make just one final stand — proved to be porous; and nine plays and 76 seconds later, White’s game-winning field goal closed the game.

Missouri travels to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, next Saturday to take on No. 1 Alabama. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ESPN. Odom said that he’ll spend the coming week making sure his players regroup, and that they’re ready for the opportunity next weekend.

First, they’ll have to forget about this one, which is among the most distinct and memorable contests in recent Missouri history.

That most certainly will not be easy.“It was a bizarre day,” Odom said.

Supervising editor is Michael Knisley.

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