Five observations from Missouri's missed opportunity against South Carolina

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Missouri lost its Southeastern Conference road opener to South Carolina 37-35 on Saturday in a rain-soaked slugfest that featured multiple electronic malfunctions and a 76-minute lightning delay with less than three minutes to play.

The Tigers held a nine-point lead at halftime despite committing a handful of unforced errors. While both teams were in the locker room, a violent downpour turned the turf to muck, which only exacerbated Missouri’s sloppy play in the second half.

The Tigers’ ground attack piled up 286 rushing yards, but quarterback Drew Lock struggled against a strong pass defense for the second straight week. Defensively, Missouri held South Carolina to a paltry 2.7 yards per carry. But redshirt senior Michael Scarnecchia — who had played just three games, all in relief duty before Saturday — stepped in for starter Jake Bentley and delivered a steady performance to help the Gamecocks earn a win.

Missouri has a lot to clean up. It let a chance for a statement win slip through its fingers. There will be more opportunities, but the road doesn’t get any easier from here. A road trip to Tuscaloosa to face No. 1 Alabama is up next.

Before the Tigers turn their attention to the Crimson Tide, here are five takeaways from their gut-wrenching loss in Columbia East:

Lock struggles for second straight game

Yes, Lock was hurt by the absence of Nate Brown and especially Emanuel Hall. Maybe that’s the point. After all, Heisman hopeful quarterbacks (that hype sure disappeared quickly) are responsible for elevating the play of those around them. In many cases, Lock held on to the ball too long as receivers failed to get open. But there are a handful of throws he will want back, too. On a couple of potential touchdown passes, he delivered the ball too far behind his would-be pass-catcher and allowed South Carolina defenders to get back into the play for a deflection. His first interception was perhaps the worst of his career, an attempted throw-away lobbed right into the eager arms of linebacker Sherrod Greene.

In the absence of regular deep threat Hall, Missouri turned to screens and the intermediate passing game. Lock, however, thrives when his receivers spread the field and the senior gets a chance to sling it deep regularly. Outside of an early 44-yard bomb to Jalen Knox and a couple heaves that sailed out of bounds, the quarterback rarely attempted to push the ball more than 20 or 25 yards downfield, though that was partly due to the rain after halftime. Keep in mind, Lock struggled last season before the emergence of Hall — and the deep passing game in general — against Kentucky in Week 6. The Tigers need Hall to return, close to full health, in the next week or two.

Front seven finally shows up

It wasn’t all bad for Barry Odom & Co. The play of Missouri’s front seven was encouraging after a tepid start to the season. The veteran inside linebacker duo of Terez Hall and Cale Garrett led the way. Hall finished with three tackles for loss, including the Tigers’ one sack, and Garrett forced four quarterback hurries. As a whole, the defense racked up 10 tackles for loss and forced constant pressure on Scarnecchia with 10 quarterback hurries.

Missouri still needs more production from defensive ends such as Tre Williams and Chris Turner, who each recorded a quarterback hurry but not much else. The Tigers need someone to step up and finish off a couple of sacks to protect a secondary that looks like the team’s biggest weakness.

Secondary shredded

Scarnecchia may very well be a fine quarterback who was simply buried on the depth chart by younger talents and his own injury history. He looked solid. But the redshirt senior with 13 career pass attempts heading into Saturday outplayed Lock, going 20-for-35 for 249 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. Part of that is on the Missouri quarterback himself. The other part is a porous Tigers secondary that has played one good half since Purdue’s David Blough exposed it to the tune of 572 yards in Week 3.

The Gamecocks didn’t torch the Tigers deep — their longest catch of the day went for 37 yards — but South Carolina pass-catchers consistently found holes 10 and 20 yards downfield. Occasionally, it was because of coverage breakdowns. Other times, Missouri was simply beaten. Once or twice, a Tigers defender slipped, allowing his man an effortless reception. Scarnecchia’s solid performance is especially concerning considering the next quarterback on Missouri’s schedule: Alabama’s Tua Tagavailoa.

A snowball effect?

Missouri received the opening kickoff of the second half with a chance to extend its 23-14 lead and give itself a comfortable cushion. The Tigers went three-and-out. Within 10 minutes of gameplay, the Gamecocks had thrown a touchdown pass, kicked a field goal and returned an interception for a score. All in all, South Carolina outscored Missouri 17-0 in the third quarter, the only quarter in which they outscored the Tigers. It was enough.

This marks the second straight game in which Missouri was outscored by at least 13 in a single quarter — they lost the second quarter against Georgia 13-0 — and the fourth time in the last three games the Tigers have given up at least 13 points in a single quarter. On Saturday, Odom said Missouri needs to stay focused on the next play when things go awry. Players deny there is any sort of snowball effect at play, but too often, the Tigers have struggled to come up with crucial plays once their opponents get the ball rolling.

Run it back

Running back Damarea Crockett seemed to deliver one of those plays in the middle of that fateful third quarter after a Deebo Samuel touchdown catch had cut Missouri’s lead to 23-21. The junior broke several tackles on his way to what was originally ruled a 70-yard touchdown run. After review, officials ruled Crockett had stepped out at the 11-yard line (replays seemed to show a very, very close call).

Then began the Tigers’ self-destructing moonwalk out of scoring position.

It started with an Albert Okwuegbunam false start that created first-and-15. Crockett committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after rushing for no gain, forcing the offense into second-and-29 from the 30. After an incomplete pass, Missouri had another false start before a Crockett 1-yard rush led to fourth-and-33 at the 34-yard line. Naturally, the wet ball slipped through punter Corey Fatony’s hands on a high snap, giving South Carolina excellent field position at its own 46.

This is the most extreme example, but mistakes like these have slaughtered the Tigers over the past two games.

If the trend continues against Alabama on Saturday, the Tigers won’t need to worry about costly mistakes in the third quarter. The game will be over by halftime.

Supervising editor is Eric Lee.

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