Columbia, SC (September 27) – South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson fired a touchdown strike to WR Pharaoh Cooper who made a great grab as he was hit hard by Missouri defenders at the goal line for a 23-yard scoring play. Elliot Fry’s extra point gave USC the lead with 7:29 left to play, 20-7. The Gamecock lead looked comfortable the way the game had transpired since early in the first period. The Gamecock defense played its best game of the season thus far, and after Russell Hansborough’s 18-yard TD on Missouri’s first possession of the game, SC held the Tigers in check on their next eleven possessions forcing them to punt ten times and to take a knee before the first half expired. By game’s end, Mizzou totaled 280 offensive yards and QB Maty Mauk, who tossed 14 TD passes in four previous games, tallied none against the Carolina defense. At the 7:29 mark of the final period, his passing total for the day was mere 65 yards. The Cocks seemed to have the game in hand. The defense had finally risen to support the offense which struggled at times during the game with dropped passes and inopportune penalties. After the game, however, even Gamecock HC Steve Spurrier had to second-guess himself why he didn’t consider going for the two-point conversion after Cooper’s touchdown.
The Tigers turned the tables on Carolina in the time remaining to avenge last season’s double overtime loss to SC that jarred the Tigers out of first place in the SEC East. From his own32, Mauk (12 for 34, 136 yards) hit WR Bud Sasser for a 41-yard pass to the Carolina 27. In the next play, he connected with WR Wesley Leftwich to get to the Gamecock one. On the next play, Hansborough (10-45, 3 TDs) started to sweep left, then cut back against the grain around the unprotected right to cut the USC lead, 20-14, with Andrew Baggett’s point after. The drive consumed only 36 seconds. Mizzou’s defense forced Carolina to punt next holding them to no yards on three plays. Marcus Murphy returned the punt 22 yards to set the Tigers up from their 49. Nine plays later, the Tigers snapped the ball on a fourth and goal at the SC one. With the line stacked against him, the 5’ 9” Hansborough took drove the ball through with legs churning on a dive up the middle with 1:36 left to knot it up, and Baggett’s PAT made the difference. Four subsequent plays by the Gamecocks went nowhere and Mizzou had the ball at the USC 40 when time expired. The Tigers (4-1, 1-0) took the win, 21-20, in front of 83,493 at Williams-Brice Stadium on Carolina’s Parents Weekend 2014.
It was a hardfought game and unexpectedly dominated by the defenses although Carolina’s offense shot themselves in the foot with several key dropped passes. The Cocks (3-2, 2-2), the only Power Five conference member with four conference games already under its belt, have a tough road ahead of it to challenge for the SEC East, but there’s still time ahead as the Tigers, 1-0 in conference play, still have Georgia at home in their next game on October 11 followed by visits to Florida and Texas A&M later in the season. SC defeated UGA earlier, 38-35. South Carolina travels to 3-1, 1-0 Kentucky next week who fell to the Gamecocks in a close one at last year’s Parents Weekend, 35-28. We will see the Cocks play again at Auburn on October 25 in what could be a key game for the success of their season if Mizzou and UGA tumble to fall in behind them. CFF.com travels to Old Dominion in Norfolk, Virginia for the first time as we welcome the Monarchs as our 125th FBS team in their inaugural season at this level. It should be an interesting match up with two pass-oriented teams going at it. Taylor Heinecke leads the passing attack for the Monarchs, (3-2,0-1 C-USA), against undefeated conference foe Marshall (4-0) led by QB Rakeem Cato who is closing in on Russell Wilson’s NCAA record on 38 consecutive games with a TD pass. It will be our first trip to Foreman Field and our Guest Game Analyst will be our son Eric Koreivo, now enlisted in the US Navy and stationed at nearby Norfolk Naval Base.
Extra points: Mizzou’s first TD came after they stopped Carolina’s first drive on a fourth and short at the 33. Baggett missed a 47-yard FG wide right, and SC came back with Fry’s 33-yard FG. RB Mike Davis (22 carries for 104 yards, 1 TD) finished the first half scoring with his 17-yard TD run starting to his left and ending up to his right in the end zone to give Carolina a 10-7 half time lead.
ESPN’s Game Day presented by Home Depot broadcast at 9 am at the crowded SC Horseshoe in the middle of the campus as students camped out the night before to get up close to the stage for the entertainment which included the day’s guest picker, Kenny Chesney. Big screens were in the background for the more distant views of us later arrivals to watch regular hosts Chris Fowler, Lee Corso, and Heisman winner Desmond Howard, but some trees in The Shoe needed trimming to enable us to see the full screen. I guess there is now a greater sensitivity toward trees in the SEC since the dastardly act down at Toomer’s Crossing at Auburn. Features shown on the broadcast and transmitted to the big screens included stories about Michigan’s recent foibles and the lives of SEC Coaches’ wives among other topics (hard to hear in the back). The crowd would pay some attention, carry on their own conversations, and wait for the broadcast of the Game Day hosts to come back on screen so they could catch a glimpse of themselves. Signs and banners would go up and the crowd would become more vocal and performing again to catch their 15 seconds of fame. The Washington State University flag was there as usual. North Dakota State is in the mix as well and we saw a brown and white Lehigh banner. There were many original signs, but the best I saw was held by an SC coed that read, “The real USC, the real Carolina, and the real Columbia” – digs establishing South Carolina as the “real” as opposed to the University of Southern California, the University of North Carolina, and the University of Missouri located in Columbia, Missouri. Chesney performed “American Kid” in front of the stage during the broadcast. Only Herbstreit was brave enough to select Missouri to win in front of the hometown Carolina crowd. Now wonder why they work within a screened in stage, kind of like the Blues Brothers at the old country music venue in their movie. Corso wore the “Cocky” mascot head to select the Gamecocks to win it, and guest picker Chesney chose them also not to hurt record sales in Carolina. He’s a Tennessee fan. Probably would have picked the Tigers if this was broadcast back in Branson, Missouri. You can check out my pick on any replay of “Pete Spadora on Sports” broadcast from Saturday by listening to the replay on the I-95 radio website this week. The interview was done live while I walked far away from the loud noise at the Game Day broadcast.
One feature focused on Spurrier and his witticisms from the previous week about the weak play of his team in their 48-34 win against Vanderbilt. His best line – “Two kickoff returns for touchdowns is like two holes-in-one in one round (of golf).”
Maty Mauk’s success in the final 7:29 of play came on long pass attempts. Earlier attempts were more of the short variety that Texas A&M used to gain big yards in the opener of the season against SC courtesy of wide open receivers and many missed tackles. Others had similar success, but The Gamecocks covered and made tackles in those situations in this game. The long coverage seemed to catch the Gamecock secondary off guard late in the game once they had stopped the short passing game.
Our post game tailgate was a downer as could be understood for all the South Carolina faithful who had gathered for our final Parents Weekend tailgate. All our daughters are seniors. Our daughter Alex, her friends and their families, and especially Eleanor’s grandfather Jerry, a long time Gamecock season ticket holder, were particularly distraught. The girls were in shock. I felt bad for them as they’d been looking for a great senior season. They had enjoyed three previous years finishing with eleven wins in each. This year is off to a bad start, so they are genuinely dismayed that their last year may not be as memorable as the others. Tough times lie ahead, but they are hoping their team is going to pull together for the balance of the season. It’s not over by any means. Jerry just couldn’t talk about the game. When someone asked what he thought what Spurrier might be saying to his players, he just said didn’t want to even think about it. The grill didn’t even get fired back up for a post-game party. There was no joy in Columbia. Our friend Darlene and her daughter Courtney didn’t even stick around to go to Sonic with us like we did last year! Things have to fall in place going forward for the Gamecocks to get back into the SEC East hunt (or as Spurrier also stated in another post-Vanderbilt interview, “or whatever we’re still in a hunt for.”). Things have to unravel properly for the Cocks to have a chance, but the team is really going to have to step up and play better in all aspects consistently if they want a shot to get back into the SEC race with a great effort starting at Kentucky next weekend.
I reminded my daughter Alex, that when I brought her and her brother Eric to a Navy game for the first time back in 2000, we watched Toledo beat the Midshipman, 35-14. On that day on October 28, the Head Coach for Toledo was Gary Pinkel, who now is HC at Mizzou in his 13th year. Fourteen years later, he stuck around to beat Alex’s team.