University of Missouri

Why has Missouri struggled against South Carolina so much in recent years?

Barry Odom’s track record against South Carolina can be summed up in two words: winless and weird.

The Missouri football coach goes into Saturday’s game 0-3 against the Gamecocks, who have become one of the Tigers’ fiercest rivals since joining the Southeastern Conference.

All three games have had an interesting twist that have either made national headlines or exposed a shortcoming.

Missouri’s 31-21 loss at South Carolina in 2016 is more known as “The Water Bottle Game” after Tigers quarterback Drew Lock took a sip from a water bottle thrown at him by a Gamecocks fan.

The Tigers trailed 21-14 at halftime, but were unable to capitalize on multiple opportunities South Carolina gave MU to get back into the game. The loss started a five-game losing streak for Mizzou, which turned its season around with a six-game win streak to end the regular season.

The Tigers again had early momentum in 2017, jumping out to a 10-0 lead before giving up 14 points in under a minute. MU lost 31-13 and the game showed how the Tigers struggled to handle adversity.

“A mature team at that point comes in and says ‘Hey, wake the hell up and let’s go,’” MU offensive lineman Kevin Pendleton said in 2017. “But we weren’t there. All of us. Both sides of the ball, special teams, we weren’t there. We weren’t mature enough to do that. That was really a red flag there.”

MU’s loss at South Carolina in 2018 was one of its most crushing under Odom after the Tigers grabbed a lead with 1:09 left on a 57-yard field goal by Tucker McCann. Missouri’s defense collapsed in the final minute and South Carolina won 37-35 on a field goal. The game would be the first of two last-minute losses for MU in 2018, depriving them of a 10-win season and potential New Year’s Day bowl game.

The game had two weather delays and a monsoon in the second half that caused MU’s coaches in the press box to move to the field after the team’s headsets went out.

So what did Odom learn from last year’s loss at South Carolina?

“Bring an umbrella,” Odom said.

The loss was extremely hard on MU freshman Jalen Knox, who dropped a touchdown pass along with a few other crucial throws. Missouri’s offense looked great in the first half, but was hampered by drops, a costly pick-six by Lock and a questionable call on a Damarea Crockett touchdown in which officials said he stepped out of bounds.

After last year’s game, Knox said he didn’t even take calls from his parents. He calls this week a “redemption game” for him after MU blew an 11-point lead in the third quarter.

Fifth-year senior Richaud Floyd hasn’t seen MU win in this series since 2015, his redshirt season, in what was Lock’s first career start. He watched last year from MU’s sports medicine facility because of a broken leg.

“It was there,” Floyd said. “We had the game won. We just have to finish it.”

When asked if his three games against South Carolina have a recurring theme, Odom didn’t point to one unit or aspect, but added that MU’s turnovers have been more costly against the Gamecocks.

“Collectively they’ve made more plays than we have,” Odom said. “At the end of the day, we put ourselves in position to win it.”

A win Saturday would improve MU to 3-1 heading into its bye week and make the Tigers’ loss at Wyoming look like more of a fluke. A loss would drop MU to 2-2 and become the latest setback during what many believed was a favorable early season schedule.

On Tuesday, Missouri’s players acknowledged the recent trend and added they dealt with the loss last year and have moved on. For players such as Floyd and Acy, they understand this is their last chance to hold the Mayor’s Cup, the trophy annually given to the winner.

“We just have to get over the hump,” Floyd said. “We’ve been up in the games and then there’s one or two big plays. It’s going to be a fourth quarter game.”

Don't have a KC Star subscription? Help support our sports coverage

If you already subscribe to The Star, thanks for your support. If not, our digital sports-only subscription is just $30 per year. It's your ticket to everything sports in Kansas City ... and beyond, and supports our award-winning coverage.
Related stories from Kansas City Star

Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.