It wouldn’t be a Missouri game against South Carolina without some bizarre episode somewhere in the game.
The Tigers beat the Gamecocks 34-14 on Saturday and improved to 3-1, with the Tigers opening touchdown being one of the more unique ones in college football.
On South Carolina’s second drive, Ryan Hilinski’s pass on third down was deflected by MU’s Chris Turner. Hilinski, though, caught the rebound. Deep in Gamecock territory, Hilinski dropped the ball, thinking the play was dead. Missouri linebacker Cale Garrett recovered the ball in the end zone, and it was ruled a touchdown after further review. The score put Missouri up 7-0.
It would be the only offense MU saw for a while. Missouri quarterback Kelly Bryant’s passing game was far from its standard against South Carolina as he completed just 33 percent of his passes in the first quarter. Many of his passes were overthrown. MU’s defense, however, made multiple stops to maintain the lead.
After trying to protect him in its first three games, Missouri got Bryant more involved in the run game: He rushed for 77 yards on 17 carries. Bryant’s 11-yard run in the second quarter to South Carolina’s 29-yard line set up a 47-yard field goal that extended MU’s lead to 10-0.
Missouri’s defense played lights out in the first half, holding the Gamecocks to just 30 yards of offense and just 3 passing yards. The Gamecocks didn’t get a first down until 18 minutes into the game, and MU’s play from safeties Josh Bledsoe and Tyree Gillespie was tremendous.
“Probably as dominating a day defensively I’ve seen in a while,” said MU head coach Barry Odom, who beat South Carolina for first time in his tenure at Missouri.
Gillespie had a sack in the second quarter on a safety blitz and then broke up a would-be touchdown to Bryan Edwards in the end zone the following play.
Bryant had a costly interception deep in MU territory, which South Carolina lineman D.J. Wonnum returned to the 1-yard line. Tailback Rico Dowdle scored South Carolina’s first touchdown the following play, cutting MU’s lead to 10-7.
“I just wasn’t throwing it the way I wanted to,” Bryant said. “Just trying to press. I had to take a step back and breathe.”
The Tigers’ offense started to get its act together at the end of the first half as Bryant began to find his receivers.
After a 22-yard Bryant run, MU picked up 13 on a reverse to Johnathon Johnson. Runs by Bryant and Larry Rountree set up the Tigers’ second touchdown, a 3-yard pass to Albert Okwuegbunam with 4:06 left in the first half.
Hilinski, for his part, opened the second-half in dramatic fashion, finding Edwards for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the series to make it a three-point game.
Needing a response, Rountree and Bryant helped lead MU downfield. Facing third-and-10 from midfield, Bryant found Jonathan Nance for a 14-yard gain. Rountree, who finished with 88 rushing yards on 23 carries, followed with a run for 15 yards.
Two plays later, Bryant found Tyler Badie on a screen pass for a 21-yard touchdown that put MU up 24-14. For the game, Bryant completed 19 of 33 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think it was huge,” Odom said. “Obviously we needed it. We knew coming out of the half offensively they responded.”
Needing to score to keep the game close, Hilinksi drove the Gamecocks 72 yards down field, before MU’s Ronnell Perkins intercepted him and returned it 100 yards for a TD that pushed MU’s lead to 31-14. Perkins’ interception return was the longest in school history.
MU is off next weekend and returns to action Oct. 5, when the Tigers play host to Troy. Kickoff time will be announced on Monday.