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COLUMBIA, Mo. — A week after South Carolina freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski defied his age and inexperience and stood tall against mighty Alabama, Missouri’s defense had a plan for the rookie.

“He’s a freshman,” Tigers defensive end Chris Turner said. “So we said we were going to treat him like a freshman.”

How so exactly?

“We had to get after him,” Turner said.

After him they got.

On a day when Mizzou’s offense wasn’t sharp, coach Barry Odom’s defense overwhelmed a third straight opponent on Faurot Field and produced two defensive touchdowns, a dominant day along the trenches and a battered quarterback. In the 34-14 victory, the Tigers held South Carolina to 271 yards of offense. It was the same Gamecocks offense that moved the ball 459 yards against Alabama seven days earlier.

Unlike the Crimson Tide, Mizzou kidnapped Hilinski’s best friend, the Gamecocks’ usually trusty and rugged running game. On Saturday, South Carolina ran into a black and gold brick wall, netting just 16 yards on 24 rushing attempts, the team’s most feeble rushing performance in a dozen years.

“We got whipped up front,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said.

From there, the Tigers bared their teeth and pounced, routinely putting Hilinski in uncomfortable second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

“I think we rattled him early,” linebacker Nick Bolton said. “We got in his face early. We didn’t let him get comfortable in the pocket and made him throw off his back foot a lot. . . . We made him think. We kept him from knowing what we were going to do pre-snap.”

The result was a defensive masterpiece — short of one play to open the second half — and more than enough to overcome Mizzou’s sluggish offense.

Behind a ferocious defense that week by week puts that season-opening loss to Wyoming further in its rear view mirror, Mizzou (3-1) won its conference opener for the first time since 2014 and snapped a three-game losing streak to South Carolina (1-3, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) to capture the Mayor’s Cup for the first time since 2015.

With 52,012 on hand on for a game that began under raindrops, Odom’s defense brightened the day with four sacks, five hurries, two fumble recoveries and seven pass breakups. Since getting gashed on two long touchdown runs at Wyoming to open the season, the Tigers have held West Virginia, Southeast Missouri and now South Carolina to 88 yards on 86 carries.

Odom called Saturday’s game “probably as dominating of a performance defensively that that I've been around  . . . at least in some time.”

That same defense scored as many touchdowns (two) as either team’s offense.

“It’s hard to win on the road,” Muschamp said, “when you aint on the field twice and your offense gives up 14 points.”

It started with a heads-up play from the defense’s smartest player. Backed up to his own end zone on South Carolina’s second series, Hilinski caught his own pass after it smacked off Turner’s hand then inexplicably threw the ball to the turf — behind him. Of all 22 players on the field, Missouri linebacker Cale Garrett was the only one with the awareness to grab the ball as it wobbled in the end zone. He immediately gestured a touchdown.

Initially, the officials called it an illegal forward pass. But after a lengthy replay review, the Tigers were awarded a touchdown. Hilinski was ruled to have possession on the catch before he threw it away. 

Garrett simply did what he’s been trained to do through four years of practice.

“Any time there’s a ball on the ground,” he said, “we go pick it up.”

After finishing the first quarter with just 9 yards of offense, South Carolina needed only 1 yard to score its first points of the game. A rough start for Mizzou quarterback Kelly Bryant reached new depths with an interception to defensive end D.J. Wonnum on a pass intended for running back Tyler Badie. Wonnum nearly returned the ball to the end zone, getting stopped just short of the goal line by Bryant. Running back Rico Dowdle punched in the touchdown, cutting into MU’s lead 10-7.

Missouri stuck to the ground to get its offense back on track late in the second quarter. A 22-yard keeper by Bryant and a 13-yard reverse by slot receiver Johnathon Johnson got the chains moving. After another Bryant keeper, down to the 7, he tossed a 3-yard TD pass to Albert Okwuegbunam, the only throw on the drive.

After a dismal first half, South Carolina more than tripled its offensive output on the first snap of the third quarter. The Gamecocks managed just 30 yards in first half — and only 3 through the air — but All-SEC receiver Bryan Edwards took a screen 75 yards before fans had even settled into their seats.

Mizzou’s offense had an answer with a screen of its own. After converting a couple third downs with passes to Albert Okwuegbunam and Jonathan Nance, Badie took Bryant's short pass off the edge and raced 21 yards untouched to the end zone.

Down 24-14, Hilinksi didn’t give in. He drove South Carolina deep into the red zone late in the third quarter. But on third and goal from the 3, he threw a pass in the end zone right to safety Ronnell Perkins. The senior from University City had nothing but green turf ahead of him as he sped down the Gamecocks' sideline for a 100-yard touchdown return, a 14-point swing that put the Tigers in charge 31-14.

“It changed the whole complexion of the game,” Bolton said.

“Huge, huge, huge,” Garrett said.

South Carolina never threatened again. Hilinski was out of the game midway through the fourth quarter after the Tigers sacked him twice, the final touches on one of the strongest defensive showings in Odom’s four seasons as head coach. By then, Bryant had settled down and finished with 227 passing yards and 77 on the ground. But this day was about an opportunistic defense that created its own luck.

“Our focus point is always stopping the run,” Bolton said. “We try to make teams one-dimensional every week. We figure if they can’t run the ball we have a chance. We were locked in.”

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