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Mizzou rallies, stuns No. 13 Gamecocks

Mizzou rallies, stuns No. 13 Gamecocks


COLUMBIA, S.C. • Nine years ago, Missouri pulled off the biggest comeback in school history against Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks in the Independence Bowl.

Last year, South Carolina erased a 17-point deficit and stunned Gary Pinkel’s Tigers in double overtime.

After their latest meeting, Missouri chancellor R. Bowen Loftin pulled Pinkel aside and spoke for the thousands of Missouri fans at Williams-Brice Stadium and countless others watching on TV.

“Coach,” Loftin said, “you had my heart racing there.”

You’re not alone, Chancellor.

Still smarting from last week’s loss to Indiana, Missouri came to a crossroads here at the Palmetto State. Beat No. 13 South Carolina and last week’s wounds begin to scar. A win would send Mizzou into its bye week refreshed, with a chance to put a stranglehold on the SEC Eastern Division when Georgia visits Faurot Field in two weeks.

Lose — and lose badly — and flashes of 2012 come into focus.

For nearly three quarters of play Saturday, that appeared to be Mizzou’s fate.

But fate be damned: Maty Mauk and the Tigers will wake up Sunday in sole possession of first place in the SEC East. Missouri (4-1, 1-0 SEC) rallied from a 13-point deficit to win 21-20 with two late touchdown drives and two defensive stands.

“Wow,” Pinkel said. “I’m very proud how our team battled and fought. When things got tough, the defense kept us in it but stayed totally positive with the offense the whole time, which I thought was really crucial for us to have the mindset to get back.”

A year ago, the Gamecocks celebrated on Faurot Field when Andrew Baggett’s game-tying field goal attempt smacked the left upright, clinching South Carolina's 27-24 win in the second overtime. This time, Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough punched in a 1-yard touchdown on fourth down with 1:36 left to deliver the crushing blow. With chants of “block that kick” thundering through the crowd, Baggett put the Tigers ahead for good with the PAT.

"Big, big win for us,” Pinkel said. “It was just the opposite of a year ago when South Carolina had a great comeback to win.”

With two of his three trusted receivers out with injuries, Mauk could barely complete passes against one of the country’s worst pass defenses most of the night. At one point, the Tigers punted on 10 of 11 possessions, the only exception being a kneel-down at halftime. When Dylan Thompson’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Pharoh Cooper extended South Carolina’s lead to 20-7 with 7:25 left, Mizzou’s comatose offense had moved the ball just 166 yards. Eight possessions had failed to reach the first-down marker. 

Before the Tigers went out for their next drive, a couple senior playmakers challenged their teammates. 

“I was letting those guys know we’ve got to make a play,” wideout Bud Sasser said. “And we’ve got to start now. The time is now. I told them I really couldn’t feel it on the sidelines if we really wanted this game. I asked them, ‘How bad do you want it? Because I can’t feel it.’”

Sasser also noticed tailback Marcus Murphy stalking the sideline. 

“He was saying, ‘Who’s it going to be to makes that big play?’” Sasser said. “He was looking at me to make that big play. A couple of the guys were. We just needed a spark.”

After Murphy's 32-yard kickoff return, Sasser lit the fuse. Running a post pattern along the left sideline, Sasser hauled in a 41-yard pass from Mauk.

“Then all of a sudden,” Pinkel said, “it completely flips.”

A play later, Mauk rifled a 26-yard pass to Wesley Leftwich down to the goal line. Hansbrough scored on the next snap, cutting the deficit to 20-14 with 6:49 left. 

Mizzou’s defense, scrutinized all week after a poor showing against Indiana, answered with its fifth three-and-out series. 

Then came the dramatic go-ahead score. A South Carolina pass interference penalty and Murphy’s 22-yard run put the ball at the 2-yard line, giving the Tigers four chances to cover six feet. Murphy gained a yard then Mauk lost a yard on the first two downs. During three consecutive timeouts, Mizzou’s staff had plenty of time to discuss their options. On an earlier fourth-and-short, Mauk ran a bootleg and hit tight end Sean Culkin for a 3-yard gain. What did offensive coordinator Josh Henson like this time? Run or pass? 

“To be honest, there were so many timeouts I don’t know if they ever had a call ready,” Mauk said. “It was changed every time.”

On third down from the 2, Mizzou settled for another Murphy run up the middle. He was stopped at the 1. What next?

“We talked about so many different plays,” Pinkel said. “Finally, Josh said, ‘Let’s run right at them.’”

“Sooner or later,” he added, “you’ve got to make one yard.”

The call was Blast Right. Two tight ends, Clayton Echard and Culkin, lined up on the right edge. Culkin went in motion to the left. Mauk, under center, took the snap and handed to Hansbrough. 

“I’m looking for any hole or push or seam I can find,” Hansbrough said. “I pretty much put my head down and went as far as I could.”

He found a sliver of space between center Evan Boehm and right guard Connor McGovern. Touchdown.

“Our motto is, ‘Put it on the line,’” left tackle Mitch Morse said. “We all came together. We were smiling because that’s what you live for as an offensive line."

Then it was Baggett’s turn. A PAT should be simple enough, but maybe not with his twisted history with the Gamecocks. Earlier in the day, Baggett was the punchline to several signs in the South Carolina crowd during the taping of ESPN’s “College GameDay.” One read, “Shaq makes more 3s than Baggett.” Another fan held up a yellow post with a sign attached, "Hey, Mizzou, remember this?" 

“I trusted that he was going to make it,” Pinkel said. “I wasn’t like, ‘Don’t hit the goalpost. Don’t hit the goalpost.’ I don't think like that. I’m positive.”

“Yeah, I thought about it,” Bagget said of last year’s missed kick. “I didn’t think about it like, ‘Oh, no!’ But I wanted to come through for my teammates.”

On South Carolina’s final possession, Thompson threw four incomplete passes, clinching Mizzou’s comeback win.

“They probably played as sound of a defense as anybody we’ve faced,” said Thompson, who completed 21 of 37 passes for 219 yards and was sacked four times.

With a depleted receiver corps and a rebuilt offensive line, Missouri helped turn the Gamecocks into a defensive juggernaut for the bulk of Saturday’s game. Ranked among the nation’s worst defenses in several categories, especially against the pass, South Carolina held Mauk to 62 passing yards until the two late TD drives. The 41-yarder to Sasser broke up a stretch of just four completions on 21 attempts for 14 yards. 

“I think he stayed positive,” Pinkel said of Mauk. “I really think he did. He understands leadership-wise … we’ve trained him. (Teammates) look at him all the time. He can’t look frustrated or disappointed. If he does he’s got to flip the switch back on and still be positive.”

“It was hard, but I’m a guy that’s not going to let that show,” Mauk said. “I know everybody’s looking at me. If I’m down the whole offense is going to have their heads down, too.”

Mizzou’s night was shaping up to be its most feeble offensive showing since a 129-yard effort against No. 1 Alabama in a 42-10 loss two years ago.

While offensive line injuries and inadequacies were the root of Mizzou’s 5-7 demise in 2012, a shortage of offensive playmakers afflicted the Tigers Saturday in their first conference game. Darius White stayed home with a groin injury suffered in last week’s loss to Indiana. Jimmie Hunt made the trip but an infected bursa sac in his right knee kept him out of the game. The Tigers played eight receivers and tight ends. Outside of Sasser, the other seven combined for four catches for 42 yards.

Still, the Tigers trailed just 13-7 heading into the fourth quarter. It seemed like the Tigers were wasting an improved performance from its defense, a group shredded by the Hoosiers a week ago. Like last week, Mizzou failed to generate a takeaway but kept South Carolina’s big plays to a minimum. Mike Davis gashed the Tigers for 104 rushing yards, but the overall damage was minimum. Against one of the SEC’s better offensive lines, the Tigers got into the backfield with regularity, finishing with nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage.

But the Gamecocks appeared to deliver the knockout punch with 7:25 left when Cooper snagged a 23-yard touchdown pass from Thompson, absorbing a blow from safety Braylon Webb in the end zone. South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier later said he regretted not going for the two-point conversion.

“Give Missouri credit,” said Spurrier, whose team fell to 4-2 and 2-2 in the SEC. “They hung in there.”

It didn’t take long for Missouri to silence the sellout crowd of 83,493. The Tigers followed a fourth-down stop with a quick scoring drive as Hansbrough scampered around the right side of his rebuilt offensive line for an 18-yard touchdown, less than three minutes into the game.

South Carolina went four-and-out on its opening possession when linebacker Kentrell Brothers leveled running back Brandon Wilds at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1.

After forcing a South Carolina punt, Missouri got back into Gamecocks’ territory but Baggett missed wide right after a low snap on a 48-yard field goal try. The Tigers punted on their next 10 possessions, other than the halftime kneel. By the fourth quarter, punter Christian Brinser was chasing history: Mike Farmer set the single-game punting record with 13 against Stanford in 1971.

But Brinser wouldn’t punt again as Mauk and Sasser sparked the memorable fourth-quarter comeback.

“We just flipped a switch,” Mauk said. “It just turned on.”

Here are Dave Matter's updates posted during Saturday night's game:

Missouri is going to need to discover some offense to pull off a comeback at South Carolina. The Gamecocks led 13-7 heading into the fourth quarter as Missouri took over possession deep in its own territory.

South Carolina extended its lead to 13-7 midway through the third quarter with Elliott Fry’s 41-yard field goal, but it could have been worse for the Tigers. A 47-yard pass to Nick Jones gave the Gamecocks possession on MU’s 6-yard line, but Mizzou got into the backfield and dropped Dylan Thompson on back-to-back plays — first cornerback Aarion Penton then tackle Harold Brantley — to set up the field goal.

Missouri’s offense couldn’t do much with the momentum. The Tigers managed just one first down in the third quarter and punted on all three of their third-quarter possessions. Not counting a one-play kneel-down before halftime, Mizzou headed into the fourth quarter having punted on eight straight possessions. 

Missouri and South Carolina kept their punters busy in the second quarter — until the Gamecocks finally dipped into their bag of screen passes. A screen to tailback Mike Davis gained 24 yards into the red zone and Davis handled the rest on the next snap, running 17 yards for South Carolina’s first touchdown, good for a 10-7 lead with 1:36 left in the first half.

The Gamecocks took that lead into halftime. 

After missing a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter, Missouri punted on its next five possessions heading into halftime, gaining just 22 yards on those five series. 

South Carolina outgained Mizzou in total yardage in the first half 179-117.

With two of his three senior receivers out with injuries, Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk struggled to move the ball through the air in the first half. He completed just 6 of 19 passes for 57 yards, four of those completions going to his only seasoned receiver, senior Bud Sasser. 

Missouri tailbacks became an afterthought at times, combining for 77 yards on just 14 carries. Russell Hansbrough, who scored MU’s only touchdown in the first quarter, left the game and headed to the locker room late in the second quarter, presumably to get an undisclosed injury checked out.

South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson completed 12 of 19 passes for 119 yards in the first half, while Davis headed into the intermission with a game-high 72 yards on 12 carries.

 It didn’t take long for Missouri to silence the sellout crowd at Williams-Brice Stadium. The Tigers followed up a fourth-down stop with a quick scoring drive as Russell Hansbrough scampered around the right side of Mizzou’s rebuilt offensive line for an 18-yard touchdown, less than three minutes into the game.

The Tigers had a 7-3 lead heading into the second quarter with South Carolina preparing to punt deep in its own territory.

South Carolina went four-and-out on its opening possession when linebacker Kentrell Brothers leveled running back Brandon Wilds at the line of scrimmage on fourth-and-1. 

After forcing a South Carolina punt, Missouri got back into Gamecock territory but settled for a 48-yard Andrew Baggett field goal when the offense stalled just outside of the red zone. With a low snap, Baggett’s attempt missed wide right.

South Carolina answered with its first score, a 33-yard field goal by Elliott Fry.

The Tigers are without senior slot receiver Jimmie Hunt, who suffered a knee injury earlier in the week during practice. Gavin Otte, a senior walk-on, made his first career start in place of Hunt. 

As expected senior defensive end and co-captain Markus Golden is in uniform and going through pregame drills after missing last week's game with a strained hamstring.

Wide receiver Darius White (groin injury) did not make the trip to Columbia. Wesley Leftwich is expected to make his first career start in White's place.

Good evening from Williams-Brice Stadium, home of the South Carolina Gamecocks. We're about an hour away from kickoff here between Missouri (3-1) and No. 13 South Carolina (3-1, 2-1 SEC). With Tennessee's loss at Georgia earlier today, the Tigers would have sole possession of first place in the SEC Eastern Division with a victory as the league's only team with an unblemished SEC record.

Check here for pregame notes and quarterly updates.

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