Early Analysis: South Carolina at Missouri

Photo: Jeff Blake/ US Presswire

No. 21 South Carolina (5-2, 3-2) at No. 5 Missouri (7-0, 3-0)

Saturday, 7 PM EST, ESPN 2

Line: not set (awaiting status of Connor Shaw)

Seven games into the 2013 season, the Missouri Tigers find themselves in an unfamiliar place at the top of the SEC East. In just their second year in the SEC, the Tigers have used a bit of luck (catching Florida and Georgia at opportune times) and much improved play on both sides of the football to grab a lead that will be hard for the rest of the division to overcome.

South Carolina comes into this game stinging after losing a game at Tennessee that they should have won. The Gamecocks are also awaiting the status of their QB Connor Shaw. Shaw severely sprained his knee in the loss to the Vols and is doubtful for the game on Saturday. In terms of the SEC standings, the Gamecocks have the best chance at catching the Tigers as the Tigers have a two game lead and the tiebreaker over both Florida and Georgia.

For Missouri to win: Follow the blueprint for the Florida and Georgia wins and get up early and make their opponent play from behind. Doing this settles down red-shirt freshman QB Maty Mauk on offense and puts the Mizzou defense at an advantage. On offense, the Tigers need to continue to be balanced and not put the game in the hands of one player. 

For South Carolina to win: Because they've gotten out to a lead the last two weeks and they missed Todd Gurley two weeks ago, the Tigers are still relatively untested on the ground (although they are coming off of their best performance of the season). The Gamecocks have the leading rusher in the SEC in Mike Davis but it seems that sometimes they forget they have him. Mike Davis needs to be the focal point of this offense. Get him the ball early and often. On defense, the Gamecocks need to shut down the Mizzou running game and make Maty Mauk beat them with his arm in just his second career start.

Key Player, Missouri: Michael Sam, DE. In the last two victories, the Missouri defense has come up huge. Against Georgia, Sam scooped up a fumble recovery and ran it back for a TD putting Georgia at a big disadvantage early in the game. Last week, Sam had three sacks and Missouri simply stuffed the Florida offense causing three turnovers and sacking the QB six times. Over the last four games, Sam has nine sacks and leads the SEC in that category. If Dylan Thompson is the QB for the Gamecocks on Saturday, he has less mobility than Connor Shaw and getting pressure on him will be a key. 

Key Player, South Carolina: Dylan Thompson, QB. Mike Davis needs to get the rock early and often but the game could come down to whether or not Thompson can execute when he's called upon. With Shaw in doubt, Thompson will be put in a tough situation in what should be a rowdy environment in Columbia, Missouri. Thompson has appeared in six games for the Gamecocks this season but has been inconsistent with just a 56.9% completion percentage and two interceptions versus two touchdowns.

Key Stat: South Carolina is third in the conference averaging 234 yards rushing per game. Missouri is third in the conference allowing just 116 yards rushing. Whether the Gamecocks can get a consistent ground game could be the deciding factor in this game.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.