By Jeff Owens/Photo by Jenny Dilworth
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp is not basking in the glory of the Gamecocks' impressive season-opening win over NC State.
He knows his team faces another major challenge Saturday in an SEC road game at Missouri.
"We've got our work cut out for us," Muschamp said.
For the second straight week, the Gamecocks face an explosive offense, one that is coming off a record-setting day last week. The Tigers rolled up 815 yards of total offense and quarterback Drew Lock threw a record seven touchdown passes in Missouri's 72-43 win over Missouri State. Two of those TD passes were 50-yarders to WR J'Mon Moore and another went for 65 yards to WR Jonhathon Johnson.
"Offensively, very explosive," Muschamp said. "Drew Lock can make all the throws, the short ones, the intermediate, the long throws. Great arm talent, he does have escapability. He scrambles to throw. Extremely talented at the skill positions."
Muschamp went through each of Missouri's skill-position players and added, "They're guys that can do a lot with it after the catch. Vertical threats down the field. Catch the deep ball and, of course, Drew throws the deep ball extremely well. …
"Work cut out for us."
The Gamecock defense overcame a major challenge last week against NC State, giving up 343 yards of total offense in the first half but holding the Wolfpack to just 119 yards and seven points in the second half of the 35-28 win. South Carolina had four sacks in the second half and forced two turnovers in the game.
The defense will have to rise to the occasion again against Missouri.
Missouri, 4-8 last year, averaged 500 yards and 31 points per game and runs an up-tempo offense. Muschamp said a key will be getting off the field on third and fourth down.
"You eliminate tempo by getting off the field, and getting off the field on third down," he said. "They’ll go for it, depending on the field position, in fourth down situations, then you have to get off the field on fourth down and create some turnovers. …
"Their tempo, they’ll be the fastest team we play this year."
The Gamecock defense made major adjustments at halftime against NC State, putting pressure on Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley and tightening its pass defense. It will have to adjust often against Missouri and give Lock and the Tigers offense different looks.
"Our guys have to have urgency on the line, got to have the eyes in the right spot because they’re going to spread the field on you," Muschamp said. "Cover down, tackle in space and mix it up enough to where you’re not giving them the same thing over and over again. That’s what happens in a lot of tempo situations, they size the defense up and know what they’re getting."
Another way to contain the Missouri offense is to control the ball. South Carolina won with big plays of its own last week, including a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Deebo Samuel and touchdown passes of 39 yards and 34 yards to Samuel and running back Rico Dowdle.
While it will try to create explosive plays again, a big key will be running the ball. The Gamecocks had just 61 yards rushing — 31 net — last week, with Dowdle gaining just 33 yards on 12 carries.
Much of that was dictated by the game. The Gamecocks wanted to get the ball on the perimeter early to tire out NC State's star-studded defensive line. In the second half, the Gamecocks scored on a big play — 39-yard pass to Samuel — and off a turnover. It also had poor field position much of the second half.
"We need to run the ball better," Muschamp said. "We only gave up three negative runs so it wasn't that there was a lot of negative plays in the run game, only three. But we certainly need to be more productive in the run game. There's no question."
South Carolina won just one game on the road — the season-opener against Vanderbilt — during last year's 6-7 season. Muschamp believes his team is much more prepared for road games this season.
"I do because of the experience at quarterback," he said. "I always felt that was an important factor on going on the road is having that position be a calming factor for your team. I certainly feel more comfortable there. I do feel like defensively that we have some experienced guys who have been on the road, understand the importance that this is an SEC East game and the first step to Atlanta.
"We need to do a good job of preparing right for the game. We talked about last year winning on the road the first week and the second week, we didn’t play very well. That’s something I’ll talk to our team about today."