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180 Degrees of Separation

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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If you’re expecting a replay of that 2015 tilt, you would be highly mistaken.

Think back to the morning of Oct. 3, 2015.

If you were like most diehard college football fans, you were figuring out what early afternoon game(s) would be the most entertaining to hold you over until the big late afternoon-primetime doubleheader of Alabama-Georgia and Notre Dame-Clemson.

Options were limited, but one game that was probably ignored by nearly everyone outside of states Palmetto and Show Me was the Battle of Columbia between 2-2 South Carolina and 3-1 Missouri.

The Tigers were fresh off scoring a combined 22 points in a win over Connecticut and a loss at Kentucky, while the Gamecocks were two weeks removed from a 32-point blowout loss to Georgia. The game was the expected snoozer, as Missouri was victorious, 24-10, in the first career start for a then true freshman Drew Lock.

On Saturday night, the two teams will meet for the first time in Faurot Field since that afternoon 23 months ago. If you’re expecting a replay of that 2015 tilt, you would be highly mistaken.

The 2015 Tigers, despite a stout defense, were an exercise in offensive futility. In its 2017 opener last week, Missouri scored more points in the first half than it did in the entire month of October in 2015, as Lock finished the game with seven touchdown passes. The defense has matched the U-turn of the offense in the opposite direction, going from one of the SEC’s best to perhaps its worst after allowing 43 points to Missouri State of the FCS last week.

“I’ve had a lot of work to do,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said of his defense. “The challenge for our offense is to do that again.”

South Carolina understands its own challenge as well.

“Offensively, they are very explosive,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “They’re extremely talented at the skill positions. (Dimetrios) Mason, (J’Mon) Moore and (Johnathon) Johnson are three receivers that are as good as any in our league.”

Even Muschamp couldn’t quite pull off the usual sugarcoating of an opponent when it came to the Missouri defense.

“They’re very inexperienced defensively,” Muschamp said. “Those guys continue to bring on a very young group on the defensive side of the ball.”

2015 was also a miserable year for South Carolina, which won just one more game after that loss to Missouri and finished 3-9. Like the Tigers, South Carolina has now become a highly entertaining watch, building on a strong performance in the bowl loss to USF during the offseason.

Thanks to the help of special teams, the Gamecocks scored 35 points last week against an N.C. State team known for its nasty defensive front. Jake Bentley and Deebo Samuel may turn out to be the best passing combination in the SEC. The defense, much like its opponent this week, was less effective, allowing 500 yards to the Wolfpack but saving grace with two red zone stops in the 35-28 victory.

“We didn’t give up a lot of explosive plays,” Muschamp said, “but [N.C. State] was able to manage manageable third-down distances that we weren’t able to get off the field. We had a couple of communication errors late in the game, critical situations that did not hurt us but certainly could have.”

With an over-under currently sitting at 73, the expectation is that there will be plenty of fireworks Saturday night in Columbia. No other FBS game this week has a higher projected point total by our friends in the desert.

Unfortunately, unless you’re a fan of one of the two teams, you’re probably not going to watch this game, as the wonderful schedulers at the major networks have loaded the primetime window with Auburn-Clemson, Oklahoma-Ohio State, Georgia-Notre Dame and Stanford-USC, in addition to the Battle of Columbia, which kicks off at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2 – the same time as Auburn and just 30 minutes before Georgia.

Nevertheless, record the game and watch it later.

You made a point to ignore this game two years ago. This time around, make a point to watch it.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.