By the Associated Press
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel knew there wasn’t anywhere else to place the blame for this Southeastern Conference loss.
“Our focus wasn’t good enough and that’s coaching so that was my fault,” said a distressed Pinkel after the Tigers’ 31-10 loss to No. 7 South Carolina on Saturday.
Missouri had hung tough two weeks back in its first SEC game with No. 5 Georgia. The Tigers even led 20-16 late in the third quarter before the Bulldogs pounced on three turnovers to take control in a 41-20 victory. But that game took place in Missouri and Pinkel’s club found the going – and the Gamecocks’ defense – much tougher in the first SEC road game.
Little went right for the Tigers (2-2, 0-2 SEC) on either side of the ball.
The fast-paced offense managed only seven first downs through three quarters and ended with a season-low 255 yards. The defense allowed South Carolina’s Connor Shaw to complete his final 20 passes and finish 20-of-21. Shaw threw for two touchdowns and Marcus Lattimore ran for a pair of scores for the Gamecocks (4-0, 2-0).
“I was very disappointed in how we played,” Pinkel said.
As upset as Pinkel was, South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was elated with Shaw’s performance. “He was sensational,” the coach said.
Shaw had played less than two quarters the past two games, dealing with a hairline fracture in his right throwing shoulder. Spurrier, though, said early in the week his junior starter was fine and ready to go against Missouri.
South Carolina’s head ball coach knew what he was talking about.
“I just found a groove and stayed with it,” said Shaw, who improved 11-1 as a starter.
There were plenty of South Carolina fans who wanted Shaw on the sidelines longer after backup Dylan Thompson threw for 507 yards and five touchdowns in wins over East Carolina and UAB while Shaw sat.
Shaw, though, showed there’s no doubt he is in charge of South Carolina’s offense.
Shaw’s “our leader, he’s consistent. He stays in the pocket when he has to, he runs when he has to,” Lattimore said. “He’s a complete quarterback.”
And he was unstoppable against Missouri.
Shaw was on target after that early incompletion to Lattimore and showed no discomfort from the injury. His consecutive passes streak was tied for second in the SEC to Tennessee’s Tee Martin, who completed 23 in a row against the Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium during the Vols’ national championship season.
Shaw also ran for 41 yards.
Lattimore rushed for 85 yards. His touchdowns gave him South Carolina’s career mark with 33 rushing scores, a record Lattimore shared with Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers and Harold Green. Last week, Lattimore set the school’s all-time total touchdown mark, also surpassing Rogers and Green.
Missouri struggled against a Gamecocks defense that has given up three touchdowns all year and hadn’t yielded a TD from 20 yards and in until the Tigers scoring pass at the end. Missouri had a season-low 255 yards.
Starting quarterback James Franklin was back after missing last week’s win over Arizona State because of a shoulder problem. He was held to 92 yards passing and was sacked three times.
“I don’t even know how many times we gave ourselves a chance to make plays,” Missouri receiver T.J. Moe said. “We were dropping balls all over the place and not making plays. We were so bad offensively, we didn’t put ourselves in position to make plays. That’s hard to do.”
The Gamecocks’ defense didn’t miss senior safety D.J. Swearinger, suspended by the SEC for his hit on UAB’s Patrick Hearn last week. Missouri had just 151 yards through three quarters.
The Tigers finally crossed the goal line on Corbin Berkstresser’s 1-yard pass to Marcus Lucas with 17 seconds left.
Ace Sanders’ 49-yard punt return to the Missouri 4 set up Lattimore’s first rushing TD from 2 yards out.
Missouri’s Russell Hansbrough fumbled on the team’s following possession and South Carolina took over at the Tigers 37.
Shaw threw to Nick Jones for 36 yards to the Missouri 1 and Lattimore followed with another touchdown.
Missouri put together its offense near the end of the half, driving 76 yards to the South Carolina 4. That’s when the Gamecocks’ defense – third in the SEC and the country last year – kicked in. Chaz Sutton stuffed Franklin for a 3-yard loss on 1st-and-goal, and Franklin overthrew Dorial Green-Beckham at the back of the end zone two plays later.
The Tigers settled for Andrew Baggett’s 22-yard field goal with 1:20 left.
South Carolina, though, wasn’t finished. Bruce Ellington went 50 yards on the Gamecocks first kickoff return of the season and five plays later, Shaw connected with Sanders for a 23-yard touchdown with 24 seconds to go that put South Carolina ahead 21-3.
The fans at sold-out Williams-Brice broke out the “S-E-C” chant as Missouri defenders jogged off the field.