COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - For the first time in five years, the South Carolina Gamecocks will take the field without Will Muschamp roaming the sidelines.
Just days after their 59-42 loss to Ole Miss, the former Georgia Bulldog was relieved of his head coaching duties as the Gamecocks sank to a 2-5 record. Now, Carolina is in dire need of a victory this weekend when they face Missouri under interim head coach Mike Bobo.
With just three games left on the slate, Bobo and the Gamecocks face the challenge of finishing the season at .500, but they’ll have to do it without Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu, RJ Roderick, and Makius Scott, who all opted out shortly after Muschamp was let go. Despite the defections, Bobo hopes the players will rally and play winning football for one another.
“The guys that are here are here,” he said. “No ill will to anybody that’s not here, but the guys that are here are here. We’re here for a reason. We have a great opportunity in the face of adversity to rise up. And that’s what defines you is when you’re able to rise up and handle adversity. And it’s an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for us to create memories in this group, in this family.”
Carolina will take on a Missouri team that, according to Tigers head coach Eli Drinkwitz, is “limited right now by our scholarship numbers and players available.” The Tigers were scheduled to play Georgia a week ago, but a positive COVID-19 test and contact tracing forced the game to be postponed. The last time Mizzou took the field, they were handed a 41-17 loss by Florida.
The Tigers, like the Gamecocks, are in search of their third win of the season. Offensively, the team has relied on Connor Bazelak to lead the offense at quarterback. In five games, the 6-foot-3 redshirt freshman has thrown for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns for Mizzou. Jalen Knox and Damon Hazelton have been two of Bazelek’s favorite targets this year. Combined, the two receivers have accounted for 39 catches for 411 yards. At running back, Larry Roundtree leads the team in rushing with 432 yards and four touchdowns.
Collectively, the Tigers average 22.6 points per game.
“Eli does a great job of spreading you out,” Bobo said, “but also giving you some two-back run game principles. [They] major heavily in the stretch game, like to get on the edge of your defense, and stretch you out, and then run enough counter. Not your traditional counter where they pull the guard and the tight end, which you see nowadays. It’s the old-school counter, which is probably more traditional, the guard-tackle counter. They do a really good job of that.
“They have enough at quarterback to keep you honest and I know they’ve had issues on both sides of the ball with COVID, but they’ve had skill [players] step up and make plays.”
On defense, the Tigers haven’t fared as well as they hoped they would. Mizzou gives up an average of 33 points per game In their three losses, the Tigers have surrender 35 points or more.
“They’re going ot commit to stopping the run and that’s obviously been our strong suit this year,” Bobo said. “It’s the run game. But it really doesn’t matter who they play. They pack the box. They’re an odd defense and they’ll reduce it down to what you call a Bear defense, or some of you might know it as ’46 defense’... and they’re going to play man-to-man coverage outside. They do a lot of movement inside, some line games, very similar to Texas A&M, which gave us some problems up front in blocking that movement.”
Understanding that this game could determine if the Gamecocks have a losing season puts some pressure on the team to do well. However, Bobo embraces that pressure.
“I think pressure is a privilege,” he said. “You’re put in a position that’s a situation that has pressure. I like that feeling. I like having our backs against the wall.”
South Carolina will host Mizzou on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.