A late-game QB switch? What we learned from Mizzou's 31-28 win over South Carolina
The Mayor's Cup is staying within the walls of Memorial Stadium.
Coming into its penultimate home game of the season, Missouri football had little wiggle room to make something of the 2021 season.
A loss to invading South Carolina surely would plummet the already less-than-ideal standards remaining for the Tigers' success this year. Falling to the Gamecocks would've given Missouri its sixth loss of the season.
That scenario wasn't reality, as Missouri's defense did just enough to hold onto the lead, stymieing South Carolina's offensive plans throughout the game.
Missouri took down South Carolina 31-28 in front of 44,092 fans, its smallest home attendance of the season, on Saturday at Faurot Field.
Both teams now have a record of 5-5 this year.
Missouri earned its second Southeastern Conference win, with the other league victory coming two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.
Missouri returns to action next Saturday against Florida. The Gators defeated FCS-level Samford 70-52 on Saturday to improve to 5-5.
The Tigers won their third-straight matchup over the Gamecocks, this year's victory signifying Missouri is one win from bowl eligibility.
Here's what we learned in the triumph over South Carolina:
Defense's highs and lows
While Missouri's defense was far from perfect against South Carolina, the group had its best performance yet this season, presented as a major dose of redemption for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.
Wilks' tenure has seen a defensive unit give up too many big plays and put a burden on the Tigers' offense to keep Missouri in games.
Those pitfalls showed up Saturday, but late enough where they didn't down the Tigers.
Missouri's defense had two interceptions called back on questionable defensive holding calls and a Kris Abrams-Draine interception that stood up on Gamecocks quarterback Jason Brown's first pass of the game.
Missouri turned the momentum of the game when safety Martez Manuel sacked and stripped the ball from Brown in the third quarter. Columbia, South Carolina, native Trajan Jeffcoat recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
It was the second defensive touchdown of the year for Missouri's defense after Mekhi Wingo's interception return for a score against North Texas. Jeffcoat tipped the ball on that play to set up Wingo's touchdown.
After Missouri's defense has had trouble stopping the rush all season, it was stout against the run Saturday. South Carolina finished the game with 250 yards of total offense, of which just 57 yards came on the ground.
Late-game quarterback switch
Connor Bazelak entered the game against South Carolina "questionable" on Missouri's injury report for the second straight week, meaning he had a 50% chance to play Saturday, per MU head coach Eli Drinkwitz.
Bazelak started the game, but a late-game interception that let the Gamecocks back within a touchdown forced a change behind center, with Brady Cook coming on in relief.
Cook didn't throw the ball once, but had two rushes for five yards.
Badie dazzles again
For the fourth time this season, Missouri's star running back eclipsed the 200-yard total, rushing for 209 yards against the Gamecocks.
Tyler Badie's impressive outing, including 34 rush attempts and a 19-yard touchdown, brought him to No. 5 among single-season rushing yards by a Missouri player with 1,239. He's third among running backs.
Brad Smith amassed 1,406 rushing yards in 2003 and 1,301 in 2005. For tailbacks, Joe Moore's 1,312 yards in 1969 position him in front of Badie.
Devin West holds the all-time MU record at 1,578 yards, set in 1998.
On Saturday, Badie passed former teammate Larry Rountree, whose 1,216 yards on the ground in 2018 represented his single-season career best.
Contact Eric Blum at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.