Which defensive unit was the best Saturday? Our grades from Mizzou's win over South Carolina
It was a little too close for comfort on Saturday, but Missouri had some margin for error.
The Tigers tested wide margin for error with turnovers, but stout defensive play and a dynamic running game was enough to keep the Mayor's Cup in Columbia, Mo., with a MU win over South Carolina.
Here are our grades from Missouri's 31-28 win over South Carolina.
It wasn't a picture perfect day, but it was close considering how bad MU's defense has been in previous games.
The Tigers were stout stopping the run, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry once factoring out sack yards, but struggled to stop some big plays. The 39-yard touchdown to running back ZaQuandre White on a swing pass loomed, as he was virtually uncovered from the snap.
Quarterback Jason Brown was running for his life most of the game, but still ended up throwing for 193 yards and two scores.
The defense was solid, and was the top reason MU won Saturday. The offense's two turnovers in the fourth quarter set the defense up in two awful positions. It would've been outstanding to see the defense rally for stops, but there's not much more the MU faithful could have asked for from the unit.
The only glaring issue was how MU struggled to get off the field in the first half on third downs. Missouri allowed a handful of completions and committed penalties that led to first downs on third and long. But, that issues was fixed with adjustments at halftime.
The run defense was as good as its been all season for MU. The pass defense recorded an interception, too. Although a few questionable penalties on the secondary took away another interception and gave South Carolina some first downs.
That pressure on Brown was consistent, too, which leads us to our next point.
Missouri's defensive line
Have a day, fellas.
Isaiah McGuire had a dominant first half, getting a sack, forcing a fumble and recovering said fumble. He was also part of a run defense that held the Gamecocks to 13 rushing yards in the first half.
Trajan Jeffcoat recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown that changed the complexion of the entire game. Akial Byers recorded a sack, too. Four of the seven quarterback hits MU recorded Saturday were by defensive linemen.
It's a reinvention at work.
The MU defensive line has had steady improvement since Al Davis took over after Jethro Franklin's firing. Davis has put his personal touch on this unit, and it all came to a peak Saturday.
The defensive line harassed Brown all game. When Brown made plays, it wasn't because the line was allotting him time in the pocket.
If this trend continues with MU, the Tigers will be in a bowl game.
This was the part of the Tigers' game which was inconsistent Saturday. Interestingly enough, it was only inconsistent when MU tried to lean on the passing game.
Connor Bazelak got the start for Missouri, and threw two touchdowns. He also threw two interceptions, including a costly one backed in MU territory on third down where his check down pass was severely under thrown.
Mookie Cooper finally showed why he was such a coveted receiver. His 60-yard touchdown reception was a dynamic route where he split the defensive backs in the seam and was beyond wide open. Cooper also fumbled in the fourth quarter with MU in Gamecock territory.
Those last two turnovers led to 14 South Carolina points, allowing the Gamecocks to get back into the game. The interception also led to Bazelak getting pulled in the fourth in favor of Brady Cook, although MU coach Eli Drinkwitz did also say he favored Cook's running ability in that situation.
On the ground, however, MU ran for 266 yards and a stout 5.9 yards per carry. Tyler Badie had another 200-yard rushing game and even closed out the game by churning out first downs at the end.
There was also a solid deviation in play calling from the offense, too. MU called double-passes, end arounds and two-quarterback formations Saturday. All resulted in positive plays for the Tigers, even if Keke Chism ran for positive yards instead of getting a pass off.
The positives where there, but the turnovers overshadowed what was a solid day for Drinkwitz's offense. Instead of the defense, the offense put MU in a danger zone Saturday,
Still, those mistakes came with a wide margin of error against South Carolina. That margin of error won't be the same against Arkansas, and maybe Florida if the Gators shape up next week.
Missouri's special teams
How many times do you see a scramble drill executed by a field goal team to hit what ended up being crucial points?
The Tigers' special teams ran out with the clock ticking down from 20 seconds left in the second, got set and hit a 19-yard field goal to pull ahead of South Carolina 17-14 at halftime.
MU ended up winning by just three, 31-28, which should tell anyone how important those points were.
The rule of thumb about special teams usually is you only hear about them when bad things happen — kick return touchdowns, bad kicks or blocked kicks, for example — but MU has set a precedent for some of the best special teams in the SEC.
Chris Kwiecinski is the sports editor for the Columbia Daily Tribune, overseeing University of Missouri and Boone County sports coverage. Follow him on Twitter @OchoK_ and contact him at CKwiecinsk@gannett.com, or 435 414-3261.