The Tigers (2-1) were playing an overmatched opponent, with SEMO coming from the Football Championship Subdivison, a level below Mizzou. But that first quarter was still about perfect. Missouri scored on a rushing touchdown, a defensive touchdown in the form of a Cale Garrett interception return, a passing touchdown and a punt return touchdown.
The Tiger defense pitched a shutout, the week after holding West Virginia to 7 points, and allowed just 94 yards of offense from SEMO, who gave it a game effort despite the mismatch.
Missouri’s kicker had a good game, as did Missouri’s punter. Of course, the same player, Tucker McCann, does both jobs, so it was a really good game for him. McCann became the first player this century to make three field goals of 40 or more yards and have four punts of 50 or more yards in the same game.
Now, the season barrels into Southeastern Conference play, as Missouri hosts South Carolina in a big game Saturday (3 p.m. on SEC Network). Tiger coach Barry Odom is 0-3 against the Gamecocks, including an agonizing loss in South Carolina last fall when it appeared the Tigers were on the bring of salvaging the win. The SEC East is pretty wide open after Georgia, with a cluster of teams competing to be the main threat to the Bulldogs. This game could be an early step to help whittle down the list of contenders.
South Carolina (1-2) is coming off a 47-23 loss to No. 2 Alabama on Saturday, a respectable showing against another great Crimson Tide team. Freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski, who took over the starting role after Jake Bentley was lost due to injury, hung tough against Alabama, throwing 57 times and going over 300 passing yards. Rico Dowdle rushed for 102 yards against the Tide, and those two could provide a challenge for Missouri’s defense.
The Gamecocks face a brutal schedule this year, and they need all the wins they can get to muster bowl eligibility, and Saturday’s game will be big for them on that front.
The game is also for the Mayor’s Cup trophy, a rivalry trophy created in 2012 by the mayor of Columbia, South Carolina, with support from Columbia, Missouri’s mayor, for the winner of the annual game between two schools from cities named Columbia. It’s a “rivalry” without proximity, and there aren’t many places were Tigers and Gamecocks are interacting in day-to-day life. But the series has had some memorable and close games, like the back-to-back thrilling finishes in 2013 and 2014, as well as last year’s drama.
This game has a lot; early division standings impact, long-term program pecking order in the East, and the potential to be a competitive game. Missouri is a solid favorite, but not overwhelming. It should be a very interesting Saturday afternoon in Columbia.