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July 16, 2014

Missouri still smarting from USC comeback



HOOVER, Ala. - South Carolina remains the only SEC East team Missouri hasn't beaten since it joined the conference two years ago, and the Tigers aren't thrilled about it.

Missouri came over to the SEC, along with Texas A&M, before the 2012 season, determined to make a statement to everyone who asserted the 13-time Big 12 champions didn't belong.

Instead, the Tigers struggled initially, falling 41-20 to Georgia in their first SEC game and receiving another rude awakening at their first SEC road game, which came at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Connor Shaw completed 20 of his 21 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns, South Carolina's defense smothered Missouri's up-tempo offensive attack and the Gamecocks thumped the Tigers 31-10.

And that's not to mention Ace Sanders' sensational 49-yard punt return, a flurry of zig-zags and juke moves that ended with the speedy receiver going out of bounds just short of the end zone and the crowd at Williams-Brice on its feet.

"Going to South Carolina, going and playing there and seeing the white towels when they're waving them around, I think that was the most - as a true freshman - the most intimidating thing I've ever seen in my life," said Missouri junior center Evan Boehm. "Just looking up, you're kind of in awe, kind of in shock, just seeing how loud it gets and how wild everybody gets."

Not much went right for Missouri for the rest of the season, as the injury-plagued team finished 5-7 and missed a bowl game.

The Tigers redeemed themselves a year later by winning the SEC East, but couldn't exact revenge against the Gamecocks at Faurot Field.

Missouri carried a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter, but fell victim - as did several other teams last season - to Connor Shaw's late-game heroics.

The senior quarterback, playing with an injured knee and flu-like symptoms, entered the game late in the third quarter and righted the ship, leading the Gamecocks on three scoring drives in the final quarter to tie the game at 17-17 and force overtime.

"We might have let up a little too early," said Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk, who started that game. "We didn't make enough plays, either. In the second half, there were some things I could have done differently to get the ball out and maybe the defense could have done something differently too."

South Carolina had all the momentum from there, ultimately clinching the 27-24 victory in double overtime when Missouri placekicker Andrew Baggett's 24-yard field goal attempt clanged off the left upright.

Nine months later, it still appears to be a touchy subject.

"Well, I'm glad you brought that up; I'm pleased that you brought that up," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said on Wednesday to a reporter who asked about the game.

"In a couple of overtimes, we didn't do things necessary to win," he said. "They found a way to do it. This is a fourth-quarter league. It's like the NFL. You've got to play well in the fourth quarter in this league, if you're going to win. For the most part, we did a great job of it a year ago.

"But South Carolina outplayed us, and they deserved to win."

Boehm said watching Baggett's kick hit the post was difficult to swallow.

"You work PATs each and every day, and you see the kid make the field goals," Boehm said. "And then that happens, and you just feel so bad for a kid like that, being in a situation like that."

Boehm said the sentiment in the locker room after the game was that the Tigers had let the game slip through their fingers.

"I'll be the first one to tell you guys that we shouldn't have even been in that situation," Boehm said. "We had a 17-point lead, and then you throw in Connor Shaw. Connor Shaw had a heck of a game and went nearly a 100 percent passing completion percentage against us in the fourth quarter. That's unbelievable."

It's been a frustrating team to play since Missouri joined the SEC, he added.

"It just leaves a nasty taste in your mouth after going there our first ever SEC game (on the road) and going to South Carolina and not doing too well, and then you go back at home and have a 17-point turnaround in the fourth quarter and lose in overtime," Boehm said.

Mauk went 3-1 as a starter last season, with the lone blemish coming in a 10-for-25, 249-yard night against South Carolina.

Even after gaining 1,300 total yards and tossing 11 touchdowns in limited action as a freshman, he and Pinkel agree he has plenty left to prove.

Knocking off South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the Gamecocks haven't lost since 2011, would certainly help.

"It (losing to South Carolina) made us better," Mauk said. "It made us better, and when we come down this year, we're expecting it to be a little different."



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