Missouri seems like a new addition to the schedule this year. They’ve never been in the same conference with the Gamecocks, and the teams would have little incentive to schedule each other for nonconference matchups. But the Gamecocks and Tigers have actually met twice before–both times in bowl games, both times Gamecock losses.
1979 Hall of Fame Bowl
The first meeting came in 1979 at Birmingham’s Legion Field in the third annual Hall of Fame Bowl. Carolina entered the game with a #16 national ranking and an 8-3 record. The Gamecocks were coming off an interesting season. They were drubbed 28-0 in the season opener at North Carolina in what was the second ever football game televised on ESPN. South Carolina had been a founding member of the ACC in 1953, but left in 1971 due to ideological differences with the “Big Four” North Carolina schools. In 1979, however, many of the rivalries with former ACC foes were maintained, and the Gamecocks went 4-1 in those games. The biggest win of the season was unquestionably the finale, a 13-9 victory for the #19 Gamecocks over #13 Clemson that was sealed by an incredible 82-yard punt late in the fourth quarter.
Missouri entered the game unranked at 6-5, but had just defeated interstate rival Kansas 55-7 in their final regular season game. The momentum from the thrashing of the Jayhawks would carry into the matchup with the Gamecocks. A 20-yard pass from Garry Harper to Zion McKinney gave Carolina an early 6-0 lead, but Missouri would score 17 unanswered points en route to an 11-point third quarter advantage. Harper pulled the Gamecocks to within a field goal with an 11-yard scamper and a two point conversion, but Missouri was able to find the end zone again and hold South Carolina scoreless over the final quarter to earn a 24-14 victory. George Rogers led the Gamecock offense, rushing 25 times for 133 yards.
2005 Independence Bowl
The teams wouldn’t meet again until the 2005 Independence Bowl in Shreveport, LA. Just like in 1979, South Carolina came in at 7-4, Missouri at 6-5. The season opened with much fanfare for the Gamecocks, as Steve Spurrier made his highly anticipated coaching debut. The Gamecocks defeated Tennessee 16-15 for their first ever win in 13 tries in Knoxville, then defeated Florida for the first time since 1939, a span of 15 games. Missouri had a lackluster campaign in 2005, finishing in a three-way tie for second in the Big 12 North at 4-4. They only played two games against ranked opponents all year, losing 51-20 to #2 Texas and 41-12 at #24 Colorado. Both teams were coming off losses in their final games, as Missouri dropped a 36-28 decision to Kansas State and South Carolina was beaten 13-9 by Clemson.
The Gamecock offense had a prolific day. Blake Mitchell threw for 266 yards, 191 of which went to Sidney Rice. Mike Davis (no, not the same Mike Davis) rushed for 141 yards on only 18 carries. But dual-threat Missouri quarterback Brad Smith outshone the Gamecocks, accounting for 431 of Missouri’s 504 total yards.
South Carolina came out swinging in the first quarter, jumping out to a 21-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game. But a 99-yard interception return midway through the second quarter changed the game. South Carolina’s defense had kept the Tigers in check to that point, and the Gamecocks were looking to take a 28-0 lead. But an errant pass by Mitchell fell into the hands of Marcus King at the goal line, and King weaved through blockers down the sideline into the end zone. It was a 14-point swing that energized the Missouri team, who would outscore the Gamecocks 31-10 the rest of the way. Smith would drive the final dagger into the Gamecocks’ coffin with 2:13 remaining in the game on a one-yard touchdown run.
The first regular season meeting between the Gamecocks and Tigers will be greeted with much anticipation and fanfare. It’s the first road game of the SEC era for Mizzou, and the prestigious 3:30 CBS time slot gives the game national exposure. Let’s hope this meeting goes better than the last two.