Missouri DE Michael Sam never lined up against the most publicized defensive player in the nation on Saturday night.
Taking turns playing on the same field, though, Sam compared favorably to South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Saturday night saw the good Clowney, who recorded 5 tackles including a TFL, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry despite significant attention from the Tigers offensive line.
However, Sam continued staking his claim as the best defensive player in the SEC. He registered 5 solo tackles, including 3 TFLs and a sack. Sam also had a pair of quarterback hurries.
Sam is expanding his lead atop the conference in sacks and TFLs. He now has 10 sacks and 16 TFLs in eight games.
Missouri has always had potential on offense – especially when QB James Franklin showed up healthy on campus this summer. The biggest difference has been a well-rounded pass rush that requires little blitzing to get after opposing quarterbacks.
Sam leads the charge for a Tigers defense that leads the league with 25 sacks – five more than the next-best teams in the SEC.
Good news from South Carolina: Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier indicated Sunday on a teleconference that RB Mike Davis “almost sprained his foot.”
Davis sustained what appeared to be a serious injury during the second overtime session Saturday against Missouri. He did, however, walk off the field.
Davis tweeted after the game that his ankle was fine.
This has been a breakout season for Davis, who leads the SEC with 930 rushing yards. He also ranks second with 10 rushing TDs.
Davis struggled against Missouri, especially with a pair of lost fumbles. However, he made up for his running struggles in the passing game. Davis caught 10 passes – mostly screens – and turned his receptions into 99 yards, most of which came after the catch.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel took significant criticism in the aftermath of the 27-24 double-overtime loss.
Specifically, critics point to ultra-conservative fourth-quarter play calling as to how South Carolina overcame a 17-point deficit to win in double overtime.
Pinkel called five passing plays during the pivotal fourth quarter, but made the alleged mistake of calling none on the Tigers’ three-and-out drive that started with 5:03 remaining in regulation.
Instead, the Missouri coach dialed up three consecutive runs. The first two plays netted eight yards, setting up a third-and-2.
South Carolina wisely gambled big on the Tigers trying one more run, leaving several defenders to blow up the play for a 4-yard loss.
Forget for a second that a run on third-and-2 seems like a perfectly logical play call. Missouri QB Maty Mauk hardly lit up the Gamecocks. The redshirt freshman threw for 249 yards – 96 on one play – but completed just 10 of 25 passes.
Pinkel, as well as anyone, knows about the development of young quarterbacks. His resume when it comes to producing signal-callers ranks among the best in the profession.
So perhaps when Pinkel pulls back the reins on a young passer who goes on to complete just 40 percent of his passes (after completing 50 percent a week ago in a win over Florida), it’s because he needs to pull back on the reins.
Furthermore, Pinkel called five passes on seven snaps on Missouri’s other fourth-quarter possession. That drive ended with K Andrew Baggett missing a 46-yard field-goal try.
It took a masterful effort by injured South Carolina QB Connor Shaw for the Gamecocks to come back and win on Saturday night. Shaw and the offense had to beat Missouri’s defense, featuring the best pass rush in the conference, for a last-minute touchdown just to send the game to overtime.
South Carolina also had to convert three consecutive fourth-down attempts, including one in overtime, to score the victory.
Perhaps Pinkel simply thought calling a third-and-2 run play and living with his defense if it got stopped was a better bet than calling on his redshirt freshman completing less than 50 percent of his passes.
Pinkel’s history doesn’t suggest a conservative nature late in games.
For the record, Missouri went with the all-run strategy again during the first overtime. The Tigers punched the ball into the end zone to applause from a broadcast crew impressed with the decisions to run the ball directly at DE Jadeveon Clowney.
Speaking of the fallout from Missouri’s loss, the vitriol toward K Andrew Baggett is depressing.
Baggett missed a 24-yard field goal that would have forced a third overtime session. His kick off the left upright immediately ended the game and the Tigers’ perfect season.
The miss will likely haunt Baggett for the foreseeable future. Several hate-filled, vocal fans took to Twitter and other venues to express their displeasure with the Missouri kicker.
Here’s what makes no sense: The Tigers will need their sophomore kicker to make several more important field goals over the course of the final games.
Overcoming such an important kick is tough enough on its own. What Baggett needs more than anything is support from his fan base.
Missouri fans certainly aren’t the only ones to react like this when a player fails to make a routine play, it’s just disappointing when this much negative energy is spent toward a young college athlete.
Elsewhere in the SEC, there’s a story coming from LSU worth monitoring.
Tigers QB Zach Mettenberger opened eyes across the Southeast through the first seven games this season by throwing 15 TDs against just 2 INTs.
Interceptions were an issue for the senior quarterback a season ago when he threw seven against 12 TDs.
Over the last two games, Mettenberger has thrown 5 INTs with 4 TDs.
Heading into the Nov. 9 showdown with top-ranked Alabama, Mettenberger needs to get his sudden interception flare-up under control.
Still, Mettenberger threw for 328 yards and 3 TDs against Furman this week. There is no denying he looks more comfortable running offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s system.
Tigers fans hope Mettenberger simply hit a rough patch he can snap out of before LSU visits Tuscaloosa.