COLUMBIA – South Carolina linebacker Kaiwan Lewis called it “the biggest game” of the season. He won’t find much argument. With their SEC East hopes on the line, the No. 20 Gamecocks travel to No. 5 Missouri for a 7 p.m. kickoff Saturday. Here’s a closer look at the matchup.

Thompson vs. Tigers, the sequel

Dylan Thompson’s credentials playing on the road in big games are unquestioned. The Gamecocks’ backup quarterback led his team to a 10-point win at Clemson last season, throwing three touchdowns. Now, Thompson enters another huge road game at No. 5 Missouri, with a chance to be the greatest backup quarterback in program history. A win would add to a legacy that’s begun to grow even before becoming USC’s full-time starter.

Mike Davis, the workhorse?

Steve Spurrier seemed to bristle a bit when it was suggested Mike Davis needs to get around 30 carries for USC to be successful against Missouri – since the Gamecocks are playing with their backup quarterback. Ideally, it would make sense. Davis could be Thompson’s safety valve, his security blanket, but it goes against Spurrier’s history. Thompson tossed 41 passes at Clemson last season, and 32 against Central Florida last month. The Head Ball Coach isn’t shy about heavily using his backup quarterback in the passing game.

USC offensive line vs. Michael Sam

It’s probably going to take more than Corey Robinson (or Brandon Shell) to slow down Missouri’s Michael Sam. The senior defensive end has nine sacks this season, tied for the national lead. He has three more sacks than any SEC player, six more than any of his teammates and seven more than USC star Jadeveon Clowney. Missouri likes to twist and loop Sam to the inside of the offensive line, meaning guards Ronald Patrick and A.J. Cann have to be ready to help out. Nothing could make USC’s backup quarterback more uncomfortable than constant pressure in the pocket.

Special mess

USC’s special teams have been a disaster this season. The Gamecocks are one of two teams ranking 10th or worse in the SEC in punting, kickoffs, punt return and kickoff return – joining Georgia. They’re the only SEC team to rank last in two of those four categories (punting and kickoff return). USC likely beats Tennessee with better special teams play. It will lose to Missouri if the special teams don’t improve.

Prediction

South Carolina 31, Missouri 27