COLUMBIA, Mo. — Missouri and Kentucky were always going to swing South Carolina’s season.
It has swung toward the point of no return.
Quarterback Ryan Hilinski was ineffective as the Gamecocks’ offense could not move the ball Saturday in a 34-14 loss to Missouri. USC’s defense played well, knowing Tigers quarterback Kelly Bryant isn’t a great downfield passer, but Bryant still managed to throw for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
Combined with the two touchdowns Hilinski handed Missouri — a recovered fumble in the end zone after a batted-down pass, and a 100-yard interception return — the Tigers had more than enough to win. Hilinski, perhaps limited by a sore elbow, was throwing wide of his receivers all day and finished 13 of 30 for 166 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
“He had some soreness in his elbow this week, we didn’t throw him on Wednesday. Certainly he would not have played if he was hurt,” USC coach Will Muschamp said. “We didn’t help Ryan today, much.”
Without the offense being able to stay on the field, USC’s defense ran out of gas. Missouri's offense won the time of possession by more than 15 minutes.
At 1-3, 0-2 SEC, the Gamecocks are very much in danger of not achieving bowl eligibility, which would be a severe blow to Muschamp’s tenure. It was going to be hard enough to reach a bowl game with five Top 25 teams on this year’s schedule, but in his fourth season, Muschamp supposedly has his best and most talented team.
They’re playing badly. A loss to Kentucky at home next week would have USC 1-4 going into a bye week, and a date at No. 3 Georgia following it.
What went right
The Gamecocks’ defense sat in a zone and dared Bryant to throw, and he was misfiring on several of his passes. It was a 10-point game at halftime.
Bryan Edwards played another fantastic game, taking a screen 75 yards for a touchdown to start the third quarter. He ended with 113 yards on six catches, putting him second on USC’s career receptions chart and third in receiving yardage.
The Gamecocks got turnovers. Aaron Sterling knocked a ball loose that Javon Kinlaw dove on, and D.J. Wonnum recorded USC’s first interception against a Power 5 team in the last nine games.
What went wrong
USC couldn’t do anything on offense. With the running game shut down, Hilinski was forced to throw. And he clearly was not on his game, looking nothing like the SEC Freshman of the Week who riddled Alabama last game.
“He did throw a lot of passes last week and he did take a beating,” Edwards said. “I’m going to talk to him and we’re going to see what we can do to fix it.”
Parker White missed a 50-yard field goal and is 0 for 4 on kicks of 50-plus yards in his career.
When Edwards scored on a screen pass to open the third, it was 17-14, but the Gamecocks gave up a touchdown drive after it (the defense played 54 snaps in just the first half). Then came the play of the game.
Hilinski, who had a horrible first half but seemed to settle in during the third quarter, drove USC down the field and faced third-and-goal at the 3-yard line. A touchdown would put the Gamecocks within three points of Missouri.
But on the next play, Edwards ran to the back of the end zone. Hilinski threw to the front. It could have been intercepted by two Tigers, but Ronnie Perkins got his hands up first. He ran 100 yards for a back-breaking touchdown, setting a school record for yardage on an interception return.
The old record was 99 yards, set against USC in the 2005 Independence Bowl.
The Gamecocks host Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday. USC has lost the last five in the series.