One of the biggest red marks on Barry Odom’s tenure at Missouri is no more.
After three losses against South Carolina with the mild-mannered, 42-year-old Odom in charge, the Tigers’ defense allowed the Gamecocks one big play to win their Southeastern Conference opener by a score of 34-14.
While it wasn’t a perfect performance from MU, not much more could be asked of its defense.
South Carolina put up nearly 600 yards of total offense the week before against Alabama and was limited to under 200 against the Tigers’ first-team defense.
The play that set Missouri’s momentum on a fast pace happened midway through the first quarter.
It’s one of the more unique plays in college football this season, and it was spearheaded by MU senior linebacker Cale Garrett.
THE SET UP
South Carolina’s defense had just secured an early-game goal-line stand where Missouri ran four plays from inside the Gamecocks’ 2-yard line and couldn’t find its way into the end zone.
The unsuccessful play-calling from MU’s sideline may have left some fans saying ‘here we go again!’ but before those feelings could truly manifest, the Tigers’ defense had a chance of their own to pin South Carolina deep in its own territory.
On first down of the Gamecocks’ second drive of the game, Rico Dowdle rushed for a three-yard gain.
Facing a 2nd-and-7, South Carolina came to the line of scrimmage with five offensive linemen and three players in the backfield — Dowdle, freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski and St. Louis native Kyle Markway — with the tight end being used as a blocker.
The Gamecocks' other three players on the field were wide receivers: two to the left of the ball and one to the right.
Missouri rushed four defensive linemen, with every linebacker and defensive back staying off the line of scrimmage and a defensive scheme built for either the pass or run.
After the snap reaches Hilinski’s hands, he threw the ball in less than a second with the intention of completing it to Chavis Dawkins.
The pass never got close to the Gamecocks' receiver, as MU defensive end Chris Turner shed the offensive lineman stopping him from running at Hilinski almost immediately.
The moment after Turner freed himself, the ball got to his hands. On reaction alone, Turner stuck his left hand out, knocking down the ball.
The swat landed back into the grasp of Hilinski — who clearly wanted to try again on third down instead of running the ball with the closest several players to him being from MU.
Throwing the ball wasn’t an option; two forward passes on one play is a penalty that would’ve set South Carolina up with a third and long. So, he did the reactionary move and forced an incomplete pass by spiking the ball into the turf.
However, Hilinski’s intentional incompletion was thrown from the 3-yard line and landed at the Gamecocks 2-yard line. That’s a backwards pass, which if not caught is a live ball and a fumble.
The whistle blew as the ball rolled into the end zone, but that didn’t stop Garrett. He rushed as quickly as possible to fall on the football.
Garrett then popped up with the pigskin in his hand and talked to anyone that would listen — ‘that’s a fumble’ he was seen mouthing to an official on the SEC Network broadcast.
After quickly huddling, the referees originally called it an illegal forward pass on Hilinski and set the ball for third down.
Before South Carolina could line up, however, officials from either upstairs or SEC headquarters had gotten word to the zebra-striped crew in Columbia that they needed to take a second look at the play.
After multiple camera angles and a three-minute review, the officials changed the call to a fumble recovered in the end zone by Garrett and a touchdown.
Before the crew chief finished speaking, MU’s bench erupted in joy with a defiant fist pump on live television from Odom.
It was the third straight week a Missouri linebacker had scored a touchdown and the second straight game for Garrett after a pick-six against SEMO.
The bizarre play kept alive the tradition of unpredictable things taking place when Missouri and South Carolina face off for the Mayor’s Cup.
It was the first of two defensive touchdowns for Missouri in the game. The Tigers pressured Hilinski all game long.
The play also set forth MU entering its first bye week of the season at 3-1 instead of with an even record.
The win distances Missouri from South Carolina in the SEC East hierarchy and shines a spotlight on Garrett’s football IQ. Garrett’s efforts led him to being named SEC defensive player of the week. He leads MU with 37 tackles through four games.
Odom has said he’s constantly around the ball at practices and falling on anything that’s loose. In this sense, practice makes perfect.