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COLUMBIA, S.C. – Steve Spurrier knows while South Carolina won't be the main attraction this weekend at fifth-ranked Missouri, he's hopeful that his 20th-ranked Gamecocks can drag themselves and several other Southeastern Conference East teams back in the divisional race with a win.
Spurrier said Tuesday the Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 SEC) could get back on track against Missouri (7-0, 3-0) after losing 23-21 at Tennessee this past weekend. A South Carolina win would also open the door for the other East teams like the Vols, Georgia and Florida who trail the Tigers by two games in the division.
"We're not going to get much attention this week," Spurrier said. "Like I told the team, we're on TV but the nation wants to watch Missouri. They don't want to watch us now after losing a game. Maybe we can go out there and show them something, hopefully, so that's what we'll try to do."
Spurrier said he and the players understand that losing to the surprising Tigers would knock them from the SEC chase for good. Linebacker Skai Moore said the team thought that may have been the case when they headed to the airport after getting stung by Tennessee on Michael Palardy's last-second, 19-yard field goal.
Then they saw the other league upsets — Vanderbilt over Georgia, Missouri topping Florida and Ole Miss beat LSU — and realized they still had a road map to the SEC title game if they could play well this week.
"We're confident that we could go in there and take care of business this week," said Moore, a freshman.
That was something the Gamecocks couldn't do at Neyland Stadium last Saturday. The Vols took a 17-7 lead into the half before South Carolina seemingly gained control with two third-quarter touchdowns to move in front.
But the Gamecocks offense stalled the final period, in large part because quarterback Connor Shaw left with a sprained left knee, and managed only 15 yards total the last 15 minutes.
The defense, led by a resurgent Jadeveon Clowney, forced a pair of Tennessee punts in the quarter, but could not hold the Vols off in the final minutes. Tennessee moved 63 yards to the Gamecocks 2, most of that coming on quarterback Justin Worley's heave with Clowney in his face and Marquez North's one-armed catch for a 39-yard gain.
Moments later, Palardy's game-winner took the SEC East race out of South Carolina's control.
Spurrier has talked to his players about what's at stake in the Gamecocks first-ever trip to Missouri.
"It's a game that's going to decide whether or not we're in the division hunt or not. Simple as that. I think all of our players know that," he said.
Missouri was 5-7 a year ago in its SEC debut season and didn't figure to be a factor in the divisional race. The Tigers were expected to sink once more after starting quarterback James Franklin was lost to injury. But backup Maty Mauk helped Missouri to a 36-17 victory over Florida last week to cement its place atop the East.
Mauk said the team won't look past South Carolina, even with the possibilities out there.
"You can tell that they already have stuff blocked out with being fifth in the country," Mauk said. "It doesn't matter. We have to come out and be 1-0 this week."
The Gamecocks will most likely have a backup under center as well with Dylan Thompson. Shaw's rebounded from injuries several times in his career, but Spurrier expected him to need more than a few days of recovery to be ready.
Spurrier won't know Shaw's status until later in the week. At best, Spurrier said Shaw might suit up and be able to go a few snaps in a pinch.
"The doctors, the trainers feel like a couple of weeks, two to three weeks, (Shaw) may be close to a hundred percent on that thing," Spurrier said.
Thompson has had his moments in the sun as Shaw's replacement. The sophomore led South Carolina to a 27-17 win at Clemson last November with Shaw out with a bad foot.
Thompson was there at the end in the Outback Bowl last January, his 32-yard TD pass to Bruce Elington with 11 seconds to go giving the Gamecocks in a 33-28 win over Michigan.
"He will be ready to go and he'll give it his best shot, we know that," Spurrier said. "This is his time this year."