COLUMBIA — South Carolina’s usual array of stars showed up in Saturday’s 31-10 win over Southeastern Conference newcomer Missouri.
Connor Shaw proved that his shoulder was fine with 20 consecutive completions. Marcus Lattimore added to his collection of school records with a pair of short touchdown runs. And Jadeveon Clowney and the No. 7 Gamecocks’ defense clamped down on the Tigers’ spread offense early and often.
But the star of Saturday’s victory was Ace Sanders. The speedy receiver and return specialist broke open a scoreless game with a pair of special plays in the second quarter.
Sanders took a punt at his own 47 and danced around and ran his way 49 yards before being forced out of bounds at the Missouri 4. His biggest obstacle on the play was running into one of his own blockers, Damario Jeffery.
“I was just reading my blocks. I got a couple of good blocks from my teammates and made the most of it,” Sanders said of his return. “It was just him (Jeffery) being in the wrong place but at the right time.”
Lattimore scored two plays later for a 7-0 Gamecocks lead, and a Missouri turnover on the ensuing possession resulted in another short Lattimore scoring run.
Missouri scored on a field goal late in the half, and left 1:20 on the clock. That was enough time for Shaw and Sanders to find the end zone after Bruce Ellington returned the kickoff 50 yards to midfield.
Lattimore covered 27 yards on three plays, and that’s when Shaw saw Missouri lining up tight on Sanders. He threw a perfect pass to a streaking Sanders, who caught the pass on his fingertips and held on for a 21-3 halftime lead.
“I just felt fortunate,” Sanders said of the man-to-man coverage. “That’s one of my specialties, getting off the jam. It was just the right play at the right time.”
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier awarded Sanders and special teams coach Joe Robinson game balls for their efforts.
Missouri (2-2, 0-2 SEC) lost its first road game in the SEC. The Tigers were held in check by South Carolina’s defense with only 255 yards and found the end zone late in the game when the outcome had been decided.
The win for South Carolina (4-0, 2-0 SEC) sets up a potential blockbuster against Georgia on Oct. 6.
Shaw re-injured his throwing shoulder in last week’s victory over Alabama-Birmingham, but started Saturday’s game. After his first pass attempt fell incomplete, Shaw connected on his next 20. That ties him for the second-best streak in SEC history and gives him a chance to break the record against Kentucky.
“That’s unheard of in the SEC,” Lattimore said of Shaw’s performance. “He just does the same thing every time he goes out there. He is our leader.”