COLUMBIA, Mo. — At some point, opponents are going to stop kicking to South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel. Until then, the Gamecocks will gladly take all the game-changing returns they can get from the all-purpose star.
For the second straight week, Samuel returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, helping South Carolina erase an early deficit and beat Missouri 31-13 on Saturday night in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
“The kickoff return, again, was huge for us,” South Carolina coach Will Muschamp said. “A huge momentum swing in the game.”
Missouri (1-1, 0-1) took a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter when Drew Lock connected with tight end Jason Reese on a 61-yard touchdown pass. Missouri coach Barry Odom thought Tucker McCann, who usually is capable of knocking kickoffs well into the end zone, would deliver his third touchback of the night. Instead, the ball landed in Samuel’s hands on the 3-yard line.
He needed to break only one tackle and dodge McCann on his way to a touchdown.
“I’ve been telling Coach, ‘Whenever you give me the ball, I’ll try to put it in the end zone,’ ” Samuel said.
He wasn’t done. South Carolina’s Jamyest Williams intercepted a pass on Missouri’s next play from scrimmage, giving the Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0) the ball on Missouri’s 25-yard line. On first down, Samuel, a junior wide receiver, took a handoff on a jet sweep and sprinted into the end zone for his second score in 15 seconds.
“No. 1 is a special guy when he gets the ball in his hands,” South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards said.
Last week, Samuel returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown in a 35-28 victory over North Carolina State and also grabbed a 39-yard touchdown reception.
“He just picks us up,” South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley said of Samuel. “When we’re struggling on offense, … need a spark for our team, he’s that guy.”