COLUMBIA, S.C. — Inside a raucous Williams-Brice Stadium, Missouri’s players could see it from all angles. They could hear it, loud and constant, too.
These were uncharted waters.
Before South Carolina took the football field Saturday, the theme song from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” blasted out of the stadium’s speakers. The crowd of 80,836, as if suddenly possessed by the music, rose to its feet, shouting and jumping for minutes on end. A sea of white waving towels surrounded the lush green field from all sides as the garnet-colored Gamecocks left the locker room and stormed onto their home turf.
Missouri’s fans, a small splotch in the southeast corner of the stadium, were all but mute in comparison. The noise continued to rise thunderously as South Carolina players' hands rose in the air, acknowledging the crowd’s effort.
In its first SEC road game, Missouri was crushed by the crowd’s relentless decibels, not to mention Connor Shaw and Marcus Lattimore, in a 31-10 loss.
“It’s a great place to play college football. All the great places are crazy like this,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “They have great fans, it’s awesome."
“We didn’t jump offsides or have those types of things, which was good, but obviously our focus wasn’t good enough, and that’s my responsibility.”
After Lattimore’s two touchdown runs and Shaw’s two touchdown passes, music threw the crowd into another trance, this time the Finnish techno song “Sandstorm,” by DJ Darude.
As the hard bass pounded out of the stadium speakers, the South Carolina student section on the north end challenged the bleachers’ foundation, jumping up and down, clapping and stomping their feet rhythmically to the song. The white towels made another appearance, waving wildly and relentlessly.
With the Missouri defense unable to stop South Carolina on the ground or through the air Saturday, “Sandstorm” seemed to play on loop.
Lattimore swatted away tacklers as if they were gnats, leaving Missouri defenders lying helplessly on the turf behind him. He finished the game with 145 total yards and two touchdowns.
Shaw, not to be outdone, stood in the pocket for what seemed like minutes, surveying the field before deciding whether to pass or take off running. He finished 20-for-21 passing and threw for 249 yards and two touchdowns in the game. As evidenced by his 20 straight completions spanning more than two quarters, the balls he threw rarely hit the turf.
“I thought he played exceptionally well and moved the ball well,” Pinkel said. “Over all, their offense did a nice job.”
The Gamecocks had their way on kick returns as well, zig-zagging around Missouri’s coverage team as if each defender were standing in mud.
South Carolina returner Ace Sanders got it started midway through the second quarter when he fielded a low line-drive punt from Trey Barrow at his own 49-yard line. He ran a few yards forward before colliding with his own player, stopping him in his tracks.
He started up again quickly, though, breaking into a hole on the right side of the field and taking off. Cornerback Kip Edwards attempted to strip the ball, but came away with nothing, as Sanders broke away and was finally pushed out of bounds at the 4-yard line. The play led to a touchdown run by Lattimore and a 7-0 lead for South Carolina.
“That was an underclassman mistake I made,” Edwards said after the loss. “I should’ve just made the tackle. I blame the whole momentum shift and way the game went on me, because if I make that tackle, we probably would’ve stopped them and the game would still be 0-0.”
Nothing seemed to go right Saturday for Missouri. The more South Carolina moved the ball, the more easily it shook off tackles. Shaw had minimal difficulty finding his receivers, as if they were playing catch in the front yard.
Undoubtedly, Missouri will try to forget about the results of their trip to the other Columbia. The synthesizers and pounding drums of “Sandstorm,” both catchy and haunting, may not let them.