Missouri entered its Southeastern Conference opener against South Carolina needing a win to keep its high hopes for the season intact.

The Tigers overcame not only the self-described “desperate” Gamecocks but also the mental images of heartbreak against their SEC rivals from years past.

The MU defense showed no signs of hesitation or anguish as it took over Saturday’s matchup at Faurot Field and launched the Tigers to a 34-14 victory over South Carolina in front of an announced crowd of 52,012.

It was Missouri’s first win against the Gamecocks since 2015 and in the tenure of head coach Barry Odom.

The Tigers improve to 3-1 heading into their first bye week of the season. They’ll return to action Oct. 5 at home in their nonconference finale against Troy.

The victory is Missouri’s first in its SEC opener since 2014, a 21-20 road win over South Carolina.

The Gamecocks fall to 1-3 and 0-2 in the conference after losing against Alabama last week.

South Carolina posted nearly 600 yards of total offense against the Crimson Tide last weekend but was held to 271 yards on Saturday, only 185 of which came with MU’s first-team defense in the game. The Tigers finished with 421 yards of total offense.

“They played hard and they executed,” Missouri head coach Barry Odom said of his team. “There weren’t mental busts and we matched the tempo. It was an outstanding performance.”

South Carolina took the first huge momentum swing of the game, stopping Missouri on downs after the Tigers set up with first-and-goal from the Gamecocks' 3-yard line.

On the ensuing third down for South Carolina, Missouri swatted a pass from true freshman quarterback Ryan Hilinski that he caught and then threw down to the ground behind him. Cale Garrett fell on the loose ball in the end zone. It was originally called an illegal forward pass, but after a booth review, it was switched to a Tigers’ defensive touchdown.

While there were 22 players on the field at the time, Garrett was the lone man to have the awareness to fall on the pigskin.

“It just looked like he maintained possession and made an effort to actually throw it down and it happened to be backwards too,” Garrett said of the play. “Might as well get on it. That's what we're coached to do.”

Garrett said he’d never been a part of a play like that before. Chris Turner, the MU defender who knocked the pass back to Hilinski, said he just saw South Carolina’s quarterback catch the ball and throw it down, not necessarily Garrett falling on it.

“(Our coaches) stress that every day, any ball that’s on the ground,” Turner said. “... I guess it’s just out of habit for Cale, he’s always one of the ones to pick it up, always one of the ones hustling down to the ball. I guess it was just natural for him.”

While the Tigers’ offensive line and starting quarterback Kelly Bryant couldn’t find traction for a majority of the first half, it was their defense that helped them stay on top.

South Carolina only gained 30 yards before the break, and MU held Hilinski to three first-half passing yards.

Odom saluted the game plan put together by MU defensive coordinator Ryan Walters and other staff members that led to “probably as dominating of a performance defensively that I’ve been around, at least in some time.”

On the first play of the second half, Hilinski connected with senior wide receiver Bryan Edwards for a 75-yard touchdown off a screen pass to bring South Carolina within three points of tying the game. That was the closest the Gamecocks would get the rest of the way and the last time they’d score.

That Hilinski-to-Edwards connection proved to be the Gamecocks’ only major gain of the day. Their other touchdown came on a 1-yard drive after Bryant threw an interception.

Turner echoed Odom in saying Saturday was one of the best defensive performances he’s been a part of.

“Top-three definitely. I don’t think I’ve seen anything better than that,” Turner said. “I love each and every one of these guys. We all played our butts off.”

Missouri responded with a drive where its run and pass attacks meshed well. It ended with Bryant finding running back Tyler Badie for a 21-yard touchdown.

Safety Ronnell Perkins thwarted the Gamecocks’ next drive by returning a Hilinski pass 100 yards for a touchdown.