COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Oops, Deebo Samuel did it again.
With the Gamecocks trailing by 10 early in the second quarter at Missouri, the junior “spark plug” dialed up one of his vintage electric, momentum-shifting plays.
He took a kickoff at the three-yard line and a few cuts and broken tackles later, he was sprinting down the sidlelines and celebrating in the end zone after a touchdown.
It ignited a three-play series that led to a Jamyest Williams’ interception two plays after the kickoff return touchdown and another Samuel touchdown, this time on a jet sweep.
The Gamecocks went from trailing by 10 with 13:07 to go in the first half to leading 14-10 with only 30 seconds of game time off the clock.
“He’s that guy. He’s that guy that wants to make the big play, wants the ball in his hands,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “He’s just an incredible guy to have on our team.”
But Samuel’s return wasn’t the only big swing on special teams. The Gamecocks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) dominated the third phase of the game against the Tigers in Saturday’s 31-13 victory.
The Gamecocks blocked a field goal near the end of the first half to maintain a four-point lead, and Javon Charleston blocked a Missouri player into a punt returner to force a fumble and give the offense the ball back in a pivotal fourth quarter.
Punter Joesph Charlton also rattled off a 73-yard punt in the first quarter. He averaged 42.4 yards per punt Saturday. Alex Woznick was 1-for-2 on field goal attempts and four of Parker White’s six kickoffs went for touchbacks.
The special teams unit was able to stop Missouri from building any kind of momentum throughout the game and it led to a 31-13 win on the road.
“It’s huge,” Hayden Hurst said. “It’s another facet of the game where we can improve, get better. It helps our defense; it helps our offense too.”
The Gamecocks spend hours every week working on different schemes on kickoff and punt returns.
Samuel said special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler installs a new scheme on kickoff return every week to keep things fresh and opposing teams guessing.
“Coleman Hutzler doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does on special teams,” head coach Will Muschamp said.
Along with Samuel’s 97 return yards, A.J. Turner also broke a 23-yard return to give the Gamecocks good starting field position after Missouri cut the lead to eight points.
Bentley led the team down on that drive inside the red zone and Alex Woznick kicked a field goal to push the lead back to two scores.
The focus will be on Samuel and the game-changing kickoff return he made, though. He became the first Gamecock to take a kickoff back for a touchdown in back-to-back games since King Dixon did it in 1957.
It gives him three career returns for touchdown.
“When you have a guy like Deebo Samuel, it’s going to make it look good because he’s going to make some guys miss,” Muschamp said. “He’s a competitive guy. He’s going to go after it every snap.”
His teammates see it, too, and it’s something they love watching, whether it’s while they’re blocking for him or watching him speed past on the sidelines.
“He can go for seven anytime,” Bryan Edwards said. “He’s just special, man.”