(Photo Credit: Ryan Leopando- Arch City Sports)
The #16 Missouri Tigers (10-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC play) are headed back to Atlanta to take on the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1, 7-1) in the SEC championship game. The Tigers defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks a week ago to clinch their second straight SEC east title in the past three years.
Last year in the SEC championship game the Missouri Tigers fell to the Auburn Tigers in what was a high scoring affair. While Missouri hammered Auburn through the air, Nick Marshall and Tre Mason were the stars as Auburn amassed 545 yards on the ground in the 59-42 victory.
For the Tigers it’s been quite the roller coaster of a season. After starting the season 3-0 a costly loss at home to Indiana put their entire season in jeopardy. Missouri responded with a 21-20 victory on the road at #13 South Carolina to put its season back on track.
Following a 34-0 route at home at the hands of Georgia it appeared as though Missouri would play second fiddle to Georgia the rest of the year in the east. However, backed by a strong defense the Tigers were able to win six in a row, while holding opponents to an average of a mere 17 points per game.
The defense has been the focal point for Missouri as its offense has struggled to perform consistently. The defensive end combo of Shane Ray and Markus Golden combined for 22 total sacks during the regular season. The pair will play an important role in tomorrow’s game as limiting the Blake Sims to Amari Cooper connection will be crucial if Missouri wants to come away with the win.
Cooper is arguably the most explosive wide receiver in the NCAA and is coming off an incredible regular season. The junior wide out is among the league leaders in yards (1,573), touchdowns (14), and yards per catch (15.3). He’s certainly going to give the Tiger defensive backs trouble, so it will be crucial that the Missouri offense performs, come Saturday.
Though Maty Mauk has struggled in his first full year at the starting quarterback position and he hasn’t been helped by the fact that he’s had to deal with a banged up receiving group for most of the regular season. Bud Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, and Darius White will all need to step up on Saturday. Dropped balls, which have been an issue throughout the season can’t happen if they want to score on a defense that gives up an average of 17 points per game.
If Mauk makes good decisions and the line gives him adequate protection that will open up holes for Missouri’s two most elusive offensive players, Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough. Murphy and Hansbrough have shown their ability to break tackles and find the end zone as the pair has totaled a little less than 1,700 yards rushing and has a combined for 13 touchdowns. Look for Gary Pinkel to ride these two guys early and often in an effort to manage the clock.
On the Alabama side Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide will look to continue to ride Sims and Cooper through their versatile and high powered offense. As mentioned before Cooper poses the biggest threat on the field, but Sims is equally as dangerous having thrown for nearly 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns.
Alabama also has the luxury of two dominant backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry. The combo backs have combined for over 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns. With so many weapons to worry about, Dave Steckel and the Missouri defense is going to have their hands full to say the least.
On paper the Tide and the Tigers have similar numbers despite strength of schedule. Missouri matches up better with Alabama and the pocket passer than they would against Mississippi St. or Auburn’s dual threat quarterback. The biggest difficulty for Missouri will be limiting the many weapons that Alabama has, while Alabama will need to limit the deep ball and protect Sims from the feisty Tiger defensive line.
Missouri will have to limit penalties, which have been a big problem for the team throughout the year and minimize unforced errors. However, if they can control the clock and use the ground to attack they’ll have a chance.
Gary Pinkel said, “What you got to do is focus on playing your best, play by play by play, regardless of what happens, getting back to playing your best the next snap. That’s what we’re talking more about, how we play.”
That’s exactly the mentality the Tigers need going up against SEC’s juggernaut, one play at a time.
Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. on CBS
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