Monday, September 24, 2012

Tigers blown out at South Carolina, need win at UCF

There is no shame losing on the road to a top-10 team, but Missouri’s humbling 31-10 loss at then-No. 7 South Carolina last Saturday was still troubling for Tiger fans.

Primarily, for more than three hours, the game drove home how big the gap is right now between Missouri (2-2, 0-2 in SEC play) and the top of the SEC East Division.

South Carolina’s imposing defensive line pressured Missouri quarterback James Franklin all day. The Gamecocks held the Tigers to just 255 yards of offense, 75 of which came on a late touchdown drive against South Carolina’s backup defenders playing prevent defense.

Despite a pretty inspired performance by defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson in the first half, Missouri’s defense missed far too many tackles and allowed South Carolina’s Connor Shaw to complete 20 consecutive passes; his only incompletion was his first pass of the game. Even on special teams, Missouri seemed outgunned.

Missouri is now 2-2, just like it was last year. The upside is that the two East preseason favorites are in the rearview mirror, the downside is that games with No. 1 Alabama and rising Florida remain.
It’s not time to panic about this Missouri team, but if they lose one of the next two games, at Central Florida or home against Vanderbilt, things could really come off the rails.

Looking at the road ahead, the home game with Alabama on Oct. 13 looks like a loss, and the home games against wobbly Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Syracuse look like wins. That leaves four road games, at UCF, Florida, Tennessee and Texas A&M to provide the swings up or down for this team. I said 7-5 at the start of the season, and I’ll stick with that for now.

First is the tricky trip to play at Central Florida on Saturday (11 a.m. on Fox Sports Network). It’s a critical game for Missouri if they’re going to get to that aforementioned 7-5 mark, not to mention the 6-6 required for bowl eligibility.

UCF won the Conference USA title in 2010 and beat Georgia in Liberty Bowl that year. The Knights took a step back last year, falling to 5-7. But they had six losses by seven points or less, and UCF is a C-USA contender again this season. They are 2-1 on the season with the loss being a competitive game at Ohio State. Off a bye week, their fans should be excited and loud, hosting an SEC school.

Former Missouri quarterback Tyler Gabbert, Blaine’s little brother, is a backup at UCF, but sophomore Blake Bortles seems to have a firm grip on the starting job. The terrifically named running back Storm Johnson gives the Knights some ground punch. UCF has a pretty stout defense as well.

Missouri can win, but I think the Tigers need to go on the attack offensively. I know they’ve faced some great defenses, but Missouri has seemed overly concerned with reacting to what opposing defenses do. Missouri should attack downfield and get its athletic receivers involved, or lose trying to do so.

UCF started the week as a slight favorite in the game, but it’s one Missouri has to have.

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