Monday, September 17, 2012

Tigers survive ASU, face tough test at South Carolina

Last Saturday, Missouri was in full-blown survival mode. With starting quarterback James Franklin out, coach Gary Pinkel telling a national television audience it was Franklin’s decision not to play, and the Tigers’ offensive line pieced together due to ongoing injury troubles, Missouri scratched out a 24-7 lead due in part to Arizona State’s blunders.

But then the Sun Devils stormed back, scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns to put the heat on the Tigers, then driving to the Missouri one-yard line in the closing minutes. It was a game Missouri had to have, given the upcoming schedule. But the Tiger defense dug in and held, keeping disaster a yard away, then got a last-minute interception by Kenronte Walker in the end zone on Arizona State’s next drive to seal the win and move the Tigers to 2-1.

It was in a sloppy win, but survival can be admirable. Offensive coordinator Dave Yost called a more conservative game plan to help backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser, with shorter passes and plenty of quick slants to old reliable, T.J. Moe. Berkstresser played well enough for Missouri to win, completing 21 of 41 passes for 198 yards and just one interception.

Next week, Missouri will need a better effort as they travel to Columbia, S.C., to play No. 7 South Carolina (2:30 p.m. on CBS). The Gamecocks (3-0) have some quarterback injury issues of their own. Starter Connor Shaw hurt his shoulder in the opener at Vanderbilt, missed the team’s second game, then re-injured it last week in the Gamecocks’ win over UAB. Coach Steve Spurier said Shaw should play, but don’t be surprised to see backup Dylan Thompson play some as well.

Either way, expect star running back Marcus Lattimore to get a heavy dose of carries for the Gamecocks.

On Missouri’s side, Franklin said he should be ready to go next week. (Pinkel confirmed Monday that if Franklin is healthy enough, he's the starter.) He would surely be thrilled to get to play, although facing the ferocious South Carolina defensive line is not an enviable task. Keeping the thoroughly terrifying defensive end Jadeveon Clowney off of the Tiger quarterback is a top priority. Clowney recorded eight sacks as a freshman last year and has three in three games this year.

But wait, there’s more. The 6-foot-6 Clowney is actually the shorter of the two starting defensive ends, lined up on the opposite side of the 6-foot-8 Devin Taylor.

The game is in the classic SEC time slot on CBS. The Georgia game was Missouri’s SEC kickoff; this first SEC road game, on CBS, with the venerable Verne Lundquist on the call, is the Tigers’ immersion into the world of the SEC.

Pinkel is 3-15 against top-10 teams at Missouri, with all three wins coming in the state of Missouri (Nebraska in 2003 and Oklahoma in 2010 in Columbia, Kansas in 2007 in Kansas City). Can Missouri get him his first top-10 road win? The defense will have to do the heavy lifting, with the Tigers’ offense currently last in the SEC in yards per play. Crazy things happen in college football, but a win at Williams-Brice Stadium is a tall order for the Tigers right now.

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