Missouri earned its first Southeastern Conference win last Saturday at Faurot Field, prevailing 33-10 over Kentucky. Years from now, if you’re telling future generations about the historic win, you have my permission to embellish just a little to pretty things up.
In reality, it was an ugly win. A strong wind made simply fielding punts an adventure, snaps were botched, and offenses sputtered. Two teams winless in SEC play looked the part for a good chunk of the afternoon.
But Saturday certainly had highlights for Missouri (4-4, 1-4 in SEC play), such as defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson stripping the ball and returning it 60 yards, thwarting a potential Kentucky score on the first drive of the game.
After Corbin Berkstresser threw two third quarter interceptions with Missouri trying to hold a 17-10 lead, James Franklin came into the game, despite being too injured to make his usual start at quarterback. With Franklin in, the Tigers ran the ball 20 times and passed it nine times. This was precisely what Missouri needed to do to put the game away. The Tigers ran the ball 47 times Saturday, led by Kendial Lawrence (108 yards), Marcus Murphy (43 yards) and Russell Hansbrough (37 yards).
Feeble Kentucky (1-8, 0-6) was not a threat to come back so long as Missouri stopped turning the ball over, which the Tigers eventually did. After the first quarter, Kentucky posted just 59 yards of offense.
Field position was huge Saturday, as it seems to be each week in the SEC. Just look at Missouri’s scoring drives against Kentucky: 25, 12, 52, 34 and 12 yards. Missouri needs to win the field position battle to have a chance to win; the Tiger offense needs short fields.
Winning will be a tall order on Saturday, when the Tigers travel to “The Swamp” to take on No. 8 Florida (7-1, 6-1 in SEC play) and its stout defense. The game is at 11 a.m. on ESPN2.
Florida is second in the SEC in points allowed per game, at 12.8, trailing only otherworldly Alabama. Safety Josh Evans, linebacker Jonathan Bostic and tackle Sharrif Floyd lead the nasty Florida defense.
Florida has had some offensive struggles of its own, however, on display in its 17-9 loss to Georgia last Saturday. The Gators are 11th in the SEC in offensive yards per game; Missouri is 12th.
Despite Florida’s occasional offensive struggles, the Gators have some weapons in speedy dual-threat quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Mike Gillislee, who has ran for 729 yards and seven touchdowns this season.
Florida is no doubt smarting from that loss to rival Georgia, which will likely cost the Gators the SEC East title, and Missouri is a 16-point underdog. At Missouri, coach Gary Pinkel is 3-17 against top-10 teams, with none of the three wins coming in a road game.
The Swamp can be daunting, but it would be nice to see Missouri at least be competitive, establish the ground game and have its defense keep the game close. The Tigers have an SEC win, but life in the conference rolls on with yet another tough test against one of the nation’s better defenses.