Monday, October 15, 2012

Three things we've learned in Missouri's first SEC season

Last Saturday at Faurot Field, Missouri’s game with No. 1 Alabama had a metaphorical thunderbolt on the second play, as Crimson Tide running back Eddie Lacy rumbled 73 yards for a touchdown. In the second quarter, just as Alabama scored to go up 27-0, an actual thunderbolt relatively near the stadium delayed the game, as though the weather was Missouri’s boxing trainer, throwing in the towel in a fight that was out of hand.

Missouri (3-4, 0-4 in Southeastern Conference games) did get a Marcus Murphy kick return for a touchdown after the delay, but Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) added a couple of second-half touchdowns for a 42-10 win. Alabama outgained the Tigers 533-129 in total yards.

Alabama is one of the best teams Missouri has faced in coach Gary Pinkel’s 12 seasons, and they have dominated every opponent this year, so this loss doesn’t generate outrage.

Fortunately, Missouri has a bye week after facing physical Alabama. As the Tigers regroup, here are three things we’ve learned from the first half of Missouri’s inaugural SEC campaign.

1. SEC fans are as zealous as advertised
It seems arbitrary to me to say SEC fans care more than those in other conferences. As Missouri fans can attest through the years, it’s pretty important to folks in Nebraska and Oklahoma how their Huskers and Sooners fare. Nebraska, after all, is the one with the ongoing record for consecutive sellouts, dating to the Kennedy administration.

But SEC fans do seem particularly crazy and zealous in how they live out their passion for their teams. This fall I’ve already heard about Tennessee fans with their team’s logo on their glass eyes and Alabama fans who survived an emergency private plane landing only to abandon their aircraft and hitchhike to the game. SEC fans also seem eager to tell their tales of fanaticism, as part of the conference’s culture.

2. Sheldon Richardson is having an outstanding season

From saying Georgia played “old man football” early in the season to being heard screaming in the locker room after Missouri’s loss to Vanderbilt, the defensive tackle has had an eventful season off the field. But despite that, and Missouri’s on-field disappointments, it’s undeniable Richardson is having an outstanding season on the field.

Just watch a Mizzou game and notice how often big No. 34 is the one making the tackle, or pressuring the quarterback, or forcing a fumble. The only drawback is Richardson is playing well enough that he is likely gone to the NFL after this season.

3. Missouri has work to do to compete in the SEC

Missouri is 0-4 in conference games for the first time since 1999.

I don’t think the gap between the SEC and the Big 12 is the Grand Canyon, but the conferences do feature different styles of play. Missouri will probably need to build depth on its lines to compete in the SEC. Getting a back who can grind out the tough yards would help as well.

But five games of this season still remain, starting with the Homecoming game against Kentucky on Oct. 27 (11 a.m. on ESPNU).

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