Sunday, November 4, 2012

After loss in the Swamp, Tigers head to Rocky Top

For big-time college football, it’s about wins and losses, and Missouri has been losing more than winning lately. That being said, Tiger fans probably were more impressed with the team’s effort in last Saturday’s 14-7 loss at then-No. 8 Florida than in the team’s win over bumbling Kentucky the week before.

Missouri (4-5, 1-5 in SEC play) led 7-0 at the half and battled to the end with the Gators (8-1, 7-1 in SEC play) before over 90,000 fans in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, menacingly known as the Swamp. Since Steve Spurrier became Florida’s head coach in 1990 and ushered in the modern, dominant era of Gator football, Florida is now 127-18 in this daunting venue. That’s 18 home losses in 23 seasons.

And yet, largely on the strength of its own defense, Missouri found itself with the ball in the game’s final minutes, driving for a touchdown that would force overtime, or give the Tigers a chance to go for two and the win. But the touchdown never came, as quarterback James Franklin tossed his fourth interception of the day, in the end zone.

It was a brutal day for Franklin, still feeling some effects from the knee injury that caused him to miss the previous two games. He completed just 24 of 51 passes. He faced extreme pressure from Florida’s outstanding defensive line, and running back Kendial Lawrence was largely bottled up, making things that much more difficult. Missouri moved into Florida territory on its last six drives, but got no points out of these drives, largely due to those turnovers.

However, Franklin is still Missouri’s best option at quarterback right now. Freshman backup Corbin Berkstresser has showed his limitations this season, and it isn’t worth it to cost redshirting Maty Mauk a year of eligibility by playing him now, with only three games left.

Missouri needs to win two of those three games to run its streak of bowl appearances to eight.
Missouri’s game at Tennessee on Saturday (11:20 a.m. on SEC network, to be broadcast on a local channel; check listings) could quite possibly be one of those needed wins. Tennessee (4-5, 0-5 in SEC play) opened the week as a slight favorite, but the Volunteers are vulnerable.

Tennessee’s struggles have put coach Derek Dooley on the hot seat, but the Volunteers have faced a rugged SEC schedule so far. Tennessee’s five SEC opponents so far are Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State, Alabama and South Carolina. All have winning records in SEC play. The Vols’ close with Missouri, Vanderbilt and Kentucky, which are a combined 4-15 in SEC play.

Tennessee earned a wild 55-48 win over Troy last week. Tennessee gave up 721 yards. The Volunteer defense has had issues this season, but the offense can be potent, leading to near-wins at Georgia and South Carolina.

The Tigers should be able to score, but Tennessee’s offense should also cause plenty of post-score renditions of “Rocky Top.” For anyone nostalgic about the Tigers’ old conference, this one may have the feel of a Big 12 shootout. It’ll just be played on Rocky Top in Neyland Stadium, another classic SEC venue.

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