Sunday, November 18, 2012

Tigers must beat A&M to play in a bowl

Missouri’s lost season took a turn for the worse on a chilly November night at Faurot Field last Saturday. A mediocre Big East team, Syracuse (6-5), came to Columbia and snatched the win away from the Tigers (5-6, 2-5 in Southeastern Conference play), one Missouri desperately needed to secure bowl eligibility.

Early on, it looked like a game one would expect with an SEC team hosting a Big East team. Missouri raced to a 17-3 lead, but a Syracuse touchdown before the half ensured this would not be easy for the Tigers.

The Orange tied the game at 17 in the fourth, triggering a shootout of sorts as both teams fought for their sixth win, which means bowl eligibility. Missouri kicked a field goal with less than two minutes to go, but steady senior quarterback Ryan Nassib and the Orange sliced through the Missouri defense for the winning touchdown.

Adding insult on Syracuse’s winning touchdown was that it came when Missouri left Orange receiver Alec Lemon, who had only racked up a mere 227 receiving yards so far, wide open. Lemon ran a wheel route as Missouri blitzed, and due to a coverage breakdown he was able to cruise easily into the end zone with 20 seconds left. Missouri had no answer for Lemon, who finished with 12 catches for 244 yards and two touchdowns, but leaving him all alone had to be frustrating for the Tigers.

Missouri was playing without defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, its best defender, suspended for breaking team rules. Quarterback James Franklin was knocked out of the game with a head injury in the fourth quarter.

It was the latest adversity faced by the Tigers this season, and the latest example of Missouri being unable to overcome it.

This one will reverberate. Missouri finished the season 3-4 at home, despite generally bigger home crowds and an enthusiasm boost from the move to the SEC. Getting to 6-6 and playing in a lower-tier bowl is nothing to brag about, with over half of Football Bowl Subdivision teams playing in bowls. But going 5-7 and missing a bowl in this day and age is awful. Barring a huge upset at Texas A&M on Saturday (6 p.m. on ESPN2), Missouri will not play in a bowl for the first time since the 2004 season.

Due to schedule quirks, this is Missouri’s third trip in three years to “The Home of the 12th Man.” Missouri won there each of the last two seasons, but this year the Aggies are favored by more than two touchdowns.

Texas A&M (9-2, 5-2 in SEC play) is led by freshman quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Johnny Manziel, known by adoring Aggie fans as “Johnny Football.” Manziel led Texas A&M to a stunning upset at then-No. 1 Alabama on Nov. 10, and last week he became the first freshman to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season.

If Missouri’s defense plays its best game, I could see the Tigers hanging around, but it’s tough to see them getting the win.

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