Thursday, October 17, 2013

Missouri earns huge win at Georgia, takes SEC East lead

Deep into the Civil War, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman sent a telegram saying he intended to “make Georgia howl!” Sherman went on to do just that, cutting a swath of destruction through Georgia and dealing a crippling blow to the Confederacy.

On Saturday, after Missouri dealt No. 7 Georgia a 41-26 loss in Athens, Tiger offensive lineman Max Copeland said he had been reading about that quote and Gen. Sherman, who happens to be buried in Missouri.

The win resounded across the nation and a proud conference, Missouri’s first big splash in the SEC. It was a crippling blow to Georgia’s national title hopes and one of the biggest wins of Gary Pinkel’s 13-year tenure as Missouri’s head coach. It was a statement win that Missouri can compete in the SEC after a disappointing debut season.

Missouri (6-0, 2-0 in SEC play) got a measure of payback for last year’s loss to Georgia in the Tigers’ first SEC game.

Clinging to a 28-26 lead in the fourth quarter, with quarterback James Franklin knocked out with an injury, Missouri stabilized itself with a 40-yard trick play touchdown, when receiver Bud Sasser caught a backwards pass then heaved the ball into the end zone, into the arms of L’Damian Washington, and into the memories of Tiger fans.

Georgia gained more yards than Missouri, but the Tigers forced four turnovers, including two interceptions and a fumble from Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray.

Yes, Georgia did have some injuries to key offensive players, but this was still Pinkel’s first road win over a top-10 team. It also lifted the Tigers to No. 14 in the AP and Coaches polls and put Missouri in the driver’s seat in the SEC East race. Next up are two massive home games with Florida and South Carolina.

Missouri will be without Franklin for at least a few weeks, and possibly the rest of the regular season due to his shoulder injury. That puts the pressure on freshman backup Maty Mauk, who at least has the benefit of stepping into a very good offense, with plenty of athletic receivers, a deep stable of running backs and an offensive line that is much healthier than last year acting like those arm band flotation devices kids use as they head into the deep end.

The Tiger offense faces one of the nation’s best defenses when Florida (4-2, 3-1 in SEC play) comes to town on Saturday (11:21 a.m., SEC TV, shown on a local channel, check listings).

Florida has held 13 straight SEC opponents to 20 or fewer points.

Florida, ranked No. 22 after a physical loss at LSU last Saturday, is far less dangerous on offense. But the Gators do have a decent ground game with running back Mack Brown, but Matt Jones is out for the season with an injury. Florida also lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season, but backup Tyler Murphy has actually looked better as the Gators’ new starter.

Half of the season remains, but the next two Saturdays in Columbia will go a long way in determining who wins the SEC East.

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