Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Missouri beats Florida, takes control in SEC East

Friday was a near-perfect college football scene for Missouri fans. Fans packed old Faurot Field, the first sellout of the season. It was a crisp, sunny fall afternoon, with blue skies and those old trees that peek over the south edge of the stadium beginning their annual autumn color change. And, of course, Missouri hammered then-No. 22 Florida 36-17 to advance to 7-0.

This wasn’t just the product of a team getting on a roll or riding a raucous home crowd to a win, although Missouri is a hot team and the Faurot fans were into the game. Missouri (7-0, 3-0 in SEC play) is simply better than Florida (4-3, 3-2 in SEC), and it showed.

The Gators couldn’t cover Missouri’s big, athletic receivers. Freshman Maty Mauk, making his first start in place of the injured James Franklin, came out firing, completing passes of 41 and 20 yards for a two-play, 22-second touchdown drive. Mauk threw an interception, but he had a big rushing touchdown and generally looked like a quarterback Missouri can continuing winning with.

The Missouri defense continued to be a turnover-inducing, quarterback-sacking menace. The Tigers lead the SEC in both turnover differential and sacks.

The win launched the Tigers up to No. 5 in the Associated Press poll and No. 7 in the Coaches poll. Missouri made the jump in part because of how resounding its win was, and in part because half of the top-10 teams in the AP poll lost last weekend, the first time that’s happened since the wild 2007 season.
It’s beginning to feel a lot like 2007 for Tiger fans, when Missouri went 12-2 and finished No. 4 in the final AP poll. Missouri is again contending for its first conference title since 1969, and maybe even more. In the first Bowl Championship Series standings, which determine who plays in the national championship game, Missouri is No. 5.

Thanks to Georgia’s loss at Vanderbilt and South Carolina’s loss at Tennessee on Saturday, Missouri has a two-game lead in the SEC East race, with the Tigers undefeated and Georgia, South Carolina and Florida all having two SEC losses.

That’s a great position, although Missouri still has five SEC games to navigate, starting with its Homecoming game against No. 20 South Carolina on Saturday (6 p.m. on ESPN2).

The Gamecocks (5-2, 3-2 in SEC) may be without starting quarterback Connor Shaw due to a knee sprain, but backup Dylan Thompson is among the SEC’s more experienced backups, throwing for over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns last year when Shaw was out.

On the ground, Missouri is second and South Carolina is third in the SEC in rushing yards per game.
South Carolina also has a dangerous pass rush led by end Jadeveon Clowney. Clowney’s sack numbers are down this year, perhaps due to increased attention from offensive lines, but he can still be a game-changer.

In short, South Carolina is a stout test for the Tigers. With Tigers leading the SEC East standings, the games are getting bigger each week.

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