Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Missouri defeats Ole Miss, one win from SEC East title

This column and the ones below it posted today are my Mizzou newspaper columns for the past several weeks. Didn't get them posted, but I usually put them up on here, so here they are in case anyone wants to take a look at them. 

Ole Miss can put on a show. The picturesque college town of Oxford provides a fantastic setting for college football. The school’s famous tailgating area, the Grove, lives up to the hype. Inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the giant flags waving, the Rebelettes and their sparkling uniforms,  the band playing that catchy “Dixie” tune and the frenzied fans waving red pom-poms create on overload of sights and sounds.

On this stage, the Missouri Tigers (10-1, 6-1 in SEC play) put on a show of their own last Saturday. Missouri scored a touchdown on a Henry Josey run less than three minutes into the game, and the Tigers won the battle along the line of scrimmage on both offense and defense in a 24-10 win.

It was a cold night in Mississippi, and Ole Miss, ranked No. 24 in the AP poll, can be dangerous. But Missouri managed to keep the Rebels (7-4, 3-4 in SEC) at bay. MU estimated at least 8,000 Tiger fans made the trip to Oxford, and the fans in black-and-gold were a noticeable presence during the game.

Quarterback James Franklin, making his first start after suffering an injury against Georgia, played well enough to win, completing 12 of 19 passes while the Tigers’ ground game rolled up 260 rushing yards. Missouri ran out the last 8:08 to seal the game by running the ball 13 straight times before going into the victory formation and taking a knee.

It was another quality win in this remarkable season, one that set up an epic regular-season finale at Faurot Field on Saturday against Texas A&M (6:45 p.m. on ESPN). If Missouri wins, the Tigers will play the winner of Alabama and Auburn’s “Iron Bowl” rivalry game (2:30 p.m. on CBS) in the Dec. 7 SEC Championship Game. With the Tigers at No. 5 in the latest BCS standings, Missouri is a loss by Ohio State or Florida State away from having a clear path to the national championship game.

But the immediate future is a tough test against the Aggies (8-3, 4-3 in SEC). Texas A&M (No. 19 in AP poll, No. 21 Coaches poll) features the thrilling, somewhat polarizing Johnny Manziel, known as “Johnny Football.” Manziel won the Heisman last year, and he’s piling up massive numbers again this year, albeit with a few more interceptions. Manziel can be a maddeningly elusive runner, and he has a tremendous target in receiver Mike Evans.

The Aggies’ offense is scoring 45.6 points per game, sixth in the nation, but the suspect A&M defense is giving up 31.2 points per game, 89th in the nation.

Last week’s loss at LSU likely ended A&M’s BCS bowl hopes and Manziel’s repeat Heisman campaign, so Missouri would appear to have greater motivation here.

A year ago, Missouri ended a tough season with a humbling loss at Texas A&M. Now, the Tigers play the Aggies in an SEC East-clinching game. Whatever happens, Tiger fans will remember this game for a long time.

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