Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Missouri hammers Tennessee, maintains SEC East lead

Missouri bounced back in a big way from its double overtime loss to South Carolina, hammering Tennessee 31-3 last Saturday and moving one game closer to Atlanta, site of the SEC Championship Game.

First-year Tennessee coach Butch Jones appears to be a solid coach and may one day get the Volunteers back up and running at the level their fans expect, but last Saturday was not that day. Like most of Missouri’s games this season, the Tigers were simply the better team, and it showed.

After a wobbly first couple of offensive drives, Missouri (8-1, 4-1 in SEC play) engineered a 63-yard touchdown drive, starting a stretch that saw Missouri score on four of five drives and take a commanding 24-3 lead into the half.

Missouri rolled up 502 yards of offense, including 339 yards on the ground. The Tiger defense held Tennessee (4-5, 1-4 in SEC play) to just 94 rushing yards on 24 attempts, despite the Volunteers’ talented offensive line, and 334 yards overall.

Add in the three turnovers forced by the Tiger defense, the 39th straight game Missouri has forced a turnover, and you can see how this was a blowout.

Meanwhile, the Missouri offense was turnover free. Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk completed just 12 of his 25 passes and is completing just 48.9 percent for the season (maligned backup Corbin Berkstresser completed 49.7 percent last season), but he has only thrown two interceptions this season and ran for 114 yards against the Volunteers.

After the win, Missouri climbed to No. 9 in the AP and Coaches polls and No. 8 in the BCS standings. The Tigers also maintained their lead in the SEC East.

Regular starting quarterback James Franklin could be back as soon as next week at Kentucky, but Mauk has proven to be an adequate replacement. The Tigers can win with Mauk.

Missouri could probably win with a number of players at quarterback this weekend when it travels to Kentucky on Saturday (11 a.m. on ESPNU).

There is excitement, even hysteria, among Kentucky fans this time of year, but as usual it is for the start of basketball season, where the Wildcats are ranked No. 1.

Kentucky football, however, is riding a 12-game losing streak in SEC play. The Wildcats (2-6, 0-4 in SEC play) have a first-year coach in Mark Stoops and seem to be marginally better than last year, but this is still a game Missouri should win fairly comfortably.

Jalen Whitlow appears to have the quarterback job at the moment, having shared time with Maxwell Smith this season. Whitlow passed for 187 yards and ran for 101 last week, but that was against Alabama State.

Kentucky has had some competitive losses in SEC play this year, losing by seven at South Carolina and by six at Mississippi State, and this one is a road game for the Tigers. But I would still expect for Missouri be able to handle Kentucky and head into its bye week with another win.

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