Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Missouri keeps rolling heading into bye week

Last Saturday, in Missouri’s tenth game of the year, the Tigers overwhelmed Kentucky (2-7, 0-5 in SEC play) for a 48-17 road win, maintaining their SEC East lead.

After a slow start for Missouri (9-1, 5-1 in SEC) and an early 3-0 lead for Kentucky, the Tigers racked up four straight touchdown drives to take a 28-3 lead and control of the game.

Freshman quarterback Maty Mauk tied a school record with five touchdown passes, and sophomore receiver Dorial Green-Beckham set a school record with four touchdown catches.

Missouri (No. 8 in Coaches poll, No. 9 AP, No. 9 BCS) is at most two wins away from playing in the SEC championship game.

How did we get here? Just last year, Missouri needed a comeback win in its tenth game just to improve to 5-5, and the Tigers would lose their last two games and miss a bowl.

As Missouri heads into a bye week, its a decent time to ask why this year has been so different.

Missouri did have significant injuries last season. The Tigers have not had as many key injuries this year, but they have had some significant ones, and the team has done a better job coping with them.
Mauk has been a better runner and thrown fewer interceptions in relief of injured quarterback James Franklin than Corbin Berkstresser last year. Also, Missouri’s best cornerback, E.J. Gaines, missed games due to injury, but the rest of the defense stepped up. In particular, Missouri’s pass rush has been ferocious, which takes pressure off the defensive backs. Missouri had 27 sacks last season. The Tigers have 34 sacks so far this year, with two regular season games left to play.

Missouri also has a much better running game this season. The Tigers averaged 139 rushing yards per game last year. This year, with a healthier, more experienced offensive line, plus the return of Henry Josey, Missouri is averaging 235.8 rushing yards per game, 16th in the nation.

The talented receiving corps has also had more of an impact, which goes hand-in-hand with the improvement in the other offensive position groups.

The Missouri defense has been much better, despite losing star defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson to the NFL Draft. The Tigers are giving up 20.2 points per game. That number will probably go up some with two upcoming games against dangerous offenses, but it’ll be better than giving up 28.4 points per game last year.

With Missouri off this Saturday, Tiger fans may want to keep an eye on Georgia at Auburn (2:30 p.m. on CBS) and Florida at South Carolina (6 p.m. on ESPN2). If Georgia beats Auburn (and then beats Kentucky next week, a near-certainty) or if Florida beats South Carolina, Missouri would only need to win one of its last two games to win the SEC East.

Tiger fans can surely attest that these calculations certainly beat just figuring whether the team will go to a bowl. What a difference a year can make.

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