Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Missouri suffers first loss, still leads SEC East

Halloween arrived early for Tiger fans.

Missouri brought a No. 5 ranking, an undefeated record and high hopes into last Saturday’s Homecoming game with No. 20 South Carolina. But on a chilly night at Faurot Field, those Missouri dreams turned into a nightmare as the Tigers could not hold a 17-0 fourth quarter lead, evoking the ghosts of agonizing Missouri defeats from days gone by, losing 27-24 in double overtime.

South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw did not start due a knee sprain, but he entered the game midway through the third quarter, completing 20 of 29 passes and torching Missouri with screen passes.
Missouri (7-1, 3-1 in SEC play) struggled offensively as well down the stretch. Maty Mauk completed just 10 of 25 passes, and the Tigers became very cautious late in regulation.

At so many intervals, one key play could have sealed the win, including a long fourth-and-goal in overtime that saw South Carolina score a touchdown to force a second overtime.

After forcing a Gamecock field goal, Missouri had a short field goal attempt to force a third overtime. But Andrew Baggett missed the 24-yard kick off the left upright, taking the air out of the sellout crowd.
Three randomly selected Missouri fans have made 30-yard field goals to win $1,000 gift cards at games this season. Baggett faced more pressure, and the holder appeared to have the laces facing the kicker, which can cause problems, but this was a kick a Division I kicker usually makes.

Longtime Tiger fans may have grimly noted that the miss came in the north end zone, site of Colorado’s “Fifth Down” win over Missouri in 1990 and where Nebraska had a kicked ball touchdown reception in a 1997 win over the Tigers.

Still, Missouri leads the SEC East standings. South Carolina (6-2, 4-2 in SEC play) now lurks one game back in the loss column, as do Georgia and Florida, but Missouri still controls its destiny. A 4-0 finish guarantees Missouri a spot in the SEC title game, and 3-1 could very well do the trick. Missouri is now ranked No. 10 in the AP and Coaches polls, and a special season is still possible.

That starts with another home game on Saturday against Tennessee (4-4, 1-3 in SEC play). Missouri will be the sixth ranked team the Volunteers have played, and they will probably face another one in Auburn.

Tennessee was hammered by Alabama last week, as Alabama opponents usually are, but the week before Tennessee scored a big win over South Carolina. The Volunteers have been much tougher at home, but they do have some talent, and first-coach Butch Jones seems to have them playing hard.
Tennessee’s quarterback play has been shaky this year, but the Volunteer running game is decent. Tennessee has one of the nation’s better offensive lines, headlined by tackle Tiny Richardson, who is decidedly not tiny.

But Missouri’s defensive line has been pretty good as well, and this clash should be an interesting subplot. Tennessee isn’t a total pushover, but I still expect Missouri to bounce back and get the win at home.

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