Saturday, August 24, 2019

Mizzou 50: 2012 Tigers had a rocky start to SEC era

Throughout the long, hot, dry summer of 2012, Tiger fans’ excitement over the SEC era built and built. Missouri’s first SEC football season was 2012, right as the league was in a run of dominance, having won every national title since 2006.

The opening game was Sept. 1 against Southeastern Louisiana, with the SEC logo proudly painted on the grass berm at Memorial Stadium. Faurot Field had new turf for the season. The Tigers won their opener 62-10 as rains hit midway through the game, remnants of a hurricane that freed Missouri from the grip of a historic drought that summer.

Then came Missouri’s first SEC game, hosting Georgia for a night game on Sept. 8. It was a memorable weekend in Columbia, with droves of Dawg fans showing up to check out the new conference location. A big hail storm hit late Friday afternoon, but the party was on.

After a day of robust tailgating, game time arrived. That week, Missouri’s talented defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson had said Georgia played boring football, calling it “old man football.” Had he simply said the physical game plan was “old school football,” it probably wouldn’ve been viewed as a compliment. But it became a talking point that week, and maybe motivation for Georgia.

The game was close for a long time. Missouri led 17-9 early in the third quarter after a long touchdown pass from James Franklin to Aaron Murray. But Aaron Murray and Georgia rallied, closing the game on a 32-3 run to win 41-20, including a resounding fourth quarter surge. Georgia fans held up “old man football” signs as their players celebrated afterward.

Missouri hosted Arizona State the following week. Late-week rumors were confirmed when Franklin was out with an injury and Corbin Berkstresser started at quarterback. Pinkel's pregame interview raised some eyebrows when he said Franklin "didn't want to play," although he probably just meant Franklin made the final call whether or not he was injured enough to play.

It was a close game, but Missouri's defense made a late goal-line stand to earn a 24-20 win.

Missouri then played at No. 7 South Carolina, on CBS, with Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson on the call. Steve Spurrier had the Gamecock offense rolling, and Missouri lost 31-10.

The Tigers did close out September with a hard-fought 21-16 win at UCF, moving Missouri to 3-2 on the season.

Missouri began October with a home game against Vanderbilt, a good candidate for that historic first SEC win. The Tigers moved the ball well early, but a leg injury knocked Franklin out of the game. Berkstresser did his best, hitting Bud Sasser for a long touchdown pass, but the Commodores prevailed 19-15, a tough loss for the Tigers, who were now 0-3 in the SEC... with Alabama coming to town. One writer described the buildup to that game as a "week-long wince."

The top-ranked Crimson Tide were a juggernaut, on their way to a second straight national title and their third in four years. It was one of those surreal, welcome-to-the-SEC moments to play a conference game against Alabama, completes with hordes of Bama fans in town for the weekend. 

The Tide rolled, scoring touchdown after touchdown to take a 27-0 lead when a lightning delay hit. Missouri fares a little better after the delay, but the game was in hand. Alabama won 42-10. That dropped Mizzou to 3-4 heading into the bye week, followed by an Oct 27 Homecoming matchup with Kentucky. 

Missouri rolled to their first SEC win, 33-10. Now, making a “we beat Kentucky” football shirt will get you mocked in the SEC, but Missouri still made T-shirts to commemorate the first SEC win. I suppose it only happens once, so they wanted to observe/profit from the history. 

Missouri then traveled to No. 8 Florida, playing in the Swamp. Missouri played a competitive game, but lost 14-7. 

The Tigers won a 51-48 game in four overtimes at Tennessee, moving to 5-5 with the win at Neyland Stadium. 

But then came a home loss to Syracuse and a drubbing at Texas A&M, during which the Tigers were largely just a prop for the Johnny Manziel show. Missouri finished 5-7, and for the first time since 2004 the Tigers were not going bowling. 

It was a tough start to the SEC era, although the relatively last-minute switch to the SEC schedule, the non-conference schedule was perhaps more robust than usual for the Pinkel era. But in any event, Missouri headed to 2013 needing to bounce back. They got one. 

2012: 7 years ago, 5th in SEC East

Record: 5-7, 2-6 in SEC

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