#SECPreviews- East: #6 Missouri Tigers
If I’m claiming to be a prognosticator (I’m not) then this would have to be considered a risky and potentially Georgia-jinxing pick (it is). But let’s take a deeper look into the numbers.
What Happened Last Year (And For Comparison’s Sake, the Year Before)?
2013: 491 yards per game on offense, with receivers L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. Henry Josey led the team with over 1100 yards of offense. James Franklin’s injury at Georgia gave way to Maty Mauk, who looked decent with those weapons around him. On D, Michael Sam and Kony Ealy provided the best pass rush in the nation, leading the Tigers to 41 sacks and the 12-2 record that many saw as a fluke. I’m not so sure it was.
2014: Offense dips to 367 a game, with Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt competently leading the receiving corps. Markus Golden and Shane Ray led another ridiculous pass rush to 44 sacks, and the defense actually improved by 70 yards and two points a game. But, given the numbers cited, the offense took a major dip, and their last 5 SEC wins were less and less inspiring. 10-point home wins against Vandy and Kentucky, single-digit wins against Texas A&M and Tennessee, and the painful-to-watch Black Friday 21-14 win over Arkansas.
They got by, but it wasn’t pretty. Gone are all of the players listed above not named Mauk, who languished around the 50% completion mark for the second straight season.
They do return most of their offensive line, as well as a linebacking corps that put up ridiculous numbers behind the stalwart D-line.
But when your most impressive win is a game against Florida where your defense nets a +5 in turnovers and your offense accounts for 119 yards, one doesn’t have to squint too much to see a dropoff.
Three Key Games
Sept. 26, at Kentucky: Their SEC opener is a tricky one, and one that will tell us a LOT about both teams playing. My early inclination is to call this a toss-up at best for the Tigers. Toss-up = key game in my book.
Oct. 17, at Georgia: Well, let’s say this for Mizzou fans/players favorite SEC rivalry: the home team has yet to win a game in this series. Wins in this one and Kentucky (sandwiching home games against South Carolina and Florida) put Mizzou in the driver’s seat for the East, yet again. I think this is more likely the merciful burial of their fluky two-year run atop the division.
Nov. 21, Tennessee: If neither of these teams are eliminated by now, we know Georgia slipped up somewhere and this becomes a de facto SEC East elimination game. Let’s not let it come to that.
Five Players to Watch
Maty Mauk, QB: Quite honestly, this whole low prediction is contingent on Mauk failing, for a second straight year, to improve on his numbers as his supporting cast gets much weaker. If Mauk takes ‘the leap’, my prediction is way off.
Evan Boehm, C: Boehm anchors the senior-heavy O-line with 50 career starts, and its success in creating running lanes for Russell Hansbrough and short passing lanes for their tunnel screen game will largely dictate what this offense can do.
Charles Harris, DE: With two sacks last year, the third-year sophomore is apparently being tabbed as the ‘next in line’ behind Sam/Ealy/Ray/Golden. If he emerges and Mizzou has another 40-sack campaign, I’ll believe it.
Kentrell Brothers, LB: Sure tackling at the LB spot has been the underrated staple of Mizzou’s last two D’s. Brothers accounted for 122 last year.
Michael Scherer, MLB: See above, but give him 114 tackles.
So, yeah. I’m pretty confident in this pick. Outside of the two linebackers, all of the things that need to go right for Mizzou to contend for a third straight SEC East title are very speculative in nature.
That, or I just can’t shake this image and I’m extremely wrong.