Missouri’s first season as a member of the SEC has not gone according to plan.
James Franklin’s dual-threat abilities and a talented receiving core were supposed to make the Tigers legitimate contenders in their new conference, but injuries have led to a number of disappointments. There are times when Mizzou has shown flashes of talent, but they have also looked like an FCS team on a number of occasions.
Regardless of their overall performance, the Tigers are one win away from becoming bowl eligible. If Alabama could not beat Texas A&M then Missouri certainly can’t. Therefore, the Tigers are going to have to knock-off Syracuse in their home finale in order to clinch their eighth straight postseason appearance.
After battling through injuries for most of the season, Franklin is finally starting to return to his 2011 form. Franklin threw for 2865 yards and ran for nearly 1000 more in his first year as a starter. In total he scored 36 touchdowns.
Franklin has certainly taken a step back this year however, as the transition from the Big 12 to SEC has been rather unpleasant. He has reached the end zone just eight times this year, with zero of his scores coming on the ground. Backup Corbin Berkstresser was no better as a fill-in when Franklin was injured.
To the defense of both quarterbacks, they have had to work without last year’s leading rusher Henry Josey, who is recovering from a knee injury that he suffered last November against Texas.
With all of this being said, Mizzou has needed to rely on their defense for almost the entire season. Their 5-5 record presents a perfect explanation of their defensive performance: it has been very inconsistent.
The Tigers lead the country with 16 recovered fumbles and have held over half of their opponents to 20 points or less. However, they have also given up over 40 points on three separate occasions.
Another major issue the Tigers have had this season has been holding a lead. The two prime examples came against top-ranked teams on national television.
In their inaugural conference game as members of the SEC, Mizzou blew a 10-9 halftime lead to eventually lose 41-20. Later in the year they had a chance to pull off a major upset at The Swamp, but could not finish things off in a 14-7 loss to Florida.
However, everything changed last week. The Tigers went into Neyland Stadium in search of their first road win as a member of the SEC against Tennessee. Their offense finally came alive; they were the team pulling off the comeback and not the one blowing a big lead.
With just seconds left in regulation and the Tigers trailing 28-21, Franklin, who matched his entire season total with four touchdown passes, heaved the ball to the corner of the end-zone, where receiver Dorial Green-Beckham pulled in the game-tying score. DGB, a true freshman and the biggest recruit in Mizzou history, finally lived up to all of the hype by coming up in the clutch.
After tying the game, it took four overtimes for a winner to be crowned. A 35-yard field goal by kicker Andrew Baggett gave the Tigers a 51-48 win. The emotional victory should give Mizzou a lot of confidence heading into their game with Syracuse.
Syracuse is coming off of their biggest win of the season. The Orange handed then-ninth-ranked Louisville their first loss of the year in a commanding 45-26 victory at the Carrier Dome.
They failed to stop quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who went off for 424 yards and three touchdowns. However, Syracuse managed to score a season-high 45 points, which is also the highest total given up by the Cardinals this season.
Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib compiled his best QBR of the year, 198.1, on 246 yards and three touchdowns through the air. He was not the Orange’s only star of the day, as nine of his passes went to Alec Lemon for 176 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, Jerome Smith ran for 144 yards and Prince-Tyson Gulley added 98 yards and two scores.
The Orange have a lot of momentum on their side. The hard part will be trying to transfer it to the road, where they are just 1-4 on the year.
Missouri will be glad to get a break from the SEC. The conference has been as advertised, and the Tigers have struggled to catch their breath. However, the adversity they have face as a member of the best conference in the country has helped them grow week-by-week.
Syracuse will certainly provide a challenge for the Tigers, but I believe they will earn a bowl berth by overcoming the Orange. Mizzou has improved a lot since beginning its SEC opener and will show it this weekend.
I believe that defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson will raise his already-high NFL draft stock by giving Ryan Nassib trouble all game long. The Tigers will also be successful on the other side of the ball, where James Franklin and company will finish the year off strong.
An extra weak to heel will allow Franklin to utilize his mobility and thus be a much more effective passer. Dorial Green-Beckham will begin to separate himself from his off-the-field issues, by proving that he was worthy of all the buzz he received as the nation’s best offensive recruit.
In the end, the win will go to the home team, as the Franklin-to-DGB attack will assert itself and give the country a sneak-peak of a great future in Missouri.