Missouri vs. Auburn: X-Factors for Both Teams in SEC Championship Game

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 7, 2013

Oct 19, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers wide receiver Marcus Lucas (85) can't hang onto the pass in the end zone during the second half of the game against the Florida Gators at Faurot Field. Missouri won 36-17. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri and Auburn are about as evenly matched as possible for a conference championship game. The SEC rivals both finished the regular season 11-1, including 7-1 in conference play, and have numerous playmakers capable of playing the role of hero.

Often, games featuring two teams separated by so little are decided by unheralded players rising to the occasion to make a couple key plays. Whether it's converting a big third down on offense or picking up a crucial sack on defense, they help flip momentum and change the game's outlook.

Both Missouri and Auburn feature multiple players with the potential to fill those unsung hero roles on Saturday. Let's examine one from each side of the SEC title game likely to make his presence felt at the Georgia Dome.


Missouri: Marcus Lucas

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 26:  Wide receiver Marcus Lucas #85 of the Missouri Tigers rushes past strong safety Brison Williams #12 of the South Carolina Gamecocks after a catch during the first half on October 26, 2013 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Col
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Auburn's defense knows the key to success against a high-powered Missouri offensive attack is eliminating the big plays. When clicking on all cylinders, the Tigers' passing game can rack up 20 yards at a time thanks to L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham.

Both of those star wideouts love to stretch the field and would eat up the Auburn secondary if they get consistent one-on-one coverage. In turn, the safeties will need to play a little more conservative and shade to the outside to avoid getting beat deep.

Nov 2, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (15) runs in for a touchdown during the first half of the game against the Tennessee Volunteers at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It should open the door for Lucas to put together a big game. The senior receiver actually leads the team in receptions, but he is well behind Washington and Green-Beckham in yards and touchdowns. That's because he's usually doing the dirty work running the underneath routes.

Lucas' best performance came back in September in a shootout win over Indiana. He caught 10 passes for 101 yards. None of the grabs were for more than 26 yards, but he consistently got open for quick strikes and helped move the chains.

With Auburn focused on slowing down the big two wideouts, expect Lucas to see a lot of targets for Missouri. If he's able to make a few important catches on critical third downs, Missouri should enjoy a lot of success on offense.


Auburn: Gabe Wright

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 14:  Dak Prescott #15 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs rolls out away from Gabe Wright #90 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 14, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Wright is an intriguing, and often frustrating, member of the Auburn defense. Based purely on talent, he should be one of the most impactful players on the unit. But while he's shown flashes of that top-end ability, he's been inconsistent, often going invisible for extended stretches.

That certainly wasn't the case last week in the team's upset of Alabama. The junior defensive tackle was a force on the interior. He finished with four tackles, one and a half which were for a loss, two quarterback hurries and the Tigers' only sack.

Auburn will hope Wright can parlay that strong performance into another one in the SEC title game. When the talented defensive lineman is getting a push in the middle, the defense is usually far more effective because it can be more aggressive on the outside.

On the flip side, when Wright is struggling to make an impact, its puts more pressure on the likes of Iron Bowl hero Chris Davis, Cassanova McKinzy and Dee Ford to carry the load defensively. Tackles don't always post gaudy stats, but their influence is usually felt, whether positive or negative.

Pay attention to how often you hear Wright's name in the first half. If he's constantly making plays, Auburn is likely doing well on defense. If he's not mentioned, there's a good chance Missouri is controlling the line of scrimmage and the game.