Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SEC East Preview: Missouri

The Missouri Tigers enter their first year in the SEC with a pretty tough schedule. Gary Pinkel enters his 12th season at the helm for Mizzou and is facing high expectations. Missouri returns 13 starters on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with 2 specialists also coming back. Will Mizzou's spread offense that was so effective in the Big XII translate to SEC success? I know a lot of people are waiting  and excited to find out.

Missouri returns 6 starters on an offense that finished 12th in total offense, 9th in rushing offense, and 64th in passing offense. Quarterback James Franklin leads this spread offense and was a great dual threat quarterback for the Tigers. Franklin rushed for 981 yards and 15 touchdowns while throwing for 2,865 yards, 21 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. If Franklin can succeed against the tough SEC defenses, he will most likely be a Heisman candidate. Running back Henry Josey is still recovering from two ACL surgeries and is questionable for returning for the 2012 season. If Josey does return, he will surely improve upon his 10 game performance of 1,168 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns.  Kendial Lawrence looks to be the leading candidate to replace Josey if he is unable to return. Lawrence ran for 566 yards and 5 touchdowns in limited duty last year though he did start 4 games last year. The wide receiving corps has plenty of experience and will be led by returning starters Marcus Lucas and T.J. Moe. Moe was the leading receiver for the team with 54 receptions for 649 yards and 4 touchdowns while Lucas was a deep ball threat that averaged 18 yards a catch and had 5 touchdowns. Freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham will be looked on early to produce since he was such a highly touted recruit. The offensive line returns 3 starters in Travis Ruth who is moving to left guard, Justin Britt at right tackle, and Elvis Fisher at left tackle. Mitch Morse will start the season at center and Jack Meiners will start at right guard. If Green-Beckham can live up to the hype and be a big play receiver for James Franklin, this offense has potential to be very balanced and very potent.

The Tigers return 7 on a defense that finished ranked 61st in total defense, 29th in rushing defense, and 94th in passing defense. Now the rushing defense rank is a little skewed because most of Mizzou's opponents threw the ball more than rushed. We will see how tough they are in their 4-3 against the run in the SEC. The defensive line only returns one starter in Brad Madison at defensive end. Madison had 1 interception, 25 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. Kony Ealy will be at the other defensive end while Lucas Vincent and Sheldon Richardson will be at the defensive tackle positions. Ealy had 13 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Richardson had 37 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks while Vincent had 11 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. The front four will need to establish their line of scrimmage if they are going to help all 3 returning starters at linebacker. Zaviar Gooden will start at the Will linebacker, Will Ebner will start at the Mike linebacker, and Andrew Wilson will start at the Sam Linebacker. Gooden had 2 interceptions, 80 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. Ebner started 1 one game and recorded 3 tackles while Wilson was the leading tackler on the team with 98 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, and half a sack. This unit came on strong late in the season last year and should be able to get the job done if their defensive line protects them. Both corners return for Mizzou as well as their strong safety. Corners Kip Edwards and E.J. Gaines combined for 144 tackles and 3 interceptions last year. Strong safety Kenronte Walker had 44 tackles last year and became the starter late in the season. Free safety Braylon Webb had some experience last year and registered 36 tackles in 11 games. This defense will be tested against the run early and often and must be able to defend the play action. If this defense cannot stop the run, it will be a long, long year for the Tigers in the SEC.

Missouri has one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the SEC facing 2 BCS conference foes in Arizona State and Syracuse as well as venturing to Conference USA's UCF. Mizzou opens the season with Southeast Louisiana before getting their first SEC home game against Georgia. After welcoming in Arizona State, the Tigers travel to the other Columbia in the SEC and face the South Carolina Gamecocks. Three straight tough games loom as they go to UCF, then come home for Vanderbilt and Alabama. A bye week follows the Alabama game before Mizzou faces Kentucky for Homecoming. Back to back road games come next as the Tigers travel to Florida and to Tennessee. A late season non-conference tilt against Syracuse will be a challenge before finishing the season at Texas A&M. I expect Mizzou to go 7-5 this year with losses to Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Alabama, and Florida. They should be able to win their non-conference games although they will be tough. I think a 7-5 overall record and a 3-5 conference record is not too shabby of a start for the Tigers in the SEC.

Make sure you check out the other SEC East Previews done so far on Tennessee and Kentucky.

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