Roanoke's Around the SEC: Missouri Week

We play in a conference so tough that even good teams can get massacred on a bad day. Ask Kevin Sumlin about that – and then remember he hung 52 points on Steve Spurrier opening night. Sumlin was down 45-0 to Bama at half-time last week. Even mid-level SEC teams can look unbeatable if you catch them the wrong week. NOTE: Bama-UT prediction added as of 6:27 pm CT.

An LSU team that stumbled around narrowly beating Florida and getting killed by Auburn, could still rise up and embarrass UK to the tune of 41-3. The Wildcats have no road wins and – I am sorry to say – no quality wins, but few saw an iffy LSU squad laying a 38 point margin on the previously 5-1 Cats.

Then there is Missouri – a team shut out by Georgia last week at home, 34-0. The Tigers opened with 42 unanswered points en route to a 42-13 drubbing of hapless Florida. The mercy rule was invoked in the third quarter when “Fire Muschamp” chants began raining down from the Gainesville faithful. This game particularly scared me because Florida’s offensive game plan looked a lot like our standard pocket pass/power run scheme. This played directly into the Missouri defense’s strengths. Missouri’s pass rush – especially from the edges – is fearsome. Florida’s overwhelmed QBs were turnover machines – and Florida’s offensive coaches kept dropping them back into the line of fire. Keep in mind, Georgia steamrolled Mizzou on the ground the week before – and Indiana ran for 250 yards on them, too. We can only hope our offensive brain trust saw this game and took notes. If we ever plan to focus on quick routes, misdirection and the run – this would be a good week to start.

Missouri’s offense, by the way, remained discombobulated in Gainesville. Against the Gators, Missouri did break an impressive 0-24 slump in third down conversions – but they gained only 119 total yards of total offense, on 7 first downs. Maty Mauk was 6 of 18 for 20 yards passing – his longest completion of the night was for eight yards. Mauk averaged 1.1 yards per throw; yet Mizzou almost scored a point for every three yards gained. How does that happen? Florida’s offensive game plan gave the game away. It is not just us. It did not hurt that Mizzou’s special teams scored on a kick-off return and a punt return; their defense scored on a fumble return and a pick-6. Mizzou’s offense did not need to do anything. Final scouting notes: don’t kick the ball to the Tiger’s return man Marcus Murphy. Just don't.

Watching Florida self-destruct was not pretty. Watching the Vols get slowly jack-hammered by Ole Miss left me feeling a little better about our game at LP Field. Misery loves company, I suppose. But Ole Miss is very good – and we were not sure of that in Week 2. Honestly, UT is not bad either – but you can be a good football team in the SEC and still have a lousy record. Tennessee has a young and clearly improving squad – but their front-loaded schedule has proven to be murderous and demoralizing. Tennessee stands at 0-3 in conference and faces Bama this week with a trip to South Carolina next week. There are seniors on this Vol team who have never been to a bowl game. Pressure is mounting along with the losses. Butch Jones is making progress – but sometimes it is hard for a fan base to be patient. Even when their coach is cleaning up someone else’s mess.

This is where ominous background music cues up. With a bye week under their belts, our staff needs to show our fans some progress – or at least that they are not creating a mess like Mr. Orange Pants left in Knoxville. Presbyterian’s win over Charleston Southern last weekend did not help matters. Neither did UK’s rotten performance. Our loss to – and offensive scheme against – Kentucky will haunt me for a long, long time. Any solace taken in the narrow escape over Charleston Southern was officially squelched when Presbyterian held the Bucs to three points last weekend.

Mizzou is favored by 21 at home and they should be. If our offensive game plan is sensible we could be very competitive in this game. Yet, my faith in a bye week revamping is not strong. We have yet to play a full half (we almost did versus South Carolina) – let alone a full four quarters this year. This would be a good time to start. Pick: Mizzou 34, Vandy 17.

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The SEC schedule is a bit short this week. Mississippi State comes off a bye to visit Kentucky. Last year State was lucky to survive UK in Starkville. A lot has changed in a year. The Bulldogs have won five in a row in this series – and arrive in Lexington ranked number one in the country. Following UK’s debacle in Baton Rouge, the Cat’s ship has many holes to plug. Vegas only makes MSU a 13½ point favorite. The SEC East – thanks to Georgia last week –finally beat an SEC West opponent for the first time this year. It won’t happen again in Lexington next Saturday. Pick: Mississippi State 38, UK 17.

Ole Miss made ripping UT 34-3 look relatively easy last week. Visiting Baton Rouge is never easy. LSU seems to have found its running game – and Vegas only likes Ole Miss by 3½ points. I would put Ole Miss on upset alert except I am not buying LSU’s revival as much as UK’s “over-ratedness.” Much like Mississippi handled UT, I expect a tight first half. Pick: Ole Miss 34, LSU 20.

Auburn faces South Carolina at home. On the preseason calendar, this looked like a big game. Now it looks like the Gamecocks will get drilled. Vegas likes Auburn by 17½. I like them by more. Pick: Auburn 52, Carolina 21.

The one out-of-conference game this week is UAB at Arkansas. The 4-3 Blazers hung up 34 points against Mississippi State earlier this year – which remains the most points anyone has scored against America’s top ranked team. Arkansas continues winless in the SEC – and the Razorbacks are likely a bit demoralized after some tough losses. Arkansas’ running game should see them through here – but with MSU looming next week, it feels a bit like a trap game. Pick: Arkansas 41, UAB 19.

Bama, fresh off its dismantling of A&M, travels to Knoxville to take on Tennessee. The Vols took a pretty good pounding from Ole Miss. Film of Bama’s performance against A&M cannot be encouraging. The real story line here, of course, is Lane Kiffin’s return to Knoxville. The Vol fans chants were fairly x-rated when Florida came to town. This could get ugly on several levels. I expect the Vols to hang in there for a while – as they did against Ole Miss. In the end, though, Bama is way too much. Bama 45, UT 13.

Missouri has been a mystery the last two weeks. Let’s hope the bye gives us some much-needed energy and that Mizzou’s Mr. Hyde shows up in Columbia. This is a really big game for our staff, our players and fans. Win or lose – we have to play better. And smarter.

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