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SEC Championship Game: Making a Case for Missouri

Oct 26, 2013; Columbia, MO, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel watches from the sidelines during the second half against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Faurot Field. South Carolina won 27-24. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

This matchup seems to be in the books on paper, but that’s why they play the game. Missouri—winners of consecutive SEC East titles—will look to upset top-ranked Alabama Saturday in the SEC Championship Game.

I’m not saying that I think Missouri can pull off the upset, but I think the Tigers have a much better case to win than people think. The Tigers are a well-coached bunch and some of the statistics I will present you with will show that.

The Tigers are 14.5-point underdogs, but here are a few things to consider before jumping to a conclusion on your SEC Championship Game pick.

 

Missouri’s Run Game vs. Alabama’s Rush Defense

The Tide run defense is very good, we know that, but are they more susceptible now than they were to start the year? Through the first seven games, the Tide only allowed 63.4 rushing yards per game, but they have allowed an average of 133.6 yards per game over the last five contests.

Missouri has been able to run the ball fairly well all season, averaging 4.48 yards per carry. They have two players over 700 yards—Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough—and both should be a big part of the game plan Saturday. Hansbrough was injured in the Arkansas game, but Gary Pinkel says he should be able to go this weekend.

This is the biggest key for the Tigers if they want to win. They have to been able to run the ball well on this Alabama front, and I think this has to start on first down. Missouri can’t get into bad situations on third down, and this can be avoided by getting solid yardage on first down.

Alabama Crimson Tide, SEC Championship Game

The Alabama front has been tough to run on this season, but Missouri has three guys that can run the ball with Murphy, Hansbrough and Mauk.

Maty Mauk vs. Blake Sims

Mauk has talent, but he has been inconsistent at times this season. The same can be said for Sims, but his ceiling of potential seems much higher. That is, until you begin to break down the numbers. Which quarterback would you rather have with the game on the line? Sims? That’s what I thought at first too.

In the fourth quarter, the Alabama quarterback has thrown three touchdowns and two interceptions. Maty Mauk has eight touchdowns in the fourth quarter, compared to zero interceptions.

I think Sims is the better quarterback, but there are a couple of other numbers that are in favor of Missouri. Sims has thrown 24 touchdowns on the season, but only six of those have come on the road or at a neutral site. Also, in his last five games, Mauk has thrown eight touchdowns to just two interceptions.

Maty Mauk, Missouri Tigers, SEC Championship Game

Mauk has been inconsistent this season, but his numbers have been good over the last five games.

Other Numbers/Notes

-The red zone is where games can be either won or lost, and the numbers favor Missouri. The Tigers are 6th nationally, scoring 92.11 percent of the time within the 20-yard line. The Tide defense is tied for 48th nationally within the red zone, giving up scores 81.08 percent of the time. Missouri’s red zone defense is worse than that, but the Tide aren’t as efficient as Missouri in the red zone offensively.

-The Missouri pass rush against the Alabama offensive line will be a great matchup to watch. The Tigers are led by Shane Ray and Markus Golden, who have combined for 20.5 sacks and 36.5 tackles for loss this season. The Tigers have 38 sacks as a team, which is tied for 10th in the country, but the Tide have only allowed 11 sacks all season.  (11 sacks allowed is tied for 9th in the NCAA)

-Both teams have struggled kicking field goals, so that could be something to watch late in the game. Both teams are 14-of-21 on field goal attempts this season.

-Another great matchup will be how the teams perform on third down. Lane Kiffin’s offense has been excellent on third down, converting on 52.6 percent of its attempts, which ranks 5th nationally. The Tigers can get offenses off the field too, though. They rank 22nd nationally in third-down defense, only allowing opponents to convert on 34.72 percent of their attempts.

-Another statistic I found swings heavily in Missouri’s favor, although it’s tough to predict how much this stat matters. Missouri is 1st in the NCAA with only 2 lost fumbles all season. Meanwhile, Alabama is tied for 101st in this category with 12 lost fumbles. Missouri is tied for 3rd in the nation with 17 forced fumbles. It’s tough to say how much of a factor that will be, but just throwing the numbers out there for you to think on.

Conclusion

My head wants to say Alabama. I have seen how dominant the Tide can be. My gut wants to say Missouri, because everyone loves a good upset. So which way is the best way to go for this matchup?

I think you have to remember that Alabama is probably the most complete team in the nation. They have 5-star recruits all over the field. They have the best coaches in America……yeah, yeah we have heard this a million times Zach.

Knowing that Alabama is the best, you have to also consider that Missouri can keep this game close. It would not surprise me a bit if the Tigers won on the card with the 14.5 points. They play good defense and they run the ball well, two components that I think bode well for the underdog.

I’ll take Saban’s group to win the game, but I’ll take Missouri to win with the points.

Alabama 31, Missouri 21

 

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