By: John Saltzman, KCOU Sports
Two wins in a row equals two SEC East titles in a row. The Missouri Tigers, for the second straight season, control their own destiny for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
Two months ago when the Tigers suffered a shocking home loss at the hands of the Indiana Hoosiers, everyone counted them out. Whether it was the fans, analysts, broadcaster, or the college football rankings committee, Mizzou never figured in to any equations of consequence. Yet here we are, two months later, and two games away from two consecutive trips to Atlanta.
Different year, same result. This has been the mantra of the younger grittier Tigers. Last year, it was a senior led team with great experience and with players like Michael Sam, James Franklin, and E.J. Gaines. Mizzou rolled through the SEC, minus a small hiccup against South Carolina, en route to Atlanta. The offense put up ridiculous numbers behind stars Henry Josey and Dorial Green-Beckham making plays in space and Franklin feeding them the ball. The defense, as mentioned before, was a senior laden group with many future pros. However, this season couldn’t be more different.
An inconsistent team with a multitude of new faces in all the wrong places had fans and observers leaving most games with more questions than answers. All of these inconsistencies culminated in a blowout 34-0 shellacking at the hands of SEC East rival Georgia effectively ending the Tigers campaign for a repeat in their division. Gary Pinkel’s bunch had other ideas, as they rattled off four straight wins, two of them on the road, and put themselves in the drivers seat once again.
Attention now turns to yet another road test when the Tennessee Volunteers play host in a rambunctious atmosphere in Neyland Stadium. The Volunteers are fresh off of a drubbing of archrival Kentucky 50-16. The newfound explosiveness of the offense can only be due in part to sophomore quarterback Josh Dobbs. In his last two games, he has thrown for a combined 598 yards, five touchdowns, and just one interception and the Volunteers are 2-0 in those games.
With this in mind, Missouri’s focus is certainly to get after the young QB with their always-stellar pass rush. Defensive leaders Shane Ray and Markus Golden’s abilities to get in the backfield and create pressure on Dobbs may be the key to victory in a hostile environment.
Mizzou is no stranger to Dobbs however as they faced him last year in Columbia. Dobbs, replacing an injured Justin Worley, went just 26 of 42 with 240 yards and two interceptions. This performance was good for a quarterback rating of 18.6 and a 31-3 loss to a 10th ranked Tigers squad.
With the crowd against them the Tigers might need a little history on their side to come out of Knoxville with the first of two necessary victories to close out the regular season. As for the players’ mindset, two games is still a considerable mountain to climb. While the rest of us are left to speculate what could be, Mizzou is all in for the next two weeks.