By: Luke Johns, KCOU Sports
2011 and 2012 was the last time the SEC East representative made it to the championship game in back-to-back seasons. That team was the Georgia Bulldogs, whom Missouri was battling back and forth all season for first place in the SEC East. In lieu of Missouri’s six game winning streak, they repeated the same fortunes that Georgia did two years ago, though they will be hoping for more success as Georgia lost in both of their appearances.
In the other division it is Alabama who will be representing the SEC West, and the mentality that their program carries is that anything less than an SEC championship appearance is a disappointment. The Crimson Tide avenged their 2013 Iron bowl loss by beating Auburn Saturday 55-44. Both Alabama and Missouri have controlled their own destiny since November 15.
Most would assume that Alabama would enter the game as favorites. Alabama went 4-1 against ranked teams this year and averaged 35.2 points in those games. They also have virtually no holes at any position. Alabama has a quarterback in Blake Sims who has been solid all year and two rumbling running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry who both average about five yards per carry. And if that isn’t enough, Bama has a top five-caliber NFL draft pick in Amari Cooper at wide receiver. On the other side of the ball, Alabama ranks second in the nation in scoring defense at about 17 points a game. Alabama edges Missouri in almost every statistical manner, but as we all know, it only matters who’s better for 60 minutes, and that will determine the SEC champion.
Missouri entered the season with about as many question marks as a team can have, like uncertainties at how quarterback Maty Mauk will fare knowing the job is all his, if the losses of Henry Josey, Dorial Green-Beckham, and L’Damian Washington would be too much to overcome, and if the promising defensive line would live up to the hype. As the regular season is in the books, it is fair to say that Maty Mauk answered the bell and got the job done. People may point out his mediocre stats, but all that matters is that he’s 13-3 as a starter and is back in the title game. Bud Sasser has emerged as the top receiver with over 60 catches, and Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough (1,696 yards between the two) have filled the void of Henry Josey nicely. Not to mention the defensive line, led by Shane Ray and Markus Golden, have stepped up and is widely considered the best part of the Missouri football team. Ray and Golden have combined for 23 sacks this season, third most among teammates in the country.
The keys to success for Missouri will be to establish a running game. Hansbrough and Murphy combined for 64 rushing yards on October 11 against Georgia having a partial impact on the blowout loss. When those two are moving the chains, it opens up the passing game as the defense will have to respect the run and are more likely to leave a man open for Mauk to find. On defense, Missouri cannot let Amari Cooper take the game over. His two second half touchdowns Saturday completely changed the game and Auburn never recovered. The secondary is going to have its hands full.
For Alabama it is similar but simpler. Hand the ball to Yeldon and Henry and have them control the game. Additionally, Alabama needs to avoid the turnovers. Alabama has a negative turnover margin on the year, and there is no room for those in championship games, especially against a team that went 47 games in a row with a takeaway. If Alabama is lackadaisical and doesn’t take care of the football, they could potentially be in trouble.
Coverage on KCOU will start at 2 p.m. on December 6 with Tiger Pregame Live presented by El Rancho, and the football fun will begin at 3.