Health and leadership were critical to Missouri’s unexpected rise in the SEC East last year. They figure to play an equally essential role in the Tigers’ quest to defend their division crown. After an injury-riddled 2012 campaign that saw Mizzou miss the postseason, coach Gary Pinkel’s team went 12-2, capped by a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
Pinkel attributes the success to conditioning, limiting contact in practice and playing a lot of guys. He hopes the latter keeps his team from regressing without quarterback James Franklin, defensive linemen Kony Ealy and Michael Sam and running back Henry Josey, who all left for NFL. Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is also gone; he was dismissed from the program this spring before enrolling at Oklahoma.
Missouri has plenty of talent to plug the holes. Running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for 1,286 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns last season. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk (1,071 yards, 11 touchdowns, two interceptions) showed star potential after Franklin went down with a separated shoulder in October. “The best quarterbacks I’ve ever been around are mentally and physically tough and are tenacious competitors,” Pinkel says. “Johnny Manziel is a great example of that. He had those qualities along with ability, and you saw he was a superstar. I’m not saying Maty is going to be Johnny Manziel, but he certainly has some of the same qualities.”
Opposing coach's take
You know their players are going to be in the right spots and they’re going to believe in what they’re doing. It’s one thing to have good players, and it’s another to be coached really well. When you put those two things together, you end up with a team that makes it to the SEC Championship Game. And [coach Gary Pinkel] recruits well, so I don’t expect any drop-off. That program is built the right way.
They have the ability to rush the passer, and they do a good job of rotating those guys up front, finding your man-to-man blocks and continuously putting heat on the quarterback. Markus Golden will be their breakout guy this year. They don’t have to do it a lot with blitzing; their front four is good enough. When teams can do that, they can commit seven guys to coverage, and that’s harder to prepare for than a team that will blitz a lot. They score a ton of points and put great pressure on you to score as well.
While most of the attention on last year’s defense was paid to Ealy or Sam, defensive end Markus Golden had the best year in terms of production. The 6’3”, 260-pound redshirt senior had 6.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss and has more than enough talent to ease the loss of Missouri’s two playmaking pass-rushers. “A lot of the scouts came back and said our two backup guys might be better than the two who just left,” Pinkel says.
A road game at Toledo and matchups against UCF and Indiana highlight a decent nonconference slate. Missouri will truly find out if it can repeat in the SEC East by the middle of October: The Tigers have a three-game stretch at South Carolina (Sept. 27), against Georgia (Oct. 11) and at Florida (Oct. 18).
||South Dakota State
||at South Carolina
||at Texas A&M