The 5-0 Missouri Tigers will head, for the first time, to Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga. on Saturday to face the Georgia Bulldogs in a game that is quickly becoming one of the most highly anticipated contests of the year.
The No. 25 ranked Tigers are coming off a resounding 51-28 win last Saturday at Vanderbilt. The high-octane performance on both sides of the ball was what has become typical for Mizzou in its second season in the Southeastern Conference.
Mizzou’s offense piled up 523 yards of total offense, including 278 in the air and 245 on the ground, while the Tiger defense was in lock-down mode early and held Vanderbilt to just 97 yards of total offense in the first half. Mizzou’s 51 points marked the most scored by the Tigers in a non-overtime road conference game since November 15, 2008, when the Tigers won 52-20 at Iowa State.
Responsible for the gaudy offense production were Tigers who have made eye-popping stat lines commonplace this season. Senior quarterback James Franklin impressed again, throwing four touchdown passes for the second time in his career. He completed 19-28 passes for 278 yards and threw zero interceptions. He also ran for 63 yards on 12 attempts.
In just five games in 2013, Franklin has already surpassed his total offense output for his entire injury-plagued 2012 season. He enters the Georgia game with 1,685 total yards of offense (1,407 passing, 278 rushing) compared to the 1,684 he mustered in 2012. Franklin has the Missouri offense ranked No. 7 in the NCAA in total offense, No. 8 nationally in scoring offense and No. 9 nationally in third-down conversion rate (53.8%).
“We have playmakers at pretty much every position,” Franklin said after the win.
It’s hard to argue with him.
Junior running back Henry Josey has led a four-headed monster for the Tigers in the rushing game. Josey scored two touchdowns at Vanderbilt—the fourth time he’s recorded multiple scores in a game over his career.
Furthermore, the emergence of sophomore running back Russell Hansbrough and junior Marcus Murphy, along with the legs of Franklin, have made Missouri’s backfield uniquely effective. Mizzou is the only school in the country with four players who have rushed for 275+ yards.
As for the men catching Franklin’s throws, they were also impressive in Nashville. Six receivers made catches against Vanderbilt, including Marcus Lucas, who led all wideouts with six and a score. Senior L’Damian Washington caught two Franklin touchdowns, one a circus-style lunging play that saw Washington nab the throw just before the safety after Franklin threaded the needle.
The Tigers have been explosive, but they’ve also been smart. Mizzou has been the least penalized team in the SEC, with just 4.0 p/g. It’s this kind of discipline that has allowed Mizzou to be in the position to make big plays on both sides of the ball.
And, the defense has been making almost as many big plays as the offense.
The Tigers notched a magnificent seven sacks at Vanderbilt, the result of constant pressure all night from Mizzou’s front four. With 3.0 sacks for the second week in a row, Michael Sam tied his career high and was honored by the conference for the second consecutive week for his play. Defensive end Kony Ealy continued his breakout season with two sacks of his own, and Markus Golden (1.5 sacks) and Lucas Vincent (0.5 sacks) also got into the action.
The 7.0 sacks marked the most by Mizzou since it recorded the same number in a 30-9 win at Texas A&M on Oct. 16, 2010. The Missouri defensive line will look to get to Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the same way on Saturday.
Once again at Vanderbilt, the pressure up front led to plays downfield. Sophomore linebacker Kentrell Brothers’s interception in Nashville pushed Mizzou’s consecutive games with a turnover streak to 35—the longest active streak in the BCS.
Missouri rolled through its four-game nonconference season and claimed wins by an average margin of 24.5 points. But, most outside observers chose to maintain a “wait-and-see” approach to evaluating just what the Tigers bring to the table in 2013. The dominant win at Vanderbilt, a respectable SEC opponent, dropped all that. Vanderbilt beat Missouri in Columbia by a 19-15 score in 2012. The turnaround makes it clear that the Tigers have improved, and their 2013 output will likely greatly outpace their 2012 production. With five wins, the Tigers have already equaled their entire win total from 2012.
Experts have taken notice. The day after the Vanderbilt win the Tigers were ranked No. 25 in the AP poll, which is their first appearance on the AP poll since the second week of the 2011 season.
This marks the fifth time Mizzou has started a season 5-0 in Gary Pinkel’s 13 years at the helm. That kind of start to a season has be a precursor to big things for the Tigers. The average season win total for those previous four teams is 10. The last time Mizzou started 6-0 was 2010 when they were Big 12 North Co-Champions. Pinkel’s career record of 168-98-3 makes him the second winningest coach in Missouri history.
Saturday’s Missouri-Georgia matchup is just the third meeting between the two schools on the gridiron. They first met in the 1960 Orange Bowl and then again last year in Columbia.
Kickoff is at 11 a.m. central time. The game will be telecasted on ESPN.