It’s easy to watch Missouri struggle through a 9-6 win at home against Connecticut and assume there’s no chance at a third straight SEC East title.
But how many people felt the same way after the Tigers lost to Indiana last season or in the wake of a 34-0 beating at the hands of Georgia?
By no means am I predicting another division title. The Bulldogs seemed to be the strongest team in the SEC East before the season and there’s plenty of evidence mounting that assumption was right.
Georgia has to play an Alabama team that will be fighting for its playoff life in a couple weeks with road games at Tennessee, Florida and Auburn also on the docket.
Missouri’s game at Arkansas to end the season suddenly seems a lot less daunting.
1. Pedestrian special teams, except …
Freshman Corey Fatony had his first hiccup in a college game, averaging only 39.2 yards on six punts with two that bounded into the end zone for touchbacks.
Senior kicker Andrew Baggett missed a field goal, a very makeable 40-yarder that remarkably hit the upright again. It’s amazing to me how many times Baggett drills uprights, because it’s not all that easy or common.
The return game produced nothing, but Missouri’s coverage units saved the day, starting with senior Clarence Green’s blocked punt for a safety.
“Coach Kool (defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski) was on our tail about (how) we haven’t gotten a block in while on punt, so me and Brandon Lee said we were going to have to get one today, and it was me,” Green said.
He simply ran right through the Huskies’ upbacks and nearly fell on the ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers, who had 10 tackles and still leads the nation with 42 tackles through three games, also blocked an extra point.
2. Credit Ford for game-clinching interception
Another key special teams/defensive play came in the closing minute when safety Anthony Sherrils read the fake field goal and stepped in front of tight end Alec Bloom for his first career interception.
“He made a great play,” Mauk said. “The defensive lineman kind of tipped it. T-Hunt stayed with it, caught it and looked it in. Those guys haven’t seen him run the football, and he’s one of the strongest guys on the football team.”
Cornerbacks coach Cornell Ford decides when kind of rush, if any, Missouri will use on field goals.
“He called an inside rush, so we put pressure on if they are kicking it and we can put pressure on if they get up to throw it, but we are man up on the perimeter people,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said.
That call allowed Sherrils to retreat from the line and read Bloom. When he released downfield, it was clearly a fake and all Sherrils had to do was break on the ball from there.
3. Hansbrough’s status remains uncertain
Senior running back and captain Russell Hansbrough missed the Connecticut game and may not be ready for Kentucky either.
“I don’t know if we’re going to have Hansbrough back for next week or not,” Pinkel said. “We’re going to find out.”
Hansbrough’s return would help Missouri’s offense, but I don’t think it’s a panacea for all that plagues quarterback Maty Mauk and company.
Offensive line and quarterback play also must improve. Plus, the receivers could do a better job gaining separation consistently, especially in the red zone.