SEC newbie Missouri gets their first road game of 2012 this weekend in brutal fashion, making the trek to Columbia, South Carolina to take on the eighth-ranked Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina, who is 3-0 and coming off a 49-6 waxing of UAB, is a double digit favorite to make the Tigers 0-2 in conference play. In order to have any semblance of hope in the SEC East race, Mizzou would need to pull the road upset on Saturday afternoon, a task that doesn’t figure to be easy against an SC squad that has won seven in a row dating back to last year, and has yet to allow more than 13 points in a game this year. If the Tigers are going to make some noise, some or all of the following will need to happen.
SNAP THE FREAKING BALL!!!
One of the most rudimentary parts of the game has been a challenge for the Tigers at times thus far in 2012. Against Georgia two weeks ago, Mizzou struggled with several shotgun snaps, putting them behind the chains against a good defense. Last week in their 24-20 victory over Arizona State, special teams snaps were an Achilles heel, playing a part in kicker Andrew Baggett’s 1-for-4 field goal performance.
Offensive Line Cohesion
Early season injuries have put bullet holes in the Mizzou O-line, and as a result the Tigers have gotten real young, real quick up front. After losing both of their projected starting guards in the preseason, left tackle and team captain Elvis Fisher went down with a knee injury against Georgia. Jack Meiners, one of the linemen who went down before the first game, got a little PT last week and figures to be back to 100% this week. He will be needed against Jadeveon Clowney and a South Carolina defensive line that has lived in opponent’s backfields thus far in 2012. While Mizzou’s line has done an admirable job holding it together, they will need to be in unison with all hands on deck against the formidable Gamecock D that is allowing just 53 rushing yards per game.
Continued Havoc from the D-Line
The most pleasant surprise of Mizzou’s season thus far has been the stellar play of their defensive line, which caused all sorts of problems for a potent Arizona State offense last week. DT Sheldon Richardson has been a beast and ranks second among SEC defensive linemen in tackles. Six different defensive linemen have sacks already this year for the Tigers, and this may be one area that, at least on paper, they may have an advantage. South Carolina’s O-line has surrendered nine sacks already this year, and their ground game hasn’t gotten completely rolling, although huge offensive performances haven’t been needed due to the Gamecock’s stifling defense.
A Healthy James Franklin
Starting QB James Franklin missed last week’s game with a dinged shoulder, and backup Corbin Berkstresser, a red shirt freshman, filled in admirably in the first significant action of his career. Mizzou’s offense stalled at times, however, and against the Gamecocks front seven, the more mobile Franklin would help immensely against a defense that has already notched 12 sacks this year. In a hostile road environment, the dual-threat junior who threw for 269 and a pair of TDs against Georgia two weeks ago would give the Tigers a much better shot at a victory.
Shore up the Kicking Game
We mentioned Mizzou’s field goal woes from last week, and they are only 3-for-7 on the season. The Tigers have also had a punt blocked and have struggled with kickoffs going into the end zone, a sight that South Carolina kickoff return man Bruce Ellington will love to see if he is able to play after injuring his shoulder last week. In what could be a defensive game, any special teams miscue could be magnified.