5 things Missouri must do to upset Alabama
That’s what Vegas thinks of Missouri’s chances in the SEC Championship.
There’s no doubt that the Tigers are facing an uphill battle when they take on the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide this Saturday, but the underdog mantra is something Missouri is used to this season and it has yet to derail the Tigers’ season.
In order to achieve its biggest upset of the season, here are the five things Missouri must do in order to take down Alabama.
Win the turnover battle
As with any upset, the Missouri Tigers must win the turnover battle. Fortunately for them, the statistics are in their favor.
Coming into this weekend’s game, Missouri holds the SEC’s second-best turnover margin at plus-9, while Alabama struggled to keep its margin above zero at minus-2 for the season.
The two players that will be key in creating the turnovers will be defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray. These two have been creating havoc all season for opposing backfields and with 12 fumbles lost on the season (2nd in the SEC) by Alabama, applying pressure on quarterback Blake Sims or running back TJ Yeldon could force a few more fumbles.
Turnovers will be the biggest factor in Missouri’s upset bid.
Double-team Amari Cooper
Let’s face it, Amari Cooper is no ordinary receiver (sorry Auburn).
Missouri’s pass defense sits at sixth in the SEC allowing just over 200 passing yards per game, but none of that matters with Cooper lining up opposite the secondary.
Cooper’s proven to be too dangerous in any one-on-one matchups and chances are that he’ll back up his Iron Bowl performance (13 rec., 224 yards and three touchdowns) with another outstanding stat line.
If I’m Missouri, I stick two guys on Amari Cooper and force Blake Sims to throw to other guys like DeAndrew White, OJ Howard and others. It’s not that these receivers aren’t talented in their own right, but they are nowhere near Cooper’s level of talent.
Force those receivers to make plays and see what happens.
Get the ball in Marcus Murphy’s hands
Everyone has seen what Marcus Murphy can do with the football in his hands. Just ask Florida fans.
He’ll obviously have some opportunities to make plays as Missouri’s primary returner, but Murphy needs to be a big presence on the offensive side of things on Saturday whether through carries or receptions. He’s simply too explosive to not get the football.
Over the course of the season, Murphy averages just over 15 touches per game and he needs to see a similar amount of action against Alabama. Fortunately for Murphy, he’s so versatile. He can line up in the backfield, in the slot or even take the ball on a jet sweep.
With Russell Hansbrough a little banged up, it puts the onus on Murphy even more to produce against the Crimson Tide.
I like Murphy to be an X-factor on Saturday and he should be a prominent part of the offensive game plan for the Tigers.
Focus on the defensive interior
A lot of the defensive notoriety for Missouri goes to pass rushers Markus Golden and Shane Ray — and for good reason. But one of the most important areas for the Tigers to focus on will be the interior defensive line against Alabama’s running game.
The Crimson Tide boast two ultra-talented backs in TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Not only are they talented, but they are both very physical and their kind of running style can easily wear out defenses over the course of the game.
Players like Harold Brantley, Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch will be the key to limiting Alabama’s running backs on Saturday. Keeping the backs to under four yards a carry could be the magic number for Missouri. When kept under four yards per cary, Alabama is 3-1, but all three wins were by seven points or less.
Keep the ‘us against the world’ mentality
All season long, Missouri’s been an underdog, a team no one thought would make it to the SEC Championship.
But the Tigers made it and they are once again underdogs, 14.5-point underdogs to be exact. It’s a mantra that Missouri is more than used to, but it’s only fueled them even more and it’s shown on the field as the Tigers have won six straight SEC games, including three in November in which they were underdogs in all three.
Nothing’s changed for Saturday and Missouri is expected to not put up much of a fight. If the Tigers can let that kind of disbelief drive them even harder, I think it will provide a huge emotional lift for Missouri as its players look to prove just how talented the team on the conference’s biggest stage.