Thus far in 2012, the much-anticipated move to the SEC hasn’t worked out too well for the Missouri Tigers (3-3 straight up, 2-3 vs. the spread), who have dropped their first three games in conference play.
Things figure to get worse before they get better for the Tigers, as they are tasked with hosting top-ranked Alabama (5-0 straight up, 2-3 vs. line; No. 1 Don Best Linemakers Poll) on Saturday at Faurot Field.
A quick midweek check with the Don Best college football odds screen notes that the visiting Crimson Tide has ballooned to a 21½-point favorite at the majority of Las Vegas sports books, with the total hovering between 43-43½. Kickoff time on Saturday will be 3:30 p.m. (ET), with CBS providing the TV coverage, which means Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson will describe the action from Columbia.
Although these teams haven’t met often over the years, there’s still some history between the two, and oldtimers might recall a handful of memorable confrontations from the 1960s and ‘70s. Interestingly, Mizzou was one of the few sides to get the best of Bear Bryant’s Alabama, with the Tigers beating the Tide in two of three meetings between 1968-78.
The first came in the 1968 Gator Bowl, as Bryant’s squad entered Jacksonville ranked 12th with an 8-2 record, and the two losses by a combined three points vs. Ole Miss and Tennessee.
But Dan Devine’s Mizzou, ranked 16th, proceeded to dismantle the Tide despite not completing any of its six pass attempts. No matter, Tiger QB Terry McMillian scored three TDs and led a dizzying option attack that piled up 404 yards, while the Mizzou defense, led by DEs Elmer Benhardt and Bill Schmitt, harassed 'Bama soph QB Scott Hunter all day to the tune of 12 sacks, which contributed to the Tide’s net rushing total of -45 yards. Later in the game, Mizzou’s All-America DB Roger Wehrli set up a TD with an interception return, and DB Dennis Poppe ran 47 yards with another pick for the final TD in a 35-10 Tigers romp.
A bigger shocker occurred in the 1975 opener at Legion Field in a Monday night ABC-TV special, when the Tide entered a heavy 20-point favorite and in the midst of a 22-game regular-season win streak. Al Onofrio’s Mizzou, however, had different ideas, scoring on four of its first five possessions thanks in large part to RB Tony Galbreath, who would go on to start for the New Orleans Saints but made a name for himself in the college game by gaining 89 of his 120 rush yards in the first half as the Tigers roared to a 20-0 halftime lead. Alabama only gained 56 yards in the first half and averted a shutout when QB Richard Todd connected with TE Ozzie Newsome, but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers shocked the pollsters with a 20-7 upset. The defeat would eventually cost the Tide a national title as 'Bama would not lose the rest of the season.
The teams met again early in the 1978 season at Columbia, and by this time Warren Powers had replaced Onofrio as the Mizzou coach. Bryant’s team, which would proceed to win a share of the national title, finally got its revenge on the Tigers, although Mizzou held a 20-17 halftime edge, helped by Phil Bradley’s 69-yard TD scamper. Behind two TD passes by QB Jeff Rutledge, the Crimson Tide won, 38-20, and Bear finally had his long overdue win over Mizzou.
Fast forward to 2012, and 'Bama looks a good bet to finally level the series against the Tigers, who enter Saturday’s game likely without starting QB James Franklin after he suffered another knee injury last week against Vanderbilt. The multi-purpose Franklin, battling injuries all season, was replaced again by backup Corbin Berkstresser, who had earlier led Missouri to a win over Arizona State, but could only complete 9-of-30 passes in relief against the 'Dores last week in a 19-15 Tigers loss.
Franklin’s injury is only one of several that have impacted the Mizzou offense this season. The offensive line has been hit as well, although sixth-year LT Elvis Fisher is due back in the lineup after missing the last three games with a sprained knee. Missouri has already allowed 14 sacks in six games after conceding only 18 the entirety of the 2011 campaign.
The combination of the injuries plus a diet of SEC defenses has resulted in offensive stats much reduced from previous Gary Pinkel Mizzou editions; the Tigers ran a poor 95th in total offense and 80th in scoring offense at 25 ppg, far cries from recent numbers posted by the normally high-powered attack.
It’s hard to see the Tigers faring much better against another voracious Nick Saban 'Bama defense that has already wrecked Michigan and Arkansas attacks, and also ranks tops nationally in both total (191 ypg) and scoring (7 ppg) defense. Linebacker C.J. Mosley is playing at an All-American level, as is CB Dee Milliner, while LB Adrian Hubbard has become a disruptive pass rusher. Meanwhile, NG Jesse Williams is occupying multiple blockers up front, helping to enable the back eight to fly toward the football and make plays. A consistent pass rush has put this unit on a par with last year’s BCS title-winning stop unit.
Among all of the imposing stats attached to the Tide defense, we think the fact it hasn’t allowed any foe to gain as much as 300 yards since Cam Newton’s Auburn in 2010 speaks as much about its overwhelming excellence as anything else.
Meanwhile, the offense has delivered more big plays than expected for new offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier, and QB A.J. McCarron continues to be mistake-free (12 TD, 0 picks). The Crimson Tide is getting dangerously thin at the RB spots due to injuries, but so far there has been no drop-off in efficiency, with Eddie Lacy (314 yards rushing) and T.J. Yeldon (292) proving more than serviceable running behind arguably the nation’s best OL.
So, not only does the Mizzou offense, minus its starting QB, have to deal with the nation’s top defense, the Tiger “D” has to try to slow a 'Bama attack scoring better than 40 ppg.
Saban has only covered two of his first five games on the board this season, but the Tide is 7-2 vs. the spot the last nine on road, and 28-16 overall vs. number since 2009. Meanwhile, Missouri is 0-3 straight up and vs. the vs. line in early games vs. its new SEC foes, and Pinkel is only 2-4 as a home dog since 2007.