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December 5, 2013
SCOUTING REPORT: Missouri Tigers
AUBURN | Auburn will take on the Missouri Tigers (11-1, 7-1 SEC) Saturday in the SEC Championship game. Both teams have accomplished major turnarounds in 2013.
Missouri was picked to finish sixth in the SEC East prior to the season while Auburn was slotted to finish fifth in the West.
Mizzou head coach Gary Pinkel needs one more victory to become the all-time leader in wins at Missouri.Pinkel has been at Missouri since the 2001 season and has been a college football coach for 39 years -- 22 as a head coach. The SEC East championship is Mizzou's fourth division title in the past seven years, including three in the Big 12 North. An offensive coach by trade, Pinkel spent 11 seasons on the staff at Washington and considers Washington coaching legend Don James his mentor.
Missouri falls somewhere in the broad category of a "spread offense". Known for their passing proficiency, the Tigers rank behind only Auburn in SEC rushing yards per game. Predominantly a one-back offense, the Tigers typically deploy with at least three wide receivers.
The key element in the Tiger offense is quarterback James Franklin (6-2, 230, Sr.), who missed all of three games and most of a fourth this season with a shoulder injury. In the eight games he's started, he has completed 162 of 242 passes for 1,952 yards and 16 touchdowns. He's been intercepted 4 times. Franklin always is a threat to run and has 91 carries for 412 yards this season.
Tailback Henry Josey (5-10, 190, Jr.) is the leading rusher. Josey has 153 carries for 951 yards -- an average of 6.2 yards per carry. He has run for 13 touchdowns and has nine pass receptions for 55 yards. While Josey gets the bulk of the rushing attempts, the Tigers use two other tailbacks in sophomore Russell Hansbrough (5-9, 190) and junior Marcus Murphy (5-9, 195). The most eye-catching feature of the Mizzou offense is the receiver corps. When the top four wideouts are in the game, the average height is 6-4 -- and all four can run. Marcus Lucas (6-5, 220, Sr.) leads the team in receptions with 50 for 596 yards. Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham (6-6, 225) has 49 catches for 686 yards and 10 touchdowns.
L'Damian Washington (6-4, 205, Sr.) also has 10 touchdowns on 44 catches and leads the team in receiving yards with 824. The fourth wide receiver is junior Bud Sasser (6-2, 210), who has 20 catches for 292 yards. Tight end Eric Waters (6-5, 245, Sr.) has caught eight passes. Missouri suffered through a dismal 2012 season, at least partly due to a rash of injuries on the offensive line. At one point, the Tigers were starting three walk-on offensive linemen. Things have been much smoother up front this season and the offensive line is now a strength of this team. Anchored by senior left tackle Justin Britt (6-6, 315), the Tigers' line averages 6-5 and 310 pounds. They run a lot of inside zone plays and the group zone blocks extremely well. The Tigers average 5.6 yards per rushing attempt. Mizzou quarterbacks have been sacked 22 times. Auburn quarterbacks, by comparison, have been sacked 15 times.
The Mizzou defense is solid overall, but the engine of the defense is the front four. Defensive end Michael Sam (6-2, 255, Sr.) leads the SEC with 10.5 sacks and 17 tackles for loss. Fellow DE Kony Ealy (6-5, 275, Jr.) is not far behind with 6.5 sacks and an interception which he returned for a 49-yard score. The three-technique tackle is junior Matt Hoch (6-5, 295) and the nose tackle is redshirt freshman Harold Brantley (6-3, 290). All four defensive linemen are quick and run to the ball; I've seen both defensive tackles make stops on bubble screens. Mizzou has sacked opposing quarterbacks 37 times this season.
The linebackers are big. Strong-side linebacker Donovan Bonner is 6-1 and 245 pounds, weak-side linebacker Kentrell Brothers at 6-1 and 240 and middle linebacker Andrew Wilson is 6-3 and 240. Both Wilson and Bonner are seniors, and Brothers is a soph. Wilson leads the team with 87 tackles. Brothers typically drops off on a slot receiver; he has three interceptions.
The defensive secondary is very experienced with three seniors and a junior. Corner E.J. Gaines (5-11, 195, Sr.) is one of the top cornerbacks in the country and has four interceptions this season. Gaines was assigned to cover Texas A&M's Mike Evans last week and held him to four receptions for eight yards. The other corner is senior Randy Ponder (5-10, 195). Senior Matt White (6-0, 195) is the free safety and junior Braylon Webb (6-0, 205) the strong safety. Webb is second on the team in tackles with 73.
Missouri prefers zone coverage over man and the Tigers have intercepted 18 balls this year.
THE SPECIAL TEAMS:
Punter Christian Brinser (6-2, 200, Jr.) averages 40.7 yards per punt with a net average of 36.8. That's mediocre on the national scale.
Mizzou opponents have averaged 7.9 yards per punt return. Kicker Andrew Bassett (6-1, 215, Soph.) has hit on 14 of 21 field goal attempts and 57-of-60 PATs. Bassett's longest made field goal was 44 yards.
Defensively, Mizzou will be in their 4-2 front with either five defensive backs or one linebacker dropped out of the box in coverage on Auburn's slot receiver. They don't blitz often since they're able to get a strong pass rush out of their four defensive linemen -- especially the ends. It's difficult to project how they will defend Auburn's read option, but their ends will be key. Because of the way their ends like to play up the field, I would think Auburn's plan will be to keep the quarterback inside and let the linebacker deal with the dive back. Mizzou plays their linebackers deeper than most teams and that should enable the Auburn offensive line to effectively combo block on the down linemen and get to the second level.
Missouri plays a lot of zone coverage in the secondary -- and they do it very well. The defensive backs are taught to look not at the wide receiver but at the quarterback. It will be critical this week for Nick Marshall to look off the coverage and not eyeball his receivers.
Offensively, Missouri will spread the field from sideline to sideline with their very good wide receivers. The best way to defend those receivers likely involves jamming them at the line and rerouting them as often as possible. Pretty much everyone Mizzou has played has tried that, but the Mizzou receivers are very good at beating any kind of press coverage and getting into their routes. Given that fact, I'd expect Auburn to play more zone.
That limits the possibility of big plays.
Safety support will be critical for AU this week. Missouri likes to run inside with zone blocking, but I think Auburn's defensive line is capable of winning that battle. My concern is more when they run outside. Those big wide receivers block very well and it's going to be difficult to get a lot of run support out on the edges. Perhaps the most difficult scenario for Auburn to defend is when Missouri goes to an empty backfield and calls designed quarterback runs. Staying in rush lanes will solve that problem, but the Mizzou quarterbacks run very well.
Auburn, as it has all year, will run the ball. I believe that is the best strategy to attack the Mizzou defense. They are physical and they run very well, but despite public perception the AU offense is very different from any Mizzou has faced this year. The motion, the ball fakes and the blocking angles could very well prove problematic for the East Division champs.
With Auburn coming off such a dramatic and important win in the Iron Bowl, there always is concern that the team has not put that game out of their minds and focused on Missouri. I don't believe that will be a problem. Gus Malzahn is so intense and so focused -- I doubt he has wasted even five minutes thinking about last week's game. His players and coaches will follow his lead.
Getting ready for an opponent in just a few of days is very difficult. When you don't know who the opponent will be, there isn't a lot you can do in advance. Hopefully Gus had his support staff working on both Missouri and South Carolina in anticipation of facing one of the two in Atlanta. Missouri, on the other hand, fully expected to be playing Alabama and I doubt they spent any significant time thinking about Auburn. I think those factors will impact the outcome of this game -- along with the fact that this is essentially a home game for AU.
Couple that with the fact that Auburn's schedule has been more difficult and I think this is a game Auburn can win. It won't be easy, but it can certainly be done. It's been a long grind for the players and coaches. Twelve games in this league is a test of manhood -- both mentally and physically. One more test remains and I believe this group is more than equal to the task.