Um, not the politics… the football team. Bill Connelly’s preview of his beloved Tigers is available for your perusal. It’s as detailed as you might expect from Bill. If you want the Cliffs Notes version, I’ll give it a go.
What he likes:
- Coaching stability
- Flexibility on offense to fit scheme to personnel
- James Franklin most of the time
- A well-stocked receiving corps
- The linebackers
- The cornerbacks
What he’s concerned about:
- The running game, due to injuries at running back and the offensive line
- James Franklin’s tendency to accumulate mistakes
- Defensive tackle depth
This is a team, coming off an 8-5 season, that’s won 48 games in the last five seasons. All in all, that’s more than respectable. So, when Bill points to the likelihood of a seven-win season in 2012, is that due to his concerns, or is it about how Mizzou adapts to its new conference home? It sounds like a little of both:
Instead, we’re in a situation where there are far more questions than concrete expectations. How will Mizzou attempt to attack SEC defenses with personnel more friendly to the pass than the run? What kind of contribution can Dorial Green-Beckham make in his first year (and how quickly can he begin to make it)? How will James Franklin respond to mistakes this time around? How will Mizzou’s defense hold up to steady doses of South Carolina’s Marcus Lattimore, Vanderbilt’s Zac Stacy and Alabama’s [Insert Random Blue-Chip Running Back Here]? Will poor safety play break a bend-don’t-break defense? And will The SEC Grind™ take effect as conference proponents so often say it does? And do Mizzou fans take in nearly enough brown liquor and tailgate meat to fit in with their new conference mates? We will find out the answers soon enough.
If you’re a believer in the mantra that to win in the SEC you have to be able to run the ball on offense and stop the run on defense, you can see where Bill’s concerns play into his prediction.
How does any of that play into Missouri’s SEC home opener against Georgia? Well, the Dawgs return the 11th ranked rush defense from last season. The Tigers played one team which played the run stouter than Georgia, Texas, and turned in their worst ypr average of the season. On the other side of the ball, Georgia was little more than average rushing the ball in 2011. Missouri against the run was excellent at shutting down really crappy offenses, fair to middling against more respectable offenses and awful against Baylor and Oklahoma State. At worst, you’d hope that Georgia would have at least a semblance of a running game at work in Columbia, but there are offensive line questions for the Dawgs as well that we’ll have to wait and see on whether they’ve been addressed.
What that leaves is the question we’ve all had, well, since spring break: the suspensions. Now we still don’t know how all of that plays out. What we do know is that Branden Smith will play, Sanders Commings will sit and Malcolm Mitchell will be tired after the game. Year2 thinks that’s enough to swing the game Missouri’s way.
The other concern is the very dangerous game against Missouri in Week 2. Todd Grantham has had issues at times with mobile quarterbacks, and James Franklin is a very good mobile quarterback. The secondary will also be out two starters in safety Bacarri Rambo and cornerback Sanders Commings suspended. The latter might be the bigger problem, because it means a very inexperienced player will be opposite either senior T.J. Moe or the nation’s top recruit Dorial Green-Beckham. Sophomore Malcolm Mitchell, a high school corner who excelled at receiver last year, will probably be the guy based on practice reports, but that’s going to hurt an offense that, absent a good run game, could really use him. Put this game the next week, and I’ve got Georgia winning it. Instead, it’ll cost the team the division with a loss to the Gamecocks.
That’s a pretty finely tuned assessment there. And maybe he’s right – there are plenty of pundits who think Missouri is the smart pick. What I’d come back with is that (1) we don’t know how Georgia’s running game shapes up yet, but if you accept the premise that no back on Georgia’s current roster is as talented as Crowell was, the fact remains that between suspension and injury, Crowell was essentially a non-contributor in five of Georgia’s last six games and the Dawg offense sputtered in two of those (although I don’t believe anyone would suggest that Missouri’s defense is in the same league as LSU’s); (2) Malcolm Mitchell missed three whole games and part of another mid-season last year, the Dawgs won all four games and didn’t have much problem scoring in the three games Mitchell didn’t play; (3) Mitchell is expected to play on both sides of the ball against Missouri (although the unanswered question is how much); and (4) I sure would like to know what Alec Ogletree’s status is for the game.
I’m not being cute there at the end. In fact, I suspect Ogletree’s status matters more than Rambo’s, given Franklin’s ability to run the ball and Missouri’s likely use of the short passing game to negate Georgia’s pass rush. So Year2 may be right. We don’t have enough to go on yet.