Missouri’s spring game is not for another couple of weeks, but the offense got off to a good start in Saturday’s first spring scrimmage. Sophomore running back Morgan Steward was the big performer of the day for the defending SEC East champions, rushing for three touchdowns and 117 yards as the offense claimed a 19-11 victory in the scrimmage.
Steward had to pick up the slack for the Missouri running game because Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy (second and third-leading rushers last season) each left the scrimmage due to injuries. Hansbrough left with a shoulder injury and Murphy was taken out due to an ankle injury. Just how severe those injuries are will be determined later.
Quarterback Maty Mauk completed 14 of 23 pass attempts for 164 yards and a touchdown. Mauk figures to be the team’s starting quarterback after stepping in to lead the offense last season when James Franklin was injured. Corbin Berkstresser made his case for consideration though, completing 11 of 17 pass attempts for 129 yards and a touchdown.
While the offense may have won the day, the defense also had their moments to shine as well. The Tigers defense had two interceptions in two-minute drills, but the first team defense was unable to prevent the first team offense from scoring on two possessions after starting at midfield.
From a special teams perspective, Missouri fans will take note that kicker Andrew Baggett successfully converted all four attempts. Missouri’s shot at an undefeated season was thrown off track thanks to a missed kick against South Carolina last season.
Missouri’s second scrimmage will be held next Saturday. The spring game will follow on April 19 to wrap up spring practices.
A week ago Missouri had a 17-0 lead on South Carolina but could not hang on and lost in overtime. Here we are a week later and Missouri once again built a 17-0 lead on their visiting SEC East opponent, Tennessee. Missouri leads Tennessee 24-3 at halftime.
Quarterback Maty Mauk lacked big numbers early on but has started to find his groove leading the offense. He has three touchdown passes and leads the team in rushing at the half with 84 rushing yards.
A win for Missouri will keep them on top of the SEC East standings. With South Carolina winning earlier in the day against Mississippi State, the Gamecocks remain one game behind Missouri in the division. Because South Carolina owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Tigers, Missouri needs to pick up the win to stay on top of the SEC East and control the path to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.
The half ended with Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett bouncing off the left upright in an eerily familiar fashion from a week ago, but the kicker has kicked one field goal and converted three extra point attempts as well.
Missouri’s undefeated season did not come quietly. Rather, it came with a loud clank off the left upright in the second overtime. South Carolina handed Missouri their first loss in the season after Connor Shaw came off the sidelines for a wild rally and Andrew Baggett‘s 24-yard kick in the second overtime ran in to the upright and bounced the BCS dreams of Missouri from the conversation. South Carolina, down 17-0 at one point in the second half, stormed back for a wild 27-24 victory.
South Carolina needed a spark in the second half. Trailing 14-0 to Missouri, Steve Spurrier wanted to see Dylan Thompson lead the Gamecocks back with the SEC East on the line, but three straight incomplete passes turned the football over on downs in Missouri territory, the ol’ ball coach made the move to call on a beat-up Connor Shaw. The way Shaw played some might wonder why he did not get the start in the first place.
Shaw led the Gamecocks all the way back from a 17-0 deficit in the in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 17-17 with 42 seconds to spare and the defense held Missouri to force overtime on the road.
Missouri struck first in the overtime, taking the overtime’s opening possession in on the ground with a Marcus Murphy run to the left side of the line near the goal line. With the game one down away from being clinched by Missouri, Shaw once again came through in the clutch with a fourth-and-goal pass to the end zone, where it was secured by Bruce Ellington to send the game to a second overtime.
The tension only built from there. With Missouri feeling so close to a trip to Atlanta as the SEC East champions, it would be up to the defense to make the first play in the second overtime. During the possession though South Carolina lost running back Mike Davis to what appeared to be a gruesome lower leg injury on his right leg. Amazingly, Davis walked off the field. Two plays later, the Elliott Fry kicked a 40-yard field goal to give the Gamecocks their first lead of the night. then the kicking game caught up to Missouri, when Baggett’s much shorter attempt hit the upright and fell no good.
Missouri’s loss will hurt in the standings, but the Tigers may still have a good shot to get to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game. Missouri still holds a one-game lead in the loss column in the SEC East, with South Carolina now right behind them and owning a tiebreaker. This loss will be a setback for a team that has built plenty of momentum and deserved credit. This Missouri team is still going to play a factor in the SEC race and could still get back in to the BCS conversation before the end of the season. Missouri could still make a run to become the nation’s top one-loss team. If the Tigers can manage to run the table the rest of the way, which would likely include a win over Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, then Missouri would absolutely be one of the favorites to get in to the BCS Championship when all is said and done.
But for now Missouri just needs to bounce back next week against at home against Tennessee.
Everything Missouri does seems to work. Back-up quarterback against one of the top defenses in the SEC? No problem. Beat Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks? No sweat. You name it, Missouri has done it this season and the Tigers are now the team to beat in the SEC East. Missouri continued to climb the division ladder on Saturday with a 36-17 victory over Florida, holding the visiting Gators to just 151 yards of offense while racking up 500 yards themselves.
Missouri got more than they needed from back-up quarterback Maty Mauk, who completed half of his passes for 295 yards and a touchdown while being picked off once and rushing for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Henry Josey put together a great afternoon on the ground with 136 rushing yards against a Florida defense that was run over by LSU a week ago. This was a game of defense setting up the offense to take advantage and the special teams coming through in a big way for the Tigers. Missouri kicker Andrew Baggett converted all five field goal attempts he was asked to try.
Missouri’s win could not have come on a better day. South Carolina lost to Tennessee and Georgia lost to Vanderbilt, putting Missouri comfortably in first place in the SEC East with a two-game lead in the loss column. Next week Missouri will host South Carolina, who may be without Connor Shaw after suffering a left knee sprain. If Missouri wins next weekend’s battle of the Columbias, the Tigers will take a giant step forward to Atlanta to play in the SEC Championship Game.
This Missouri team is for real. They may not be on par with Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M, but in the middle of October they are certainly the class of the SEC East right now, having picked up wins against Florida and Georgia already.
They are Missouri, and they just may be awesome.