L’Damian Washington

Mizzou WR suspended due to a banned substance

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The Missouri Tigers’ war of attrition at wide receiver continues.

Sophomore Levi Copelin has been suspended for the 2014 campaign due to taking a banned substance.

“The reason I am suspended is that I recently bought an over-the-counter nutritional supplement from a local store, and used it as part of my workout routine,” Copelin said in a statement released by the schoool. “Unfortunately, I used it without clearing it with my strength coaches or trainers.  This supplement is legal and available to the public, but it isn’t approved by the NCAA, and as a result of using it, I failed an NCAA drug test.  This was a stupid mistake on my part, and I’m very sorry that I put myself and my team in this situation.  This is a hard lesson to learn, as I never had the wrong intentions. I also understand there aren’t any shortcuts to success.  There’s nothing I can do except dedicate myself to representing me, my family, my team, and Mizzou the right way going forward.  I’m very grateful to my coaches and my teammates for giving me a chance to overcome this.”

Last season, the Tigers had one of the most explosive wide receiver corps in college football. L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas were lost to the NFL, and budding superstar Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team in April.

The team will now rely heavily on seniors Bud Sasser, Darius White and Jimmie Hunt. Copelin was projected to be the team’s fourth starter at wide receiver in its spread system. Instead, Copelin’s absence will provide an opportunity for a pair of true freshmen, Nate Brown and DeSean Blair, to make an early impact for the Tigers. The coaching staff could also turn to tight end Sean Culkin to provide a big presence — all 6-6 and 245 pounds of him — in the slot.

“This is a very unfortunate situation, but one that Levi created for himself,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said in the statement. “He’s paying the price for this mistake, and I commend him for owning up to it and taking responsibility.  Our strength coaches and trainers rely on our players to be careful of what they do on their own, and to always get approval from them first.  We’re disappointed that Levi didn’t follow this guideline, but we will support him during this time, and have high expectations that he will handle all of his responsibilities in the classroom, in the community and on the field in a first-class manner.”

Maty Mauk, Mizzou adapting to life without DGB

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The shock of Dorial Green-Beckham’s dismissal from the team probably hasn’t completely worn off at Mizzou just yet, even if quarterback Maty Mauk insisted “it’s behind us and we can’t do anything about it.” (via ESPN.com)

Mizzou’s spring game on Saturday, then, serves as an early look at who Mauk and the Tigers turn to in the absence of the team’s best returning receiver. It doesn’t help that Mizzou lost the 167 combined catches L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas had in last season’s run to the SEC Championship, either.

The good news is that Mizzou’s receivers still have good size and athleticism. Mauk, in the ESPN story, raved about 6-foot-3 Texas transfer Darius White, who only has 13 career catches to his name. Bud Sasser, who’s listed at 6-foot-2, caught 26 passes for Mizzou last year (and also threw a 40-yard touchdown to Washington at Georgia). Veteran Jimmie Hunt (22 catches in 2013) will also see an increased role in the Tigers’ offense.

Mauk lays out a few other players he’s been encouraged by in spring practice, and noted that Mizzou is being picked to finish near the bottom of the SEC East (not exactly an unfair assessment — in addition to the receivers, Mizzou lost QB James Franklin, RB Henry Josey, OL Justin Britt, OL Max Copeland, DE Michael Sam, LB Andrew Wilson and CB E.J. Gaines, among others).

But Mauk is somewhere between being diplomatic and confident in the guys around him with DGB no longer on the team. There’s still talent in Mizzou’s receiving unit; though we won’t find out if it’s good enough to compete in the SEC until the fall.

 

SEC Championship: Auburn, Missouri are even but took different roads to Atlanta

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If there is one song that seems to sum up the recent wild ride the Auburn Tigers have taken the past few weeks, it may be Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. At least, the title of the song seems to be most appropriate to describe Auburn’s journey to the SEC Championship Game this weekend in Atlanta. Missouri hasn’t exactly had to rely on a power from above as much as Auburn, but they will be lining up on the other side of the field of Auburn this weekend after a similar one-year turnaround in SEC play.

For as similar as these two teams appear to be when you start to look at the numbers, Auburn and Missouri could not have had much different paths to Atlanta. Auburn’s season started with a breath of fresh air with the hiring of head coach Gus Malzahn, who took over for his former boss Gene Chizik. Malzahn was previously one of the hottest assistants in the game while helping to lead Auburn to a BCS championship a few years ago. He picked up some head coaching experience last year at Arkansas State before rejoining the Tigers. The optimism was high for Malzahn at Auburn, but even the most loyal of Auburn supporters would probably admit they didn’t quite see this coming. Auburn was ranked 118th in total offense a year ago, but Malzahn quickly helped improve that. The Tigers enter this weekend with the nation’s 15th best offense in total offense. Much of that is a credit to the incredible running game the Tigers have relied on.

The SEC’s top rushing offense is grinding up 318.25 yards per game on the ground, which should make for a great battle with Missouri. Missouri ranks second in the SEC in rushing defense, but Auburn ran for 218 yards and a touchdown against the SEC’s top rushing defense (Alabama) last weekend. As if stopping Tre Mason is not a tough enough task for Missouri, focus must also be given to quarterback Nick Marshall, who is a threat to throw and run any time. He may not have impressive passing numbers, but Marshall proved last weekend he has a good eye and an ability to wait for a play to develop. Doing that against Missouri will be a key for Auburn.

All this talk about Auburn though and you might be thinking Missouri is a complete afterthought. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Missouri’s turnaround this season has been just as surprising as Auburn’s to most. In their first year in the SEC, while Texas A&M was enjoying the national spotlight, Missouri was slugging through their initiation in the new conference with a 5-7 record. Gary Pinkell‘s team missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2004, which helped to validate the criticisms some seemed to have about Missouri’s place in the SEC. The tables were turned this season though, as Auburn ripped through the SEC East except for an overtime setback at home against South Carolina. These Tigers managed to do it with two different quarterbacks leading the offense without losing much of a step along the way.

James Franklin got things rolling with a 6-0 start under center, throwing 14 touchdowns to just three interceptions as Missouri set the bar high for the rest of the season. A shoulder injury to the starting quarterback in a big win at Georgia, which made it clear Missouri was a serious contender in the division as opposed to a pretender, put the fortune of the season in limbo, but Maty Mauk stepped in to keep the Missouri Tigers roaring.Mauk calmed the nerves of Missouri fans for the most part by avoiding mistakes, throwing 10 touchdowns and just two interceptions in Franklin’s absence. That was highlighted by a five-touchdown performance against Kentucky. Mauk was in command for Missouri’s only loss of the season, but if Franklin should happen to be taken out the Tigers know they have a competent replacement ready to jump right in. Whoever ends up playing quarterback at any given time for Missouri, they will have one of the top targets in the SEC in Dorial Green-Beckham, the receiver who shocked the college football world by committing to Missouri a few years ago. Green-Beckham commands plenty of attention, which opens up the field for the complimentary L’Damian Washington. The two receivers combined for 20 touchdowns this season, so Auburn will have their work cut out for them in the secondary.

It is often turnovers that become the difference of a game. If that is going to be the case for the SEC Championship Game, the Missouri Tigers figure to have the advantage. Missouri has a turnover margin of +15 entering the championship game, which looms large over +1 owned by Auburn. Will Auburn have to rely on some improbable sequence to pick up one more win and an SEC championship?

War Eagle, Auburn’s half way there.

Missouri holds down Texas A&M, sets up Tiger fight in SEC Championship

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Henry Josey‘s 57-yard touchdown right up the middle of Texas A&M’s defense in the fourth quarter may as well have gone for another 678 miles to Atlanta. The No. 5 Missouri Tigers (11-1, 7-1 SEC) will play for the SEC Championship Game in their second year in the conference. Not too many people saw that coming, especially since the Tigers had a rough go in their rookie season in the new conference. After dispatching of No. 21 Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC) Saturday night in Columbia with a 28-21 victory, Missouri wrapped up the SEC East Division to keep South Carolina from sneaking in to Atlanta.

Missouri appeared to have seized control of the momentum in the game in the third quarter. A short touchdown run by Marcus Murphy finished off a 75-yard drive to tie the game at 14-14 early in the second half. The fast start was essential for Missouri after a sluggish first half against an Aggies defense that played one of their finest halves of the year. Missouri’s defense then started to lock down on Johnny Manziel and the Aggies offense, and they kept Texas A&M off the scoreboard in the third quarter. Missouri had another score in them though.

Midway through the third quarter James Franklin tossed a five-yard pass to L’Damian Washington to give the Tigers the first lead of the night, 21-14. But they could not keep Manziel and Texas A&M’s offense down for long. In the fourth quarter the Aggies drove the length of the field with a 98-yard drive ending with a seven-yard run by Ben Malena to tie the game at 21-21. But Missouri still had a big play left in them. It came on a run right up the heart of the Texas A&M defense by Josey late in the fourth quarter. A 57-yard run by Josey gave Missouri a late 28-21 lead. After that, Texas A&M’s offense was flustered trying to make a play happen that just would not develop. The Missouri defense held strong and regained possession to allow the offense to run the clock out.

Missouri will now represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship Game next weekend in Atlanta. They will face Auburn, who stunned Alabama in a fantastic finish in the Iron Bowl to clinch the SEC West. Missouri will be playing in their first conference championship game since playing in the 2008 Big 12 championship game against Oklahoma. Missouri did not play in a bowl game last season, and now they get to play for the SEC Championship. That is quite the turnaround by Gary Pinkell‘s team.

Texas A&M’s season is certainly not done. The Aggies finish in fourth place in the SEC West behind Auburn, Alabama and LSU, but still figure to receive an attractive bowl match-up. Manziel could also still receive an invite to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation, although his performance down the stretch has lacked top plays.

Missouri’s 96-yard TD capitizalizes on South Carolina fumble

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South Carolina running back Mike Davis is one of the best at his position in the SEC. He is not having a very good night in Columbia, Missouri. Mistakes have cost South Carolina in the first half as Missouri is taking a 14-0 lead in to the second half.

Davis lost two fumbles in the first half, both coming in Missouri territory. The first ended up not costing the Gamecocks, although his first fumble cost South Carolina a chance to keep one drive alive after appearing to have enough for a first down on a third-and-short. The second fumble came at the Missouri two-yard line on first and goal. All South Carolina had to do was hold Missouri deep in their own end, and they nearly did. But on third-and-eight from their own four-yard line, Maty Mauk completed a pass for L’Damian Washington and Washington took it the rest of the way for a stunning 96-yard touchdown.

Missouri even had a chance to tack on some points before the half after South Carolina was stuffed on a fourth and short on their own side of the field, but South Carolina’s defense came up with a stop to avoid any further damage.

South Carolina is also playing without Connor Shaw, who is available for the Gamecocks. Dylan Thompson has been playing well in his place, but the Gamecocks will need to get the offense to do something against a Missouri defense that is playing well. A quarterback change could be in the mix at the break as Steve Spurrier needs to find something to change the way this game is unfolding.