AT&T Cotton Bowl 2014 Review

On December 7, 2013 the University of Missouri Tigers (Mizzou) squared off against the Auburn Tigers in a winner takes all conference championship game. Whoever won this game was going to play for the coveted title of Southeastern Conference Champions as well as national championship against Florida State University. Auburn unleashed a rushing attack against Mizzou that gained over 500 yards of offense in route to a hard fought victory–sending Mizzou to the 2014 Cotton Bowl. I had the sneaking suspicion that this was going to be the result.

The same scenario played out in 2007, only Mizzou squared off against Oklahoma University. Mizzou was the #1 team in college football and a win would secure Mizzou a shot at Ohio State for the national title. Instead, Oklahoma handled Mizzou and sent Missouri to the 2008 Cotton Bowl.

In that game, Mizzou unleashed running back Tony Temple to set a new standard in the Cotton Bowl for the running the football. Temple ran the ball 24 times for a record 281 yards and tying the rushing TD total at 4 scores. The Mizzou running game overshadowed the Arkansas running back Darren McFadden, who was the runner up to win the Heisman Trophy that year. The Big XII defeated the SEC 38-7. It wasn’t even fair.

What would happen when the Big XII squared off against the SEC again? Same results? Mizzou was back, but this time facing Oklahoma State University (OSU). Mizzou hadn’t beaten OSU since 2005. Would this trend continue?

The way the game started out, Mizzou’s passing attack was embarrassing, to put it nicely. Quarterback James Franklin’s throws were high, but still catchable. His Wide Receivers had the drops, missing balls that they would have caught all season long. Henry Josey led the running attack with 92 yards and 3 TDs. The running backs ran the ball well, making great cuts behind blockers or powering through defenders. James Franklin’s rushing attack, either by design or QB scramble, was effective.

What made matters worse for Franklin was that his backup, red-shirt freshman Maty Mauk, came in and drove the Tigers down with large scrambles and a perfect pass for a score to Marcus Lucas. Franklin looked like he couldn’t run the offense efficiently while Mauk had the hot hand. The defense was getting takeaways and the offense struggled to capitalize on them in large part because Franklin struggled to throw the ball and his receivers couldn’t catch.

Defensively, Mizzou also struggled, but less so than the offense. As already mentioned, EJ Gaines and the rest of the secondary were able to force interceptions. But the Cover-2 Mizzou prefers was porous against a QB like Clint Chelf of OSU. He was able to march the team down with ease, despite Mizzou having two of the best defensive ends in all of college football.

Mizzou cornerbacks rarely line up on the line of scrimmage to attack the OSU receivers at the snap, throwing them off their routes and disrupting the timing of the pass attack. Instead, they would mostly play five yards or more away from the line to give some cushion. This allowed for better runs to the outside as well as allowed for effective passes to the flats, either screens or designed passes. The cornerbacks couldn’t close the gap to the ball and consistently got beat.

The DEs of Mizzou made plays when needed. In the first half, Kony Ealy notched a key sack. Micahel Sam, the SEC Player of the Year and unanimous 1st Team All-American, notched his sack at the end of the game–forcing a fumble that fellow DE Shane Ray ran back for the score to put the game out of reach for OSU. Mizzou will miss these two guys as they will play on Sundays in the NFL next year. They allowed Mizzou to play their “Money Package”–three DEs on the field (Ealy moves inside to defensive Tackle)–which was the package that Sam got his strip-sack for the win.

Oklahoma State was a formidable opponent for Mizzou. They earned all 31 points they scored. But the game shouldn’t have required at strip-sack ran back for a TD to put the game out of reach. Missouri receivers were getting open and Franklin was putting the ball where they could catch it, albeit a little bit too high. If the receivers could have pulled the ball in for a catch this would have been a blow out. Mizzou would have forced OSU to become a 1 dimensional offense, unable to run the football. This would have allowed the Mizzou DEs like Sam and Ealy to tee off on the OSU QB.

But in the end, Mizzou won 41-31 and beat OSU for the first time since 2005. While they were understandably passed over in BCS consideration by fellow SEC member, Alabama, they showed that they could play in the big games and win–the SEC title game was winnable for Mizzou despite what the final score said.

I am proud of the Tigers for their bounce-back from a mediocre season last year, mired with injuries to the QB and the offensive line. Winning the SEC East was no small task, facing a good Georgia and South Carolina team. They overcame an injury to QB James Franklin, thanks to Mauk playing stellar and going 3-1 this year as a starter. There is hope next year for the Tigers to successfully defend their SEC East title and return to the SEC Championship game in 2014.

Here’s to the Tigers and a great season.

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~ by hankimler on January 5, 2014.

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