Two teams enter, one team leaves.
That saying has been beaten to death, but we’ll roll it out there just one more time. Missouri goes back to Atlanta after falling 59-42 to Auburn last season. The Crimson Tide suffered through a one-year absence following the infamous “Kick Six”, but bring the top overall College Football Playoff ranking to the Georgia Dome turf. The consequences are obvious. The narrative is even more obvious. Before we get too far into the weeds, let’s get to the trivia question!
2014 SEC Championship Game Trivia (answer at the end of the column): Alabama and Missouri are tied for the sixth-highest combined winning percentage (.875) of any two teams to take the field in an SEC Championship Game. Which game featured the highest combined winning percentage, and who were the two teams involved?
Bonus!: Who was the MVP of the game referenced in this week’s trivia question?
#1 Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC) vs. #13 Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC)
4:00pm | CBS | Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA
Info guide: Let’s start things in a little bit of an unorthodox fashion. USA Today’s weekly caucus asked this question:
What has to happen for Alabama to lose this weekend?
You won’t find my answer there, but you’ll find it here.
Despite their lofty ranking, Alabama can indeed be beaten. It’s going to take a departure from Missouri’s standard mode of operation to happen, though.
The Crimson Tide have surrendered 967 passing yards in their last three games — including a staggering 456 to Auburn last week — and their pass defense is a middling tenth-best in the SEC. The Tigers are trending in the right direction through the air, too, having thrown for 747 yards in their last three games. That surge comes after going four games in which they threw for just greater than 400 total yards.
Defense has also been a key to Mizzou’s six-game winning streak. They have surrendered 341 yards or fewer in each of those six games. Alabama had three games this year in which they failed to reach that 341-yard total, but won all three (Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State). Continuing the defensive resurgence — and their somewhat re-energized passing game — looks to be the Tigers’ best shot to walk off the field in Atlanta carrying the trophy.
This is not to say that Alabama will lose, naturally, but the exercise involves how they could lose.
There is considerably more at play here; not the least of which are Alabama and Missouri’s dueling six-game winning streaks. The Tide barely escaped what we now know to be a stout offensive club after falling to Ole Miss, then proceeded to boat race Texas A&M before settling into a series of SEC prize fights. After Mizzou took a 34-0 blast in the jaw from Georgia, they then clobbered Florida 42-13 and entered into their own series of nail-biters in conference play. Both teams are clearly battle-tested, even if Alabama secured a larger share of the ink as the season progressed.
Alabama is a top-35 club in every major offensive category — mid-season consternation about the play of Blake Sims aside — and the play of Amari Cooper is a key reason for that. Cooper has 103 grabs for 1573 yards on the season, adding 14 scores. Bama averages 270 yards a game against conference foes, eclipsing the 300-yard mark just three times against SEC opponents.
Conversely, Missouri is a top-35 defensive team by every major measure. The Tigers rank 16th in total defense and 13th in scoring defense, while holding the 35th-best pass defense and 26th-best defense against the run. Missouri’s plus-nine turnover margin also ranks 20th among FBS clubs. SEC sack leader Shane Ray (12 sacks) looks to apply continual pressure to Sims, while Markus Golden and Kentrell Brothers also find themselves near the top of the SEC’s defensive rankings.
Last week aside, the Tide defense is also no slouch. Bama ranks in the top eleven in three of the four major defensive categories, with the pass game — as we mentioned above — proving to be the lone vulnerability in the Alabama defense. The question remains about whether or not Missouri can take advantage of that vulnerability, but Maty Mauk has thrown for 2279 yards and 22 scores.
The math would seemingly not be in the favor of the Tigers here. Mizzou attempted to get into a shootout with a powerful offensive team in Auburn on this very field last year, and it ended poorly for Gary Pinkel’s club. Auburn hung 677 yards on the Tigers in their championship win. This is not the same situation, clearly, but there are similarities. That said, mathematical stuff doesn’t win games, as any Mizzou fan will tell you (or likely me, if you scroll to the comments section).
The truth of the matter here is that we’ll see two incredibly talented and well-coached teams on the field Saturday, with both on a roll. That leads us to…
Print that, tweet that, whatever: Pacing is the key. Missouri needs to control the tempo and the clock. If they do, this could go to the final whistle. If not…uh oh.
Trivia answer: The 2009 SEC Championship Game between Florida and Alabama featured a combined winning percentage of 1.000. Both teams were 12-0 coming into the game. Alabama won the game 32-13 in front of 75,514 fans. Greg McElroy was the MVP of the game.
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