The Missouri Tigers have done an incredible job of taking advantage of the opportunity in front of them and putting themselves in a position to play for an SEC championship by beating the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida Gators the past two weeks. But if they want to finish the job and ensure themselves of a chance to play for a conference title, they have to do so playing old school SEC football in the trenches, and that means stopping their opponent’s running game.
The Tigers did a great job of stopping the run against Florida last week, holding the Gators to just 59 rushing yards, but three of their five remaining conference opponents average over 200 yards rushing per game and will pose still challenges for the Missouri defense.
Missouri has proven this season that they have a great pass rush, as they lead the conference with 23 sacks, nine of those coming from senior Michael Sam who is the SEC’s individual sack leader. The Tigers’ pass rush can take over a game but only if they’re able to stop their opponent’s running game first and get them in obvious passing situations. If the Tigers can do that the rest of the season, they will likely retain their lead in the East Division and earn a spot in the SEC Title Game.
Missouri’s most important game the rest of the season will be this week’s game against the South Carolina Gamecocks. A win for the Tigers on Saturday would likely allow them to lose two games the rest of the season and still win the SEC East. But to beat South Carolina, they will have to stop running back Mike Davis, who currently leads the SEC in rushing, and will be the best running back the Tigers have faced all season.
The Tigers will catch a break by not having to face Connor Shaw, one of the best rushing quarterbacks in the SEC, but the Gamecocks won’t be shy pounding away on the ground with Davis until Missouri proves they can stop him. Only after the Tigers stop Davis consistently will they be able to unleash Sam and the rest of their pass rushers on backup Dylan Thompson. If Missouri can’t contain Davis, they won’t be able to beat the Gamecocks as easily as they beat the Gators last week.
Missouri has shocked everyone by being in this position, but to win an SEC title their defense will have to continue to shut down their opponent’s rushing attack. That will be easier said than done with several of the league’s top rushers still left on their schedule.
Bryan Zarpentine is a New York Mets writer at RantSports.com. He also writes frequently about the NFL, College Football, College Basketball, and International Soccer. Like him on Facebook, follow him on twitter @BZarp and add him on Google.