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NCAA Football Missouri Tigers

Missouri Tigers: 5 Keys to Winning SEC Championship Game

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Missouri's 5 Keys to Beating Auburn

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Denny Medley–USA TODAY Sports

The most improbable of SEC championship games has arrived, pitting No. 5 Missouri against No. 3 Auburn. The Tigers (East) rebounded from a disappointing 5-7 2012 season plagued by injuries to reach the title game in only their second season in the conference. Missouri has topped Arkansas as the fastest new member to reach the SEC title game, as the 1994 Hogs won the SEC West in their third season in the conference.

Tigers (East) vs. Tigers (West) is certainly not the matchup everyone expected, but it’s going to be exciting when Missouri and Auburn face off in the Georgia Dome Saturday afternoon. There really aren’t two more similar teams in the SEC. Statistically, these Tigers have near identical stripe patterns, ranking next to or near one another in a number of categories. There’s a good chance this game could be really, really close.

We know both teams can move the ball and put points on the board, as they both rank in the top four in the SEC in total offense and scoring. Both defenses are also much improved, employing a bend but don’t break mentality. Both are hungry to cap off amazing seasons with a league title. But as similar as the two may be, only one Tiger can take home the trophy.

So what can separate Missouri from Auburn? What do the Tigers from the East need to do to take down their counterparts in the West?

Here are Missouri’s five keys to winning the SEC Championship Game.

Scott Page is a college football writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter, Like him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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5. Believe You Belong

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Dale Zanine–USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one non-football concern for Missouri, it’s the collective psychological angst of everyone invested in the program. So many times these Tigers have found a way to let a big game slip away, or have it taken away; whether it was Colorado’s infamous fifth down in 1990 or the late meltdown against South Carolina this season. What happens to this Missouri team if Auburn jumps ahead early? Will the Tigers maintain their composure and punch back, or will it turn into the 2007 Big 12 title game in which No. 9 Oklahoma blasted No. 1 Missouri 38-17 to prevent the Tigers from playing for a national title?

Since playing in a league with a divisional and championship game format, Missouri has won its division three times, including this season. The Tigers were blown out each of the last two times it played in a conference title game. Auburn has been in this game four times before and won it twice, but this is Missouri’s first appearance. Missouri has to believe it belongs in this game and not panic if things get tough, otherwise Auburn could run away with the SEC title.

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4. Force the Issue on the Perimeter

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Spruce Derden–USA TODAY Sports

Missouri has an undeniable offensive advantage on the perimeter. Auburn’s secondary has been prone to give up big plays down the field and the Tigers (East) have three huge (literally) receivers that present mismatches all over the field. Dorial Green-Beckham (6-foot-6, 225 pounds), Marcus Lucas (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) and L’Damian Washington (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) average 6-foot-5 and 217 pounds.

Auburn ranks 10th in the league in rush defense, but they struggle against power running teams that use a fullback not spread offenses like Missouri’s. The Tigers (West) are good enough up front to slow Missouri’s run game, but they won’t have answers for the big guys out wide. If Missouri can protect James Franklin, he should have some opportunities for big throws downfield. This is a matchup that so heavily favors Missouri, you’d almost encourage Franklin to turn it loose even if guys appear to be covered, trusting your receivers can make a play.

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3. Attack the Football

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Denny Medley–USA TODAY Sports

Auburn has the top rushing attack in the SEC and Missouri, like every other team, likely won’t be able to shut it down. But there is another way the Tigers (East) could be able to limit Auburn’s scoring chances – forcing fumbles. The Tigers (West) have consistently had trouble holding on to the ball this year, and Missouri is tied for most takeaways in the conference with 27, including nine fumbles gained.

Auburn’s top two rushers, Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, have both repeatedly put the ball on the ground in big games this season. They’ll carry the football a lot Saturday, so there will be opportunities to attack the ball and force fumbles. In close game between two evenly matched teams, a couple of turnovers could be a huge boost for Missouri.

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2. Come Away With Points

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Denny Medley–USA TODAY Sports

Though Auburn’s defense gives up more than 400 yards per game, the Tigers (West) are second in the SEC only to Alabama in red-zone defense. Auburn doesn’t yield a lot of points, especially late in the game. The Tigers (West) have held seven opponents to seven or less second-half points and are giving up an average of just 4.8 points in the fourth quarter. It is absolutely imperative for Missouri to capitalize on scoring opportunities, especially early since the Auburn defense gets stronger as the game progresses. And you’d definitely prefer James Franklin and company to punch it in for six points and avoid having to rely on field goals.

You saw what happened to Alabama last week, missing three field goals and having another blocked by the Tigers. Missouri can’t afford those same miscues and this game figures to be close, meaning Andrew Baggett’s right foot could become a huge determinant of the outcome. He missed his most important kick of the season, doinking a short field goal off the left upright to give South Carolina a 27-24 overtime win. He’s struggled all season, hitting just 14 of his 21 attempts, which is tied for 11th in the SEC. Will Baggett be able to overcome those demons and redeem himself on the biggest stage of his career?

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1. Win the Fourth Quarter

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Denny Medley–USA TODAY Sports

Unlike Auburn, Missouri hasn’t been in many games that were close in the fourth quarter, and the Tigers (West) have shown time and again that if they have a chance to win a game late, they usually find a way to do it. Most are expecting this game to be tight, so Missouri will likely have to find a way to outlast this resilient Auburn team. The Tigers (East) have also been tough in the final frame all season, especially on defense. They’ve held six opponents scoreless in the fourth quarter and four others to seven points or less.

But Missouri also hasn’t scored many points late, partially because they’ve been so far ahead in a lot of games. Still, Mizzou has scored seven points or less seven times this year and didn’t score at all in the fourth quarter of three games, which is troubling considering how good Auburn’s defense has been late in games.

Missouri has only been outscored in the fourth quarter once. Not coincidentally, it happened to be the one loss of the season. South Carolina outscored the Tigers 17-0 in the fourth quarter en route to a win in overtime. Whichever team wins the fourth quarter Saturday will likely be crowned SEC champs.