Discount that the Missouri Tigers are two games up in the SEC at your own peril. While there are excuses to be made for Missouri’s two latest victims, Florida and Georgia, the Tigers are simply good.
It’s true that 2012 SEC East champion Georgia and Sugar Bowl representative Florida have suffered their share of injuries. The Bulldogs incurred yet another at the end of Saturday’s loss to Vanderbilt, when wide receiver Chris Conley was hurt on the game-ending Hail Mary attempt.
The numerous injuries to the Georgia offense weren’t entirely responsible for the Bulldogs allowing Missouri 41 points, though.
Florida’s offense starting sputtering the moment Tim Tebow left Gainesville, and injuries to Jeff Driskel and Matt Jones certainly did nothing to help. The elite defense also lost star tackle Dominique Easley.
However, can Easley’s void cancel out Missouri coming into Saturday’s without quarterback James Franklin? All back-up quarterback Matt Mauk did was come on to pass for just shy of 300 yards with a touchdown, and rush for another score.
Running back Henry Josey, back from a devastating knee injury that sidelined him all of 2012, ran with the elusiveness and speed that made him one of the nation’s best rushers in 2011. Josey broke off nearly eight yards per carry on the Gators, which was ranked No. 3 in the nation in rush defense at the start of the day.
The injury excuse applied to Florida and Georgia this season fit Missouri a season ago. The Tigers’ 5-7 finish in Year 1 of the SEC Era wasn’t indicative of the program Gary Pinkel brought over from the Big 12.
Josey’s return is one catalyst reinvigorating the Tigers. Losing Franklin for another few weeks certainly hurts Missouri, but Josey kept MU moving along confidently
Missouri’s return from a disappointing finish a year ago is reminiscent of Texas A&M a season ago. The Aggies finished the 2011 regular season just 6-6, but came into the SEC to go 10-2.
The circumstances are different–A&M welcomed a new coach and a starting quarterback who just happened to be a rare breed–but both teams were better than their previous year’s record.
The Missouri roster is stocked with top-flight talent. Sophomore wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is beginning to live up to his billing as the No. 1 prospect of the 2012 recruiting class, and he has an outstanding partner in L’Damian Washington.
Linebacker Andrew Wilson and defensive end Michael Sam have been stalwarts for a solid defense. Marcus Murphy is one of the most dangerous special teams weapons in the nation.
It’s all coming together at the right time for the Tigers. The instability of the rest of the SEC East only helps.