COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 15: Running back Kendial Lawrence #4 of the Missouri Tigers carries the ball for a touchdown during the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on September 15, 2012 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Injury plagued Mizzou escape ASU's late comeback, but now move on to face their second top-10 opponent this season.
In front of another sellout crowd at Faurot Field, an injury ravaged Missouri Tigers defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils. Thank goodness.
It looked like Mizzou would easily handle the Sun Devils as ASU committed error after error in the first half, but in typical, nay, predictable Mizzou fashion, the Tigers wouldn't let it be that easy. Trouble on the offensive line and in the kicking game are the biggest reasons this game wasn't a blowout in favor of the Tigers. For the second consecutive week, the Tigers were unable to salt away an opponent that gave them every chance early on.
James Franklin, Zaviar Gooden and Elvis Fisher were all missing from Saturday's lineup. Let's get this out of the way right now. Corbin Berkstresser played admirably in this game, but don't fool yourself. He is not the second coming of Tim Tebow and is not better than James Franklin. With Franklin in this game, the Tigers throw the ball more and probably win this one by two touchdowns. Berkstresser was great in short yardage and one would think that David Yost might be planning on utilizing him in special packages near the goal line or on third and short. The red zone interception thrown by Berkstresser was a critical moment in the game. A touchdown on that drive and the Tigers might end up going into half with a 24-7 lead. Another week, another critical red zone turnover by the Tigers. Luckily, it was the only Mizzou turnover of the evening.
Sheldon Richardson was a monster. The dude just lived in the backfield for almost the entire game, making life hell for both ASU quarterbacks and running backs. Along with Richardson, Kony Ealy made some big plays for the Tigers. Ealy was a guy I started keeping tabs on back in week one. This defensive line has the makings of being Pinkel's best in his Mizzou tenure.
Along with Ealy and Richardson, the Tigers have some real playmakers on defense. Kip Edwards made an outstanding read on his pick in the first quarter which swung the first half momentum in favor of the Tigers. EJ Gaines continues to make plays not only in the secondary, but has shown great ability to get in the backfield and shut down the run game. Michael Sam and Brad Madison are beasts on the edges, Sam notched multiple sacks in the game, including a big one that resulted in a fourth and long and the Gaines punt return reverse that went for a big gain. Add in Will Ebner, Zaviar Gooden (when healthy) and some solid depth and the Tigers may be able to keep pace with the big, bad SEC defenses we keep hearing so much about and maybe steal a road game later this year.
The defense has caused turnovers and been a huge factor in the young season. It's quite the script flip on the recent history of Mizzou football. This very well may be the best defense Mizzou has had since the 1960s and 70s.
Now it's on to the other Columbia to face the South Carolina Gamecocks and perhaps the best offensive and defensive players in the country in running back Marcus Lattimore and defensive end Jadevon Clowney. The Tigers offensive and defensive lines will have their plates full.
Some questions have been raised about Lattimore's health, but Clowney is going to make life a living hell for this patchwork offensive line. This is the first big road test of many for the Tigers this season. Mizzou must win at least one of their road games with South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida to contend in the SEC East. The Tigers are already behind the eight ball with their loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. Going between the hedges as a double-digit underdog, Mizzou has the odds stacked against them. The D has to make plays and Franklin must be healthy if Mizzou is going to pull the upset against their second top-10 opponent this season.