Sunday, November 24, 2013
Missouri's magical run continues in Oxford
By Edward Aschoff
OXFORD, Miss. -- Somewhere between reveling in Missouri's final victory formation and taking a rare victory lap in the opposing team's stadium, Mizzou offensive lineman Max Copeland nearly hurled.
The 6-foot-3, 300-pound senior chugged along as he and his teammates rushed to the north end zone of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium to greet a huge cluster of black-and-gold-clad Missouri fans, who braved frigid temperatures to watch the Tigers roll over Ole Miss in a 24-10 win.
Ecstatic about the win and running on adrenaline, Copeland realized his excitement might be getting the better of him.
"I almost puked," said Copeland, sporting a fresh wound on the bridge of his nose. "I was like, 'Wow, this is a 100-yard field.' I kinda forgot.
"I tried to jump in the stands; too fat, couldn't do it."
Yet again, the Tigers were faced with a situation in which no one would have been surprised if they failed, and yet again they prevailed. Playing in a raucous environment with all the pressure of a playoff atmosphere, the Tigers didn't flinch.
The win extends Mizzou's SEC Eastern Division title hopes, while a loss would have eliminated it and sent South Carolina, which beat the Tigers in overtime last month, to Atlanta for the SEC title game.
"We know our back is against the wall right now," receiver L'Damian Washington said. "The phrase 'control your own destiny' is kind of getting irritating, but we know what's at hand, and we knew we had to come out and play our best.
"We're already self-motivated. We know where we want to go."
James Franklin was efficient in his return from injury, directing an offense that rolled up 485 yards.
They want to go to Atlanta, and now only a home game with Texas A&M, which was throttled 34-10 by LSU earlier Saturday, stands in the way.
Win, and the Tigers are East champs.
"If you think that was big, it's going to be a lot bigger than that," coach Gary Pinkel, who won his 100th game as Mizzou head coach, said of the meeting with the Aggies and Johnny Manziel. "It's going to be huge. We're going to play against the best player in college football.
"This is a championship game. That's what you want. We have a share of the [SEC East] championship now. This is what you do it for."
How the Tigers have done this has been so impressive. They don't worry about the outside world. Pressure and stakes mean little. There's only tunnel vision for the Tigers, who all year have preached the same message of one day and one play.
They beat Georgia and Florida in consecutive weeks, and bounced back after the South Carolina loss to win three by an average of 24 points.
"It doesn't matter where we play a game, it doesn't matter who we play," Pinkel said. "And that's a big deal to them.
"When it's all said and done and they've prepared, it doesn't matter who we're playing, and it does not where we play them. It matters how we play and how we perform out there, how we compete."
Saturday, a bruising running game that churned out 260 yards and 5.1 yards per rush gashed a Rebels defense playing on its heels all night. Quarterback James Franklin, who threw a pass in a game for the first time in more than a month because of a shoulder injury, looked healthy, cool and collected and attempted his best Manziel impersonation with a few magnificent, drive-extending runs that left Ole Miss' defense dizzy.
Mizzou's defense held an Ole Miss offense that was averaging 498 yards and 34.5 points per game before Saturday to just 10 points and 378 yards. It also stopped the Rebels inside the 10-yard line twice, including a second-quarter drive that featured a first-and-goal, and allowed three points on three red-zone trips.
Pinkel even called a successful fake-punt run with nose guard Harold Brantley on a fourth-and-2 at his own 20 that went for 26 yards, after an Ole Miss touchdown had cut Mizzou's lead to 17-10 with 13:27 left in the third quarter.
"Sometimes when rubber meets the road you just kinda gotta rock and roll, man," Copeland said. "It's what we did.
"We're having fun, man. That's a big key. We're just having a damn good time. We're just a bunch of kids out there playing in the mud. That's all we are -- a bunch of fat kids playing in the mud."
The Tigers gained traction after the Florida win, but most thought the South Carolina loss rattled them. Now, Mizzou could be making its first trip to Atlanta in only its second year in the SEC.
Not even Manziel and his Aggies have done that.
The truth is that Mizzou is good. It was better than we thought at the beginning of the season, and it's better than we thought it was on Friday.
In a league known for eating its own and devouring its young, the SEC could see one of its newbies play for not just a conference championship but a BCS bowl game.
"It's no way to sugarcoat it: We want to be a part of history," Washington said.
"That was our goal going into the year, for people to mention the 2013 team forever."