SEC: Marcus Murphy

SEC morning links

March, 4, 2015
Mar 4
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A couple of weeks ago, we listed several SEC players who were candidates to be drafted despite not being invited to the NFL combine. Add Auburn's Corey Grant to that list. On Tuesday, Grant ran times in the 40-yard dash that scouts attending Auburn's pro day clocked between 4.18 and 4.32 seconds. That would have been the best time by a running back at the combine, had Grant been in Indianapolis. Perhaps his absence was understandable since he was largely an afterthought in Auburn's running game in 2014 while Cameron Artis-Payne led the SEC in rushing. Nonetheless, there was buzz about how fast Grant would run on Tuesday, and he didn't let anybody down -- even if he said afterward that his goal was to run a 4.1. He wasn't the only Tiger who didn't go to the combine who was trying to turn scouts' heads on Tuesday. Here's a recap of the results that Auburn released once the workouts were complete.
  • Chad Kelly, formerly of Clemson and East Mississippi Community College, is apparently willing to go to Haiti and back to prove to Hugh Freeze that he should be Ole Miss' next quarterback. Freeze said Tuesday that he suggested to the troubled quarterback that he join him on a spring-break trip to Haiti -- where they will reportedly help provide villagers gain access to fresh water -- and Kelly agreed. He'll still have to beatDeVante Kincade andRyan Buchanan for the job, but the trip will provide Kelly with an opportunity to get to know his new coach better. Making Freeze more comfortable with him as a person is a smart move for Kelly, who left Clemson under unpleasant terms and who was arrested after a bar fight in his hometown, Buffalo, New York, shortly after signing with the Rebels last year.
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Season report card: Missouri Tigers

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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An SEC East championship, a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl and double-digit wins add up to a good season in Columbia, Missouri. Let’s grade how the Tigers did in 2014:

[+] EnlargeShane Ray
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRush end Shane Ray led a defense that propelled Missouri back to the SEC title game.
Offense: C-. The Tigers didn’t exactly light it up offensively. Missouri finished 70th in the country in points per game (27.8), 95th in yards per game (367) and 80th in yards per play (5.39). Quarterback play was often inconsistent, but the running game – powered by Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy – was the strength, where Missouri averaged 177.86 rushing yards per game. The Tigers were solid on third downs, converting 42.9 percent of their chances. There were six games that the Tigers gained 322 yards or fewer, which in the current era is subpar.

Defense: A-. This is where Missouri shined this season and is probably the biggest reason the Tigers returned to the SEC title game. Mizzou ranked in the top 27 nationally in scoring defense (21.1), yards allowed per game (346.6), rushing (133.86) and pass yards per attempt (6.3). The Tigers were tops in the SEC in sacks (44) and sack percentage (8.5 percent) and boasted one of the nation’s best pass-rushing duos, Shane Ray (14.5 sacks) and Markus Golden (10 sacks).

Special teams: B. Missouri’s return game, led by the dynamic Murphy, was excellent. Murphy averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return and had two touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards per punt return and another touchdown. As a team, Missouri was No. 8 nationally in kickoff return average (24.65) and 25th in punt return average (10.4). Placekicking could’ve been better (Andrew Baggett was 18-of-25 on field goals and 43-of-45 on PATs) and kickoff coverage was near the bottom nationally, as the Tigers allowed 24.85 yards per kickoff return (116th nationally).

Coaching: A. This was a team most observers left for dead after losses to Indiana and Georgia in September and October, respectively. All Gary Pinkel and Co. did was focus the Tigers enough to reel off six straight wins to clinch the Tigers’ second consecutive SEC East title, despite an offense that didn’t always click. Perhaps the best endorsement of the job the coaching staff did is Missouri’s continued road success: The Tigers were perfect in true road games this season for the second straight year.

Overall: A-minus. An 11-3 season with a divisional title and a bowl win is a good one any way you slice it. The only thingsthat can bump up the grade is for the Tigers to avoid ugly losses like the ones they took early and getting over the hump and actually winning the SEC, which is certainly on the Tigers’ to-do list. That will take some gradual improvement but so far Missouri has two SEC East titles, two more than anyone outside Missouri expected three years into SEC membership.
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No. 16 Missouri evened the playing field in a best-of-three showdown between the SEC and the Big Ten on New Year’s Day. The Tigers outran No. 25 Minnesota in a 33-17 victory at the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida.

Missouri beat the Gophers at their own game by running for 337 yards and winning the turnover battle. Minnesota fumbled five times and the Tigers recovered three of them. Running backs Marcus Murphy and Russell Hansbrough broke off several long runs late in the game that helped boost Mizzou’s average to 7.5 yards per carry and helped close out the win.

The victory ended a three-bowl losing streak for the SEC after a rough day for Mississippi State and Ole Miss on Dec. 31. Wisconsin also knocked off Auburn in overtime less than an hour before the Citrus Bowl ended. The rubber match between the two conferences on Thursday will take place in the Allstate Sugar Bowl between conference champions Alabama and Ohio State.

Game ball goes to: Murphy finished his college career with 157 rushing yards on 12 carries. His biggest run of the day was a 69-yard dagger that set up the Tigers for a game-clinching score in the fourth quarter. He also returned a punt to the end zone before that play was called back because of an illegal block.

What it means: The victory gives Mizzou its best two-year victory total in program history. The back-to-back SEC East winners have won 23 games during the last two seasons and the Tigers have their first three-game bowl winning streak since 1979. The Gophers drop to 8-5 with their third bowl loss in the last three seasons. Despite taking positive steps this season, Minnesota finished with an identical record to a year ago.

Best play: Minnesota’s final lead of the day came on a 54-yard touchdown reception by all-Big Ten tight end Maxx Williams. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Williams went airborne to get to the end zone. He hurdled one defender in stride at the 15-yard line and launched himself over another to get across the goal line. The score gave the Gophers a 14-13 lead early in the third quarter.
video What’s next: Missouri will gear up for a third unexpected SEC East championship next season without Murphy. The Tigers also could be losing redshirt junior Shane Ray, the SEC’s most productive pass-rusher, to the NFL draft. Minnesota heads to the offseason with a degree of optimism after playing in its first New Year’s Day bowl in more than 50 years.
The New Year's Day meeting (1 p.m. ET, ABC) between No. 16 Missouri (10-3) and No. 25 Minnesota (8-4) will mark a rare occasion for both teams.

The Tigers, who also won the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 1 a year ago, are making back-to-back appearances in a January bowl for the first time 1961. Minnesota hasn’t played a bowl game on the first day of the year since 1962. Both teams pounded their way to unexpected success in the regular season and are looking to spin that momentum into 2015 with a win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl. Here are a few things to watch in Thursday’s game.

You shall not pass: Neither Missouri nor Minnesota topped 200 passing yards per game this season. They combined to pick up 327.6 yards per game through the air, which is less than the top six passing offenses in the FBS averaged on their own. That didn’t stop them from putting together competent offenses this season, though. The Gophers rode senior running back David Cobb to eight wins. Only three backs in the country averaged more carries per game that Cobb. Tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy did most of the heavy lifting for the Tigers this year. Murphy scored three touchdowns in the return game to go with his output on offense. Don’t expect to see either team turn this game in Orlando, Florida, into a shootout.

Avoiding mistakes: Without the ability to strike in a hurry, both teams rely on good field position and steady ball control to win games. Turnovers and other field-flipping mistakes could have a big impact on the outcome. Minnesota tied for the eighth-best turnover margin in the country this year with 28 takeaways and 17 turnovers. Missouri wasn’t far behind in 25th. The Tigers lost only 14 turnovers this year.

Two players who could affect field position with big plays are Missouri’s Shane Ray and Minnesota’s Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Ray led all SEC pass-rushers with 14 sacks this year and could force Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner into some bad decisions. Boddy-Calhoun was an All-Big Ten pick after picking up a team-high four interceptions. When the Gophers needed a big play on defense, it was usually Boddy-Calhoun who delivered.

Steckel’s farewell: Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel will be coaching in his final game for the Tigers. After the Citrus Bowl, Steckel will take over as head coach at Missouri State and former Mizzou assistant Barry Odom will take over as coordinator. Odom’s familiarity with the program should make for an easy transition, but Steckel’s players -- especially the linebackers he coaches -- will have trouble saying goodbye to Steckel and said they plan to send him out on a high note.

On the rise: Both programs exceeded expectations this season, remaining in the hunt for a conference title until at least November. The Gophers dropped after losses to Wisconsin and Ohio State. Missouri made it out of the SEC East before falling flat against Alabama in the league championship game. Although neither has the brand name of some of the more traditional powers in the teams' respective conferences, each has a sturdy foundation and a respected coaching staff. A win in the Citrus Bowl would provide either team with good momentum moving into the offseason.

Missouri season review

December, 17, 2014
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For the second straight season, Missouri punched a ticket to Atlanta for the SEC championship game but unfortunately for the Tigers, they also left the Georgia Dome empty handed. Still, it was a good season for Gary Pinkel and the SEC East Division champions, who are now headed to play Minnesota in the Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day. Let’s take a look back at the 2014 season for the Tigers:

Best win: A week after taking an embarrassing defeat at home to Indiana, few gave Missouri a chance when it traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, on Sept. 27 to meet the then-No. 13 Gamecocks. Down 20-7 with less than eight minutes left in raucous Williams-Brice Stadium, the Tigers mounted an impressive comeback capped by two late Russell Hansbrough touchdowns to complete a 21-20 victory. Sure, the Gamecocks didn’t turn out to be as good as their ranking suggested later in the season, but all that mattered was that the Tigers were 1-0 in SEC play that night. And when Missouri closed the season out as SEC East champs, that road win proved all the more important. “These are games that change a football team,” Pinkel said that night.

Worst loss: Without question this came Sept. 20 versus the Hoosiers. The previous week, Indiana lost to Bowling Green before going into Faurot Field to upset Missouri as running backs D’Angelo Roberts, Tevin Coleman and Devine Redding combined for 246 rushing yards and three touchdowns. The loss followed the Tigers all the way to the end of the season, even as they entered the SEC championship game, held up as evidence why the Tigers didn’t deserve College Football Playoff consideration even if they had beaten Alabama. The Tigers served as the punchline when the “Indiana: SEC East champion” jokes circulated; fortunately for them it didn’t derail the season.

Players of the year: Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The two defensive ends were driving forces for the Tigers’ pass rush this season. Ray earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in sacks (14) while also compiling 21 tackles for loss, 61 total tackles, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries. Golden, despite being bothered midseason by a hamstring injury, still finished with 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss along with 68 total tackles, nine quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries.

Breakout player: Last season Bud Sasser was overshadowed by a receiving corps that included L’Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham and was fourth in receiving yards. This season Sasser put together an outstanding year, leading the team with 70 catches for 935 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned second-team All-SEC honors.

Play of the year: We have to give it up to defensive tackle Josh Augusta for his interception against Central Florida. Any time someone nicknamed “Big Bear” gets an interception it is noteworthy, even more so when that person displays the type of athleticism and concentration Augusta did here. UCF quarterback Justin Holman’s pass went straight up into the air after caroming off a teammate’s helmet (and it appeared Augusta might have gotten a piece of it himself) and that’s when Augusta showed off his skills, tracking the ball and grabbing it out of the air in traffic. Not bad for a 335-pound guy.

video 2015 outlook: The Tigers will need to replace some key players (Golden, Sasser, Jimmie Hunt, Marcus Murphy to name a few and perhaps Ray, should he declare for the NFL draft) but they return most of their offensive line and most of the back end of their defense. If Maty Mauk can take a significant step forward at quarterback, next season has a chance to be promising once again. There is no dominant force in the SEC East and Pinkel and his staff have proven that they’re going to be in the mix for a division title. One more key loss is that of defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, who did a masterful job with the Tigers’ defense. If Pinkel can find another quality one, Missouri should be in good shape heading into next season.

ESPN.com's All-SEC team

December, 12, 2014
12/12/14
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Now that the Associated Press and the league coaches have spoken and cast their votes for their All-SEC teams, it's time for us to get in on the fun.

We here at the ESPN.com's SEC blog put our heads together for days trying to come up with what we thought was the perfect team, and, of course, we think we got it all right. Correction: We KNOW we got it right.

Here's what we came up with:

OFFENSE

QB: Dak Prescott, Mississippi State: Prescott directed the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999. He led the SEC with 3,970 yards of offense and was responsible for 228 points (38 touchdowns), which ranks fifth nationally.

RB: Cameron Artis-Payne, Auburn: Like Tre Mason before him, Artis-Payne finished the regular season leading the SEC in rushing. The senior rushed for 1,482 yards and 11 touchdowns.

RB: Nick Chubb, Georgia: Only a true freshman, Chubb was second in the SEC with 1,281 rushing yards and tied for first in the league with 12 rushing touchdowns. Chubb rushed for at least 113 yards in the seven games he started.

WR: Amari Cooper, Alabama: The record-breaking athlete and SEC Offensive Player of the Year is easily the nation's best wide receiver and led the nation with 115 receptions for 1,656 yards. He had seven 100-yard receiving games.

WR: D'haquille Williams, Auburn: Just a freak of an athlete, Williams led the Tigers with 45 catches for 730 yards and five touchdowns despite missing two games near the end of the season.

TE: Evan Engram, Ole Miss: Engram became the Rebels' top receiving target after Laquon Treadwell went down and finished second on the team with 37 receptions. His 651 receiving yards led all SEC tight ends.

OT/G: Sebastian Tretola, Arkansas: He was one of the SEC's best linemen with his ability to play both inside and outside for the Razorbacks, and he even provided us with a touchdown pass this season.

OG: A.J. Cann, South Carolina: The four-year starter has started 50 of the 51 games he's played in at South Carolina and is a top NFL draft guard prospect who is excellent blocking both the pass and rush.

C: Reese Dismukes, Auburn: The two-time first-team All-SEC member has been the linchpin of the Tigers' offensive line the last two seasons and was excellent in 2014.

OG: Ben Beckwith, Mississippi State: The burly Beckwith was the only player to be named SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week three times this season.

OT: La'el Collins, LSU: Another top NFL draft prospect at his position, Collins was good enough to leave early last year, but got even better protecting LSU quarterbacks in 2014.

All-purpose: Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina: Cooper finished the regular season with 1,242 all-purpose yards and was second in the SEC with 966 receiving yards.

DEFENSE

DL: Shane Ray, Missouri: The SEC Defensive Player of the Year led the league with 14 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Ray registered at least half a tackle for loss in 12 games this season.

DL: A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama: He might not have had the numbers of other defensive linemen around him in this league because of a slow start, but Robinson proved to be one of the league's most disruptive defenders up front.

DL: Dante Fowler Jr., Florida: The hybrid defender was one of the SEC's best pass-rushers this season, leading the Gators with 5.5 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 15 quarterback hurries.

DL: Trey Flowers, Arkansas: The Hogs' lineman faced more double-teams this season but still cranked out a productive season, leading the team with five sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss. He also totaled 63 tackles.

LB: Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State: Another guy who didn't put up monster stats, the possible first-round draft pick was the leader of Mississippi State's defense, the most consistent player for the Bulldogs and the unquestioned quarterback of the defense.

LB: Martrell Spaight, Arkansas: He led the league with 123 total tackles and tied for the league lead with 60 solo stops. Spaight also forced two fumbles and recorded 8.5 tackles for loss.

LB: Kwon Alexander, LSU: One of the SEC's most athletic linebackers, Alexander was the ultimate playmaker for the Tigers, leading LSU with 79 tackles with 32 being solo.

CB: Senquez Golson, Ole Miss: Golson did a complete 180 in 2014, becoming one of the nation's best cover corners, as he was second nationally with nine interceptions and first in the SEC with 17 passes defensed.

S: Landon Collins, Alabama: Another top NFL draft prospect, Collins played the role of dynamic ball hawk for the Crimson Tide and was able to make plays all over the field. He led the team with 91 tackles and three interceptions.

S: Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss: An All-American last season, Prewitt didn't fall off. While he only registered two interceptions, Prewitt made plays all over the field for the Rebels, not shying away from combat in the box.

CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida: The youngster just keeps getting better. He grabbed just two interceptions, but was an excellent one-on-one defender, defending 15 passes.

SPECIAL TEAMS

P: JK Scott, Alabama: There's a reason Alabama's fans joked about a potential Heisman run for Scott. He averaged 47 yards per punt with a long of 70 yards, downing 26 inside the 20-yard line and had 18 kicks go 50-plus yards.

K: Austin MacGinnis, Kentucky: He connected on 21 of his 27 attempts and hit 8 of 12 from 40 yards and beyond, including a long of 54 yards.

KR: Marcus Murphy, Missouri: Murphy averaged 29.9 yards per kickoff return (478 yards) and scored two touchdowns. He also had 273 punt return yards and a touchdown.
On Monday, we wrote about Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M as they all get ready for their upcoming bowl games. Earlier Tuesday, we looked at the two Mississippi schools as they prepare for their New Year’s Six bowl games. Now it’s time to look at the other four bowl-eligible SEC teams and their matchups.

Duck Commander Independence Bowl, Dec. 27
South Carolina vs. Miami

Initial thoughts: Before the season, nobody could’ve predicted South Carolina would end up in the Independence Bowl. The Gamecocks had aspirations of winning the SEC East and reaching the College Football Playoff. Instead, they’ll head to Shreveport, Louisiana, to face a Miami team that has lost three straight. It’s not the ideal destination for the Head Ball Coach, but at least it’s a bowl game.

Key for South Carolina offense: Stay balanced. The Gamecocks have been unstoppable on offense at times this season. Dylan Thompson leads the SEC with 3,280 passing yards, and Pharoh Cooper is second only to Amari Cooper with 966 receiving yards. Those two will hook up early and often, but it’s important to get Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and the ground game going. Their backfield is too talented not to.

Key for South Carolina defense: It won’t be easy, considering they haven’t stopped anybody all season, but the Gamecocks have to find a way to stop Duke Johnson. The Miami running back has 1,520 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season. He’s been held to less than 100 yards the last two games, so he’ll be primed to turn that trend around and finish the season on a high note. If he gets going, this one could quickly turn into a shootout.

What a win would mean: Looking back, most people won’t remember if South Carolina won or lost this game. The coaches will probably tell you the extra practice time is just as important as, if not more important than, the game itself. Still, it’d be nice to send Thompson off with a win in his final game.

AdvoCareV100 Texas Bowl, Dec. 29
Arkansas vs. Texas

Initial thoughts: Everybody was hoping to see Texas vs. Texas A&M in this game, and it almost happened, but Arkansas is not a bad consolation prize. The two teams were longtime rivals in the Southwest Conference, and this will be the 78th meeting between them. It brings you back to the days when Frank Broyles and Darrell Royal were manning opposite sidelines. Now we get Bret Bielema and Charlie Strong, two coaches rebuilding their respective programs.

Key for Arkansas offense: The Razorbacks got away from the run a little bit in the second half against Missouri, and it cost them. Expect Bielema to go right back to it in this one, using his tandem of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins early and often against the Longhorns. Health will also be a factor. Quarterback Brandon Allen should be 100 percent, and he’ll get tight end AJ Derby back for this game.

Key for Arkansas defense: This is one of the more underrated units in the SEC, if not the nation. Defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon have 24 tackles for loss between them, and linebacker Martrell Spaight leads the SEC with 123 tackles on the season. Needless to say, the Razorbacks should be able to wreak havoc in the backfield and keep Texas quarterback Tyrone Swoopes contained. The key will be not letting Swoopes beat them deep.

What a win would mean: It’s the next step in the rebuilding process. Arkansas proved it was competitive with every team in the SEC West, and back-to-back wins over LSU and Ole Miss validated this team. Now the Razorbacks have a chance to win their bowl game and gain some momentum heading into next season.

Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1
Missouri vs. Minnesota

Initial thoughts: Raise your hand if you had this Citrus Bowl matchup pegged before the season. No hands? Exactly. Missouri made it all the way to the SEC championship game, and after a loss to Alabama, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see the Tigers get snubbed again. Not this year. Instead, they were rewarded for a terrific season. The matchup might not be sexy, but the Citrus Bowl is the top SEC bowl game after the New Year’s Six. And it’s in Florida.

Key for Missouri offense: Is Maty Mauk just not the quarterback everybody thought he was? At times, he looks great. But more times than not, he’s been erratic and inconsistent this season. The running game has stepped up behind Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, but Mauk has to play better. He’s only a sophomore, and this is a perfect opportunity to play well and get his confidence back before next season.

Key for Missouri defense: Shane Ray will be playing on Sundays next season, but the Missouri defensive end still has one game left with the Tigers -- and don’t think he won’t be motivated after getting ejected in the first half against Alabama. It’s also the final game for fellow defensive end Markus Golden, and it’s the last chance we get to see the two together. Sacks, however, will be hard to come by against the Gophers, who are primarily a running team.

What a win would mean: All Missouri wants is a little respect. After all, this team has won the SEC East in back-to-back seasons. Unfortunately, a win over Minnesota will do little to help that, but it would look much better than a loss. The Tigers typically play well in the postseason, winning four of their last six bowl games.

TaxSlayer Bowl, Jan. 2
Tennessee vs. Iowa

Initial thoughts: Most people thought Tennessee would stay in state and play in either the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl, but the SEC rewarded the Volunteers by sending them down to Florida for their bowl game. And why not? They finished the season on a high note, winning three of their last four games to become bowl eligible. It’s no surprise head coach Butch Jones was given a contract extension and raise earlier this week.

Key for Tennessee offense: How will the offensive line hold up against Iowa? It’s been the Achilles’ heel all season, but it’s a group that’s improved every game. It’s important they create room for freshman running back Jalen Hurd and keep quarterback Joshua Dobbs off his back. And speaking of Dobbs, he’s one to keep an eye on. He’s struggled his last two games, but he has the talent to have a big day against the Hawkeyes.

Key for Tennessee defense: Third down for what? Inspired by the Lil’ Jon song, the Vols’ defense has been very good on third down this season, allowing a 35 percent conversion rate to opponents. As a whole, this unit is best when it’s getting pressure on the quarterback and making plays in the secondary. Tennessee is among the SEC leaders in sacks (35) and interceptions (15), which is bad news for Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock.

What a win would mean: The goal this season was to play in a bowl game. This Tennessee team reached that goal. For most of the players, it will be their first bowl game, but they’re not satisfied with just playing in one. They want to win. There’s already talk of the Volunteers making a run at the SEC East next season. It starts Jan. 2 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Alabama-Missouri primer

December, 5, 2014
12/05/14
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On Oct. 11, it didn't look like either Alabama or Missouri would be playing in the SEC championship game. Alabama, who lost to Ole Miss the week before, escaped with a 14-13 win at Arkansas that wasn't pretty. Earlier in the day, Missouri played even worse. The Tigers were blown out at home by Georgia just weeks after a home loss to Indiana.

And yet, here they are, the last two SEC teams standing. Both the Crimson Tide and the Tigers went on to win their next six games, clinching their respective divisions, and on Saturday they will play for the conference title in Atlanta.

Alabama's key to victory: Missouri’s secondary is exploitable, but it's up to Alabama's offensive line whether or not Blake Sims gets the ball downfield. More specifically, the onus is on tackles Austin Shepherd and Cam Robinson as they go up against what could be the most fearsome pair of defensive ends in the country, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. O-line coach Mario Cristobal should feel good about Shepherd's prospects, as the senior has been the most consistent starter on the line. But Robinson's health should worry Cristobal. On Monday, coach Nick Saban said his freshman left tackle is "day to day" with a sprained shoulder. That comes on the heels of an ankle sprain against Tennessee and another ankle injury against Western Carolina. If Robinson's mobility is limited, Ray and Golden will take advantage and harass Sims into mistakes.

Missouri's key to victory: To take that one step further, Missouri is 17-0 since joining the SEC when recording three or more sacks. Meanwhile, Alabama has not allowed three sacks in a game this season. Something has to give. But it's not all about the defense for Missouri. The Tigers are going to have to score to keep up with this potent Alabama offense, and that means getting production from the running game. Missouri is known more as a passing team -- and rightfully so with past quarterbacks such as Chase Daniel, Blaine Gabbert and James Franklin -- but this year's team has relied more on the ground game. The Tigers are averaging 178 rushing yards per game in their current six-game winning streak. It won't be easy against the SEC's top rushing defense, but Missouri has to find a way to establish the run.

Alabama X factor: Eddie Jackson couldn’t hide from the beating he took against Auburn. In fact, the cornerback for Alabama took to Twitter on Monday and apologized for his play. But now the question becomes whether to bench the talented sophomore or replace him in the lineup. If Jackson doesn’t play, look for either Bradley Sylve or Tony Brown to step in. Sylve got the nod late against Auburn, but it's hard to forget the veteran's struggles early in the season that led to his demotion. Meanwhile, there's Brown, who has played some as a true freshman but hasn't seen the field with much consistency. On the big stage, would Saban be willing to gamble on such an inexperienced player?

Missouri X factor: Russell Hansbrough might be the "lead" back, but senior Marcus Murphy has emerged as a perfect complement in Missouri's backfield. The diminutive Murphy has rushed for 373 yards and three touchdowns over the past five games. He’s fast, he’s explosive and he's liable to take it to the house every time he touches it. Just ask Florida. Murphy accounted for a career-best 224 all-purpose yards against the Gators and scored on a 5-yard run, an 82-yard punt return and a 96-yard kickoff return. Alabama ranks outside the top 60 nationally in both kickoff and punt return defense. Missouri is going to need hit on some big plays to upset the Tide, and Murphy is a prime candidate to make that happen.

Playoff impact: Sorry, Missouri, even with an upset win on Saturday it's implausible that you sneak into the playoff. It's not just the two losses that cost you; it's the fact that you lost at home to Indiana, the same team that couldn't beat Bowling Green. So with that said, this game is essentially about whether or not the SEC will be represented in the College Football Playoff and whether or not that team will be Alabama. If the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide win, they're in as the top seed, as which they'll play a semifinal game in nearby New Orleans. If the Tide lose, the SEC is likely to be shut out of the top four entirely.

Planning for success: Missouri Tigers

December, 2, 2014
12/02/14
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Missouri enters Saturday's SEC championship game as a big underdog against Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC), but that's nothing new for the Tigers (10-2, 7-1).

After humiliating losses to Indiana and Georgia, Mizzou closing the regular season with a six-game winning streak and a second straight SEC East title seemed highly unlikely. And yet here are the Tigers, trying to figure out a way to keep their streak alive against easily the best team they have faced all season.

Knocking off the nation's No. 1 team won't be easy, but here are three assets the Tigers might be able to use to their advantage against Alabama.

Dynamic pass rush

One of the most intriguing matchups in Saturday's game will be Missouri's pass-rushers against Alabama's offensive line. Both groups are the best in the SEC at what they do.

Led by Shane Ray, who has an SEC-high 13.5 sacks for 89 yards in lost ground, the Tigers are tied for sixth nationally with 40 sacks. They have three of the SEC's top 11 pass-rushers, with defensive end Markus Golden (fifth with 8.5) and defensive tackle Harold Brantley (tied for 11th with 4.5) joining Ray on the list.

However, Alabama has surrendered only 11 sacks -- which is tied for eighth nationally -- all season. Quarterback Blake Sims, who is occasionally mistake-prone, has only been sacked eight times.

Generating turnovers

If Ray & Co. can force Sims into some bad throws, the Tigers have displayed an ability to capitalize this season. They are second in the SEC and tied for 18th nationally with a plus-nine turnover margin and they're 24th nationally with a plus-38 points-off-turnover margin (65 scored, 27 against).

Sims nearly got pulled from Saturday's game against Auburn after the Tigers scored 17 points off his three interceptions. He and star receiver Amari Cooper helped the Crimson Tide rally to win 55-44 with an impressive late surge, however.

Overall, the Tide is subpar when it comes to turnovers. They have two more giveaways (19) than takeaways (17), with their minus-two turnover margin tying for 72nd nationally. Alabama opponents have scored 60 points off the turnovers, with the Tide cashing in with 56 points off takeaways. The minus-four points-off-turnover margin is tied for 77th nationally.

The biggest issue for Alabama has been its 12 fumbles and not Sims' interceptions. The senior quarterback has thrown 24 touchdowns against just seven picks and ranks second nationally in adjusted Total Quarterback Rating at 87.9.

Marcus Murphy factor

Special teams have been the weak link in Alabama's armor for a couple of years now, and the Tide has had its share of lapses in that department this season, as well. That has to excite the Tigers when explosive return man Marcus Murphy is on their side.

Murphy leads the SEC with an average of 31.9 yards per kickoff return and ranks fourth in the league with 11.5 yards per punt return. He scored touchdowns off a punt return, a kickoff return and a traditional run in the Tigers' win against Florida alone.

With Murphy leading the way, Missouri ranks seventh nationally and second in the SEC with an average of 25.05 yards per kickoff return, and 21st nationally and fourth in the SEC with 11.5 yards per punt return.

Meanwhile, Alabama is 88th in opponent kickoff return average (12.83 ypr) and 60th on opponent punt return average (7.3 ypr). In the Tide's defense, however, punter J.K. Scott and the punt coverage team have not given up a ton of yardage. They rank second nationally in net punting with 43.13 yards gained per punt minus the return.

If Murphy can find a way to break a big return against Alabama's typically exceptional punt coverage, that could be an enormous momentum builder for the Tigers.
Sorry, Georgia fans. Missouri (10-2, 7-1 SEC) is headed back to Atlanta for the SEC championship game. The Tigers battled back from a 14-6 halftime deficit, dominated the second half and hung on for a 21-14 win over a red-hot Arkansas team.

How the game was won: Can we stop saying Missouri doesn't belong in the SEC? That game-winning touchdown drive was vintage SEC football. The Tigers drove 85 yards on 12 plays, 11 running plays, and ate up more than six minutes of clock. The offensive line manhandled Arkansas up front, and running backs Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy did the rest. After rushing for just 1 yard in the first quarter, Missouri finished the game with 158 rushing yards. When it mattered most, it beat Arkansas at its own game.

Game ball goes to: The offensive line was terrific down the stretch, but Missouri wouldn't have been in position to win the East without Markus Golden, and they wouldn't have won Saturday's game without him, either. Golden, the reigning SEC defensive player of the week, finished with three tackles, two for a loss, a forced fumble and recovered a fumble on the Razorbacks' final drive to seal the victory.

What it means: The same Missouri team that lost to Indiana and was blown out by Georgia is headed back to the SEC championship game. Credit the Tigers, though. They did what they had to do, winning six consecutive conference games, and now they await either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Mississippi State.

Playoff implication: Missouri's win pretty much sealed Georgia's fate in the College Football Playoff. The Bulldogs likely needed to win the East and win the SEC championship game to have any chance at moving into the top four. And no, the Tigers aren't making the playoff, either. Missouri has yet to beat a team that's currently ranked in the top 25.

Best play: Murphy's go-ahead touchdown run was pretty sweet, but how about the two-point conversion to tie the game? Murphy took a direct snap, tossed it to Bud Sasser on a reverse, and Sasser threw it to Darius White in the end zone for the conversion.

What's next: Missouri, in its third season in the SEC, will represent the East in the Atlanta next Saturday for the second straight season. Arkansas (6-6) will still go to a bowl game for the first time in three years.
It hasn’t always been pretty. At times it has been downright ugly.

Missouri has endured more than its fair share of criticism this season, for losing to Indiana in September, for getting shut out by a Todd Gurley-less Georgia three weeks later. A 42-13 win over Florida was met with praise for Missouri’s defense and special teams but snickers for its offense, which generated only 119 offensive yards (including 20 passing).

Yet here are the Tigers, with three games left, controlling their own fate in the SEC East.

Starting with Saturday’s trip to College Station, Texas, to face No. 24 Texas A&M, Missouri (7-2, 4-1 SEC) has its eyes on a prize: a second consecutive SEC East championship and berth in the SEC championship game next month.

"It's been the same thing from Day 1," sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer told reporters after the Tigers’ most recent win over Kentucky on Nov. 1. "We've got to finish out the season and win the rest if we want to be back in the championship.

“It's on us.”

Missouri has won multiple ways this season. Early on the Tigers piled up the points in nonconference play, averaging 41.6 in their first three games. They pulled out a nail-biter, 21-20, at South Carolina on Sept. 27. The aforementioned Florida win included two special-teams touchdowns courtesy of Marcus Murphy in addition to two defensive touchdowns, a Markus Golden fumble return and a Darvin Ruise interception return.

The Tigers’ defense responded well to the Georgia loss, holding Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to a combined 37 points in the next three games. Defensive end Shane Ray’s career year continues as he leads the SEC in sacks (12) and tackles for loss (16) and the junior now possesses Missouri’s single-season sack record, notable considering the school’s history of defensive line talent.

In their last five games, the Tigers have allowed almost 100 fewer yards per game (299.6) than they did in their first four (391.8), have cut opponents’ number of 20-plus yard plays in half (20 to 10) and allowed only 4 yards per play after giving up 5.3 in the first four games of the season.

More importantly, the Tigers have shown resiliency after suffering their two defeats this season.

“I'm just proud of our team for competing and battling,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “You're going to have adversity and we talk about that in August around here. We have a plan and I tell the players, ‘When it happens, we'll have a plan to get through it.’ I think the leadership has been good, it's been a battle each and every week, but I'm proud of our football team and I think we have an opportunity here.”

The opportunity begins on the road at Kyle Field against Texas A&M on Saturday, a team the Tigers have had success against in recent years under Pinkel. Missouri beat the Aggies in four of their last five meetings, including a 28-21 home win last season that clinched its SEC East title.

If the Tigers take care of business on Saturday, they’ll maintain their SEC East lead heading into Knoxville for a meeting with Tennessee. They then wrap everything up Nov. 28 when they host Arkansas at Faurot Field.

Two of the final three games are on the road, where the Tigers have had great success the last two seasons. Missouri has won eight consecutive true road games dating to last season.

"I do not have a magic formula,” Pinkel said of the road success. “All I'm doing is focusing on this game. We prepare certain ways and we do what we do and we're very fortunate. We have another game, another opportunity, so we'll see what happens.”

Regardless, the Tigers are right where they want to be. They’re 1-0 this month hoping to go 4-0. If they do, they return to Atlanta, simple as that.

“This is Game 2 in November and you have to take care of your business,” Pinkel said. “In order to get the big prize you have to beat good people. That's our challenge and that's everybody's challenge in November. I'm real proud of our team and we'll see where we go.”

Vote: SEC play of the week

October, 19, 2014
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Not quite the excitement we might have hoped for in Week 8. Every game involving an SEC team was decided by double digits and the average margin of victory for the winning teams was 33.5 points. That doesn't mean that there wasn't some spectacular plays seen on the field though. There were quite a few, in fact. Here are our five favorites -- let us know which one you think was the best in the SEC in Week 8.

Davis' sweet stiff arm
South Carolina cruised to a 41-10 win against an overmatched Furman squad and Mike Davis' first touchdown run was evidence of that. In the first quarter, Davis' 5-yard touchdown run included an impressive stiff arm of an unsuspecting Furman defender. He then proceeded to absorb more contact as he dove into the end zone.

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Great return sprung by a great block
Return touchdowns on special teams take great individual effort but also a great team effort from those blocking. That was especially true on this 67-yard punt return for a touchdown by LSU's Tre'Davious White, which was sprung by an impressive block by freshman safety Jamal Adams.

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Sims' dazzling run
Alabama was dominant in its 59-0 win against Texas A&M on Saturday and Crimson Tide quarterback Blake Sims' touchdown run pretty much summed up the kind of day it was in Tuscaloosa. He juked and juked again to make about six Texas A&M defenders miss and sprinted to the end zone for a 43-yard touchdown.

Murphy to the house
It was all about returns for Missouri on Saturday. In its 42-13 win against Florida, the Tigers had two special teams returns for touchdowns and two defensive returns for touchdowns. Marcus Murphy accounted for the special teams scores, a 95-yard kickoff return to open the game and this 82-yard punt return, which was well done.

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Engram stretches out and hauls it in
Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is one of the league's best at his position and skills like this are why. Bo Wallace was under pressure, had to heave his pass quickly and though it might have been a tad long, Engram stretched out and dove to make a nice catch and a 28-yard touchdown in the front corner of the end zone late in the third quarter of the Rebels' win against Tennessee.

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SEC helmet stickers: Week 8

October, 19, 2014
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The only good thing about a day full of blowouts in the SEC is that there are plenty of helmet stickers to hand out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia: How do you top a 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in your first collegiate start? By rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns in your second start. That's exactly what Chubb did in place of the suspended Todd Gurley on Saturday, leading Georgia past Arkansas, 45-32. He became only the third freshman in school history to rush for more than 200 yards in a game (Herschel Walker, Rodney Hampton). As long as Chubb keeps getting 30-plus carries a game, he's going to keep showing up on this list.

Marquis Haynes, DE, Ole Miss: Don't get me wrong. Senquez Golson is deserving of a helmet sticker with two interceptions on Saturday. But it was Haynes and the defensive line that set the tone for the Rebels. They held Tennessee to zero rushing yards in large part thanks to nine sacks on the night. Haynes led the way with five tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery during the 34-3 win. The freshman might not get the recognition of his counterpart Robert Nkemdiche, but he's one of the SEC's better young stars whom nobody's talking about.

Terrence Magee, RB, LSU: It was supposed to be Leonard Fournette with the huge game, but Magee said “move over freshman, I'm taking this one.” Magee rushed for 127 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries in LSU's 41-3 win over Kentucky. That's 14.1 yards per carry for those counting at home. He also happened to be the team's leading receiver with three catches for 44 yards. Fournette might be the LSU running back to watch in the second half, but don't forget about Magee. He's not going anywhere.

Marcus Murphy, RB, Missouri: Murphy wasted no time putting his stamp on Saturday's game in Gainesville, returning the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. But he wasn't done yet. No, he had more in store for the Gators. Murphy made it 14-0 with a 5-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, and he would later return a punt 82 yards for another score. The senior finished with 224 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns on the night. He was one of the big reasons why Missouri won 42-13 despite only gaining 119 yards on offense.

Blake Sims, QB, Alabama: T.J. Yeldon, you deserve a helmet sticker. Amari Cooper, you deserve a helmet sticker. Alabama's defense, you deserve a helmet sticker. It was that kind of game for the Crimson Tide. But the nod here goes to Sims, who went 16-of-27 for 268 yards and three touchdowns in the Tide's 59-0 win over Texas A&M. He also made arguably the best move of the day on his 43-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. This team, Sims included, was criticized after last week's win over Arkansas. It responded in a big way.

What we learned in the SEC: Week 8

October, 18, 2014
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It wasn’t as exciting a Saturday as we hoped for, in terms of competitiveness. Every SEC game was decided by double digits. Still, there is plenty to glean from Week 8. Here are the things we learned from the weekend’s action:

[+] EnlargeNick Chubb
Nelson Chenault/USA TODAY SportsNick Chubb helped keep Georgia rolling with 202 rushing yards on Saturday.
Georgia is a great team, with or without its biggest star: Even without running back Todd Gurley, this is your SEC East Division favorite. Some, including me, thought the Bulldogs could be stepping into a minefield in going on the road to face an Arkansas team that seemed to be knocking on the door of an SEC win. Well, No. 10 Georgia (6-1) is carrying the flag proudly for the SEC East after they cruised to a 45-32 win, a victory that included 38 first-half points. Running back Nick Chubb (30 carries, 202 yards, two touchdowns) was fantastic, quarterback Hutson Mason was sharp, and the defense came up with four turnovers. There’s no doubt this is one of the best one-loss teams in the country.

Alabama silenced its critics, for now: Nick Saban was a little irritated earlier this week by his fan base’s outsized expectations, which had many disappointed the Crimson Tide “only” beat Arkansas 14-13 (a week after Alabama lost to Ole Miss). Well, there’s nothing to criticize this week. Alabama played about as close to a perfect game as a team can. The Crimson Tide (6-1) had 602 offensive yards, converted 60 percent of their third downs, held Texas A&M to a meager 172 yards, had zero penalties and won the time of possession battle (36:31 to 23:29). Hard to be upset with 59-0. Although two undefeated teams are ahead of Bama in the standings, you never know what might happen. The No. 7 Crimson Tide’s playoff hopes are alive and well at the moment.

Texas A&M has serious soul-searching to do: It’s one thing to lose and quite another to be destroyed the way the Aggies were Saturday by the Crimson Tide. Kevin Sumlin used the words “embarrassing” and “unacceptable” in his postgame news conference, and those are pretty accurate. Alabama controlled the game in every phase while shutting out a Sumlin team for the first time in his seven-year coaching career. The Aggies (5-3) don’t have a game next week, and it’s a good time for them to reevaluate everything about their team, from top to bottom, to figure out why they’ve been dominated by three SEC West foes in the past three weeks.

Kentucky might be on the rise, but there’s still a long way to go: The Wildcats have been one of the surprise teams in the SEC this year, with their 5-1 start and talk of making a bowl game. The progress the program continues to make is admirable, and coach Mark Stoops should be commended for the job done so far, but after a 41-3 loss to LSU, it's clear there still is a lot of progress to be made. LSU handled its business and showed it’s in a different class than the Wildcats (5-2), at least this weekend. This should serve as a good learning experience for a young Kentucky team that still has a bright long-term future.

It’s not getting better in Gainesville anytime soon: There has been a lot of discussion about Will Muschamp’s job, and that isn’t going to die down after Florida’s performance against Missouri. The Gators were hammered 42-13 in their own backyard. What makes it even worse is the Tigers didn’t do it with offense -- Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk threw for only 20 yards and no touchdowns, and Missouri finished with a minuscule 119 offensive yards. The Tigers did their damage with a kickoff return and punt return for touchdowns (both courtesy of Marcus Murphy), as well as an interception return (Darvin Ruise) and fumble return (Markus Golden) for touchdowns. That’s ugly for Florida, who is 3-3 (2-3 in the SEC) with Georgia coming up in two weeks. It looks like it will only get worse before it gets better for the Gators.

Ole Miss’ offense doesn’t have to be great -- just good enough: The No. 3 Rebels (7-0) took some time to get started offensively, as they went scoreless in the first quarter against Tennessee and were down 3-0 in the second quarter. No worries when you “Landshark D.” The 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal was the only points the Vols would get, quarterback Bo Wallace started making some plays, and Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory. The offensive numbers weren’t great (383 total yards for the Rebels), but more importantly, they committed zero turnovers and won time of possession. With the type of defense Ole Miss has (it held Tennessee to zero yards rushing and 3-of-16 on third-down conversion attempts), that’s a recipe for success.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In a battle of two SEC East teams coming off painful home losses last week, only Missouri showed up. The Tigers beat the Florida Gators soundly, 42-13, on Saturday night.

How the game was won: Florida just couldn't get out of its own way in a dysfunctional performance reminiscent of the 2013 team that went 4-8 and lost its last seven games. The Gators played two quarterbacks, starting junior QB Jeff Driskel, who had four turnovers (11 in his past 14 quarters) before being benched for true freshman Treon Harris, who had two turnovers of his own. Missouri wisely went into an offensive shell with just 119 total yards and didn't give Florida a chance to get back into the game.

Game ball goes to: The Missouri defense didn't have to do much more than let Florida self-destruct, but give credit to the Tigers for pressuring both Florida quarterbacks into enough sacks and turnovers to turn the game into a laugher and send the home fans to the exits early in the third quarter.

What it means: Despite their ugly shutout loss to Georgia, the Tigers still have life in the SEC East race. The same cannot be said for the lifeless Gators, who could have set up a showdown with Georgia but laid an egg. It was Florida's second straight homecoming loss -- the Gators were beaten by Vanderbilt last season -- and the natives are restless. There were loud boos for Driskel and chants of "Fire Muschamp."

Best play: There was so little offense and so little point to this game after the first quarter that the play of the game might as well go to the special teams. Marcus Murphy took the opening kickoff and ran untouched up the middle for a 95-yard touchdown. It accurately set the tone for the game. Murphy's return gave him six career TD returns, breaking a tie with Jeremy Maclin for the Missouri record. Murphy went on to score on an 82-yard punt return in the third quarter.

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What's next: Missouri (5-2, 2-1 in the SEC) hosts Vanderbilt next Saturday. Florida (3-3, 2-3) might spend its bye week dealing with intense questions about its head coach's job security.

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