What2Watch4: Missouri's inside runs

December, 6, 2013
12/06/13
11:16
AM ET

USA TODAY Sports, Getty ImagesQuarterbacks Nick Marshall (left) and James Franklin will help decide the SEC title on the ground.
The two best rushing teams in the SEC square off Saturday in the SEC Championship as Missouri faces Auburn. Both teams average more than 235 yards per game on the ground.

Auburn runs for most of its yards outside the tackle box but Missouri prefers to pound the ball up the middle. That bodes well against an Auburn defense that has struggled to stop inside runs all season.

On rushes between the tackles, Missouri leads the SEC averaging 144 yards per game and 6.1 yards per rush. Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough, Marcus Murphy and James Franklin have each rushed for more than 200 yards between the tackles this season, and each averages at least six yards per carry.

Against SEC opponents, Auburn has allowed 134 yards per game between the tackles on 5.3 yards per carry, both worst among SEC teams. That weakness is the primary reason why Auburn is not undefeated.

In its only loss this season, it allowed LSU to run for 212 yards up the middle despite averaging nearly eight defenders in the box.

Auburn has allowed conference opponents to rush for almost three yards per carry before contact, second-worst in the conference. Its primary issue has been its consistency.

In SEC play, Auburn has hit opponents in the backfield on 23 percent of carries, the second-highest percentage in the SEC. On the other hand, it has allowed rushers to run at least five yards before being touched on 24 percent of their carries, the third-highest percentage in the conference.

Missouri has been held to fewer than 100 yards between the tackles three times this season, including in its only loss. The common thread between those defenses was limiting Missouri’s yards before contact.

In those three games, Missouri averaged just 1.1 yards before contact on inside runs. Overall, the Tigers averaged 3.8 yards before contact per carry on such runs, second among BCS-automatic-qualifying (AQ) teams.

If Missouri can get running room, it can break long runs. Missouri has 13 rushes up the middle of at least 20 yards, tied for most in the SEC. Auburn has allowed 10 runs of at least 20 yards between the tackles, also tied for the most in the SEC.

Auburn has also struggled to slow down mobile quarterbacks, having allowed 426 rushing yards to quarterbacks, the third-highest total in the SEC.

Missouri’s James Franklin is one of four SEC quarterbacks to average 50 rushing yards per game. The other two that have faced Auburn this season, Dak Prescott and Johnny Manziel, ran for a combined 224 yards against the Tigers (excluding sack yards), with 200 of those yards (89 percent) coming between the tackles.

Missouri brings a streak of note into this game. Over the past two seasons, it is 11-0 when rushing for at least 200 yards.

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