There is good news and bad news for Orange fans breaking down this weekend’s game at Mizzou. The Tigers have struggled this year with the transition to the SEC, but they’ve also played their best football in the last 3 weeks. After hanging with Georgia for a half in MU’s SEC opener the Bulldogs threw down a three-touchdown ass whooping. More of the same came in blowout losses to South Carolina and Alabama, and a close defeat at the hands of (egads) Vanderbilt.
But starting three weeks ago, The Tigers got their first SEC win over lowly Kentucky and made t-shirts. Then played a close game against Florida, losing 14-7. And Missouri got its most impressive victory last week, going to Tennessee and beating the Vols in 4 OT’s.
At the center of the season’s struggles has been quarterback James Franklin. He was coming off a huge sophomore season but in ’12, he’s battled injuries and regressed in a manner similar to Ryan Nassib last year. In ’11 Nassib lost mechanics, missed throws, and turned it over way too much. Franklin’s numbers this year aren’t horrific, he’s completing 57%, but only has 8 TD’s and 7 INT’s. The yardage also isn’t there.
We all know Ryan has figured it out this year. The worry for SU is that Franklin may have figured it out last week. Coach Gary Pinkel said: “James looked for the first time like the healthy guy we expected him to be and made some great throws and did some great things. That’s two straight weeks where he’s practiced and felt good.”
If Franklin is finally healthy Syracuse could be in real trouble, especially if the Tigers’ top weapon has figured it out too. Dorial Green-Beckham was the #1 recruit in the country but had been relatively ineffective all year. After a mere 7 catches and one TD in his first 5 games, Green-Beckham was suspended after being caught with marijuana (he has a court appearance today). Since his two-game absence, he’s been a different player. In the last three weeks, he has 15 catches and against Tennessee had two scores.
Defensively, Missouri has been historically very good under Pinkel. They’ve produced tons of NFL talent (both Smiths in SF and Sean Witherspoon of the Falcons to name a few) and this year have good players as well. Sheldon Richardson has been very solid on the defensive line, but hasn’t been the impact player many thought he’d be coming in as a highly touted JuCo transfer. Kip Edwards could be an NFL prospect at corner and his partner E.J. Gaines isn’t too bad either. That being said, the pass defense for Mizzou is mediocre and thus there are two keys to the game:
1. Play up tempo
While Mizzou is more accustomed to an up tempo game than most SEC teams, the Tigers haven’t played a spread team that moves as fast as Syracuse all year. The Orange offense is rolling right now and the tempo could be a huge factor in this game.
2. Win the turnover battle
There’s reason for concern on both sides here. Richardson has a knack for the strip sack (he’s got 3 forced fumbles on the year) and Syracuse has been terrible in protecting the football this season. But SU has had huge wins when forcing opponents into mistakes and Missouri is susceptible to that. MU has been sloppy all year, fumbling an astounding 21 times (although they’ve only lost 7) and Franklin has the 7 picks.
If Syracuse can execute offensively, Missouri will start to press. That’s when MU will likely turn the ball over. If that happens, Syracuse wins. Last week’s win over Tennessee (51-48) sounds like a shootout, but the game was 28-28 at the end of regulation. Missouri has topped 30 points against an FBS team only once in regulation this year. That was against Kentucky. They made a t-shirt. You don’t want to be put on a t-shirt.
Mizzou’s defense has kept them in games all year, so if Syracuse can get going, that might break the Tigers’ spirit. But if Franklin and Green-Beckham have figured it out, it could be a long night for the Orange. It’s senior night and that crowd can be hostile. This game will be close and Syracuse certainly can win. But these two programs are mirror images. You never know what you’re gonna get.
Posted: Craig Hoffman