Posted: Nov 24, 2013 3:31 PM by Brendan Schaeffer, KOMU 8 Sports Columnist
COLUMBIA - The path was in sight. Win two, and you're in.
Win two, and you have a spot in the SEC Championship game, most likely against the most prolific college football dynasty of the 21st century. Alabama was on the horizon, but two tough tasks stood in the way.
Now, only one remains.
The No. 8 Missouri Tigers did not play a flawless game. They committed a few regrettable penalties, and failed to record a touchdown via the pass.
Yet, the Tigers prevailed. Behind clutch defense when they needed it, and a running game that exuded remarkable toughness, the Tigers will head back to Columbia with a 24-10 victory in their pockets.
No. 24 Ole Miss provided plenty of a challenge for Mizzou, who welcomed back QB James Franklin to the starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 12 at Georgia where he injured his throwing shoulder.
The Rebels offense ran efficient screens throughout the night in order to move the ball against the Tigers to the tune of 252 yards passing. Another 126 yards on the ground totaled 378 for the Mississippi offense, but the Rebels struggled to cap off their drives with points.
Apart from a 45-yard touchdown run by I'Tavius Mathers in the third quarter, Ole Miss was not able to do much scoring. In three trips to the red zone, the Rebels gathered just three points, with other drives ending on a blocked field goal and turnover on downs.
Following the turnover on downs in the middle of the fourth quarter, the Tigers marched relentlessly down the field to ice the game with a gritty and punishing rushing game.
The Tigers totaled 260 yards on the ground. Henry Josey ran 15 times for 95 yards and two touchdowns, while Marcus Murphy added 67 yards and a touchdown of his own.
Though James Franklin's numbers through the air were underwhelming, his performance was a successful one.
He finished 12-19 passing with 142 and an interception, and was replaced by Maty Mauk for one drive when the Tigers were scuffling early in the game. But his leadership and determination was evident throughout.
Franklin carried 8 times for 42 yards, and could be found diving for first downs in critical situations down the stretch. He played a fearless game coming off his injury, and while it wasn't a typical Missouri performance in the passing game, Franklin helped will his team to a much-needed victory.
The Tigers can now set their sights on the final test before a potential trip to Atlanta to face Alabama. Missouri will welcome Johnny Manziel and his Texas A&M Aggies to Columbia for the final home game of the season. After the Aggies embarrassed a depleted Tigers group 59-29 in last year's finale in College Station, Missouri will be seeking revenge this Saturday. But they'll be playing for more than pride this time around.
At 10-1, nothing is off the table for the Tigers as far as national contention. Both Oregon and Baylor lost this week to effectively remove themselves from the national title conversation. Three unbeatens remain, but Mizzou will be afforded the right to take down one of them personally, if they can get past Texas A&M.The
Though it's easier said than done, should Missouri upset Alabama, only Florida State and Ohio State would be left in the undefeated column. While Florida State appears to be a mortal lock for a spot in the championship, there is an argument to be made that a one-loss SEC team deserves the opportunity to defend the conference's consecutive national title streak, which currently stands at seven in a row.
Numerous hypothetical situations exist for several teams in the top 10, and the Tigers are no different from the rest. In order to turn those hypotheticals into reality, Missouri has one job: Keep on winning.
They will hope to do so in front of the home crowd next Saturday at Faurot Field, in what could prove to be one of the biggest games in program history.