Posted: Oct 12, 2013 4:31 PM by By Brenden Schaeffer, KOMU Sports Columnist
Updated: Oct 12, 2013 4:43 PM
"Well, they haven't played anyone yet."
"They haven't really been tested so far this season."
"Wait until they face a real opponent."
Count the above statements among the things doubters of Mizzou football can no longer claim, after the Tigers stormed into Athens, Ga. and dashed any lingering hopes the Georgia Bulldogs had for a National title run this season.
The Tigers came away with a 41-26 victory over the No. 7 Bulldogs, who fall to 4-2 on the season. Missouri's victory was driven by successful offensive drives and clutch defensive plays throughout the contest.
James Franklin, who left the game in the fourth quarter with an injured right shoulder, led the offense valiantly in the first half, throwing for a touchdown score and rushing for another.
Michael Sam returned a fumble forced by Shane Ray for a 21 yard touchdown to put Mizzou up 28-10, a lead they carried into halftime after the Tigers forced and recovered another fumble to thwart a Georgia drive in the red zone late in the second quarter.
This game was no walk in the park for Mizzou, however. The Bulldogs turned the corner in the second half, scoring 16 consecutive points to bring the score to 28-26. James Franklin, attempting to secure a Tiger victory early in the fourth quarter, was thrown to the ground late by Georgia LB Jordan Jenkins after throwing an incomplete pass. No flag was thrown on the play.
After rushing for a short gain on the next play, Franklin left the game and headed for the locker room. Though X-rays came back negative on Franklin's shoulder, Coach Pinkel indicated that the team might be relying on Maty Mauk in the weeks to come.
Mauk, the redshirt freshman backup QB for the Tigers, was forced into the action after Franklin's injury.
Immediately upon entering the game, he powered forward for a huge first down to continue the drive for Missouri. The drive ultimately ended on a 40-yard touchdown pass to L'Damian Washington thrown by WR Bud Sasser after Mauk lateraled to him on the play.
After Andrew Baggett pushed the extra point wide left, the Bulldogs still only trailed by one possession, 34-26. This is where the Tigers stepped up on defense to cement the victory for Missouri.
Interceptions by defensive backs Randy Ponder and Kentrell Brothers of Georgia QB Aaron Murray, along with a late touchdown jaunt by Henry Josey, put the game in the books for the Tigers, stunning the Bulldogs in their own house.
This win says a lot about a Missouri team that is proving its ceiling could be higher than most anticipated before the season.
The Tigers, a year removed from a disappointing 5-7 showing in their inaugural SEC season, are now bowl eligible. Ask players on this team though, and you're sure to hear that the Tigers won't settle for that.
Mizzou will be propelled higher in the rankings after the impressive road victory, and will no longer be flying under the radar. The expectations for this team have certainly been raised now, with nothing off the table for their potential this season.
Tough home games against ranked opponents Florida and South Carolina loom large in the next two weeks, and the injury to James Franklin is definitely a concern for Missouri.
The main reason for the team's struggles last year was Franklin's inability to stay healthy. But after Mauk's gutsy performance in the fourth quarter Saturday, the Tigers will be encouraged that they can continue to challenge for the SEC East, with him taking the snaps.
Mauk will have all week to mentally prepared himself to be the starter, before the Tigers welcome the Florida Gators into Columbia, with a 7-0 start on their minds.