CFN Preview 2013 - Missouri Tigers
Missouri QB James Franklin
Missouri QB James Franklin
Posted May 23, 2013 2013 Preview - Missouri Tigers

Missouri Tigers

Preview 2013 

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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Gary Pinkel
13th year: 90-61
23rd year overall: 163-98-3
Returning Lettermen: 39
Off. 18, Def. 20, ST 1
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Missouri Players
1. CB E.J. Gaines, Sr.
2. WR Dorial Green-Beckham, Soph.
3. DE Kony Ealy, Jr.
4. C/OG Evan Boehm, Soph.
5. LB Andrew Wilson, Sr.
6. RB Henry Josey, Jr.
7. QB James Franklin, Sr.
8. WR Marcus Lucas, Sr.
9. DE Michael Sam, Sr.
10. RB/KR Marcus Murphy, Jr.
2013 Schedule
8/31 Murray State
9/7 Toledo
9/21 at Indiana
9/28 Arkansas State
10/5 at Vanderbilt
10/12 at Georgia
10/19 Florida
10/26 South Carolina
11/2 Tennessee
11/9 at Kentucky
11/23 at Ole Miss
11/30 Texas A&M
Texas A&M, Missouri called. It wants your 2012 season.

Mizzou set itself up perfectly to throw a curveball to the SEC with a team built on speed, athleticism and offensive prowess after ripping up big numbers and doing nice things in the Big 12. Unfortunately, right down to Johnny Manziel turning into an amped-up version of what James Franklin was supposed to become, Texas A&M did the finesse thing better.

Aggie head coach Kevin Sumlin flat out admitted that A&M couldn’t line up and blast away with the Alabamas and LSUs of the world, and it didn’t try. Missouri couldn’t seem to figure out what it wanted to do, mixing up an attempt to power away for the ground game and hoping the crisp passing attack would show up when needed, but nothing worked thanks to injuries on the offensive line, health issues for Franklin, and almost no clutch plays outside of the four-overtime win over Tennessee.

This is a Missouri team built on speed and athleticism, but there wasn’t the decided schematic advantage needed to do razzle dazzle O like Texas A&M did, and when it was time to play “grown man football,” the Tiger lines took a seat at the kiddie table.

So now the call has gone out by head coach Gary Pinkel for the team to be more physical, far tougher and more prepared to handle life in the rough and tumble SEC. However, if Missouri could just go back to being Missouri, and not try to become something it’s not, there’s a chance for a quick turnaround.

No one likes or cares about excuses, especially in the SEC, but yeah, injuries were a problem. Yeah, Franklin wasn’t quite right and it killed the consistency of the offense. Yeah, otherworldly recruit Dorial Green-Beckham came on late, but he wasn’t the breakout superstar needed to bail out a passing game that finished second-to-last in the SEC in efficiency. More than all of that, though, Missouri had a problem because it’s in the SEC now and it had a few non-conference games that weren’t exactly walks in the park.

The Tiger secondary might have been roasted over the final three games, but it didn’t help to face Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and A&M’s Mr. Football himself. For all the concerns about not being tough enough, the Tigers can’t be ripped apart too much for not being able to hang around with A&M, Georgia and Alabama – probably the three best teams in college football last season – and no one can fault them for losing at South Carolina or in the Swamp against Florida. The harsh reality was that the schedule was a killer, and that includes Arizona State and UCF, who Mizzou beat. Losing to Vanderbilt and Syracuse at home were the unforgiveable gaffes, but it’s not like those two were chopped liver.

But that’s sort of the point for Missouri going forward. At best, even if everything broke the right way, 2012 was probably a 7-5/8-4 season, and for a program that tasted No. 1 and was used to being in the Big 12 title chase, it’s going to take something extra to make noise in the brutal world of the SEC. Instead of trying to beat ‘em by joining ‘em, it’s time to go back to being Big 12.

Franklin is healthy again, and he’s surrounded by NFL prototype receivers to work with. The line gets back most of the key starters, and speedy running back Henry Josey is right again after missing more than a year with a knee injury. The defense is loaded with as many great athletes as any in the SEC – there’s a difference between being an athlete and a great football player – and the Tiger special teams are always great under Pinkel.

Texas A&M proved that flashy offense can work in the SEC. If the Aggies could adapt, Missouri can, too.

What to watch for on offense: The emergence of the playmakers. One of the issues last season was the lack of pop and explosion from the top offensive stars. Kendial Lawrence turned in a nice year, and James Franklin had his moments, but overall the attack was underwhelming – Missouri should never, ever finish 11th in any conference in total and scoring offense. This year, if Franklin has problems again or isn’t getting the job done, there are better options waiting in the wings. The light appears to have gone on for Dorial Green-Beckham, and running back Henry Josey has his speed back. Overall, Mizzou has better more mature primetime talent at the skill spots, and the difference should be noticeable right away.

What to watch for on defense: The tackle situation. The ends have to get into the backfield more and start popping the quarterback and they will. Kony Ealy and Michael Sam are too athletic and too good for the Tigers to be so average at coming up with sacks. The issue is in the inside where Sheldon Richardson is gone after coming up with a terrific season doing a little bit of everything, and now it’ll be up to Matt Hoch, Harold Brantley and Lucas Vincent to play big against the stronger running teams. Overall, the Tigers actually did a nice job against the run, but to go from 5-7 bad to in the hunt for the East title, they have to contend with the power of Florida and Georgia, and they have to hold up inside.

The team will be far better if … the passing game works. How bad did things get? The Tigers went through a seven game stretch with just three touchdown passes. Missouri can’t win by being more physical than the better teams in the conference, but if everything is humming, it can win when the passing game is clicking. Franklin’s health is a big deal, and while there’s talk of Maty Mauk and Corbin Berkstresser pushing for the job – and with superstar freshmen Eddie Printz and Trent Hosick in the fold – the veteran has to shine through. If Franklin can live up to the promise and potential shown at the end of his sophomore season, and if the receiving corps can play more like Tarzan and less like Jane, the results will come.

The schedule: The Tigers are getting their share of tune-up games before having to dive into the meat of the schedule. Starting out against Murray State and hosing Toledo should get everyone warmed up before getting a week off to prepare for Indiana. Arkansas State is a must win before going to Vanderbilt with, most likely, a shot at a 5-0 start if everything goes according to plan. And then the fun starts.

Mizzou has a rough stretch after the trip to Vandy with a road trip to Georgia followed up by home games against Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee. If the Tigers can win a few of those, there’s a chance to be in a position for a nice bowl game with a road game at Kentucky to close out the stretch. As tough as the schedule is over the back half, getting a week off will help before closing out the regular season against the two teams on the slate from the West with a trip to Ole Miss and finishing against Texas A&M.

Best offensive player: Sophomore WR Dorial Green-Beckham. He still has to turn into a steady starter, and he still has to show he do all the little things right, but he showed glimpses of his promise and potential at times throughout last season. Hyped up as a bigger Randy Moss coming out of high school, he learned quickly that he couldn’t get by just on his next-level talent – at least not as a true freshman. At 6-6 and 220 pounds with 4.4 speed, it’s all there to become the type of difference-maker the offense needed last year. There are other great targets on the team to take the heat off, but he’ll be the one who gets all the attention.

Best defensive player: Senior CB E.J. Gaines. There’s a chance that end Kony Ealy turns into the superstar of the defense with his 275-pound size and lightning quickness off the ball, but Gaines is the best all-around defender on the team with peerless open field tackling ability and a nose for the ball. With 126 solo stops and 28 broken up passes in his first three seasons, he’s a proven playmaker good enough to erase one side of the field.

Key player to a successful season: Senior QB James Franklin. There might be more talented quarterback options, and the key to the season might be the improved play on the lines, but unless Franklin becomes Franklin again, Missouri won’t make any sort of a leap forward. There were question marks about his toughness and he struggled in some of the key games, but when he’s on, he’s as good as any quarterback in the SEC. After running for 981 yards and 15 scores as a sophomore, he came up with ju12 122 yards and no rushing touchdowns last season, and his passing diminished in a big way, too. If Mizzou gets 2011 Franklin back, watch out.

The season will be a success if … the Tigers win nine games. Enough is enough. With Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M at home, and with no Alabama or LSU to deal with, Mizzou doesn’t have much of an excuse if it can’t win eight regular seasons and a bowl. It’s asking a lot to beat Georgia at Georgia, and it’ll make the season if there’s at least one win against the Gators, Gamecocks and Aggies, but the team is better almost everyone else on the slate.

Key game: Oct. 5 at Vanderbilt. With Georgia, Florida and South Carolina to follow, a loss on the road to the Commodores in the SEC opener could potentially lead to an 0-4 SEC start and a major problem. Last season the Tigers gagged away a 19-15 loss to Vandy in Columbia, but they were still close late despite a 9-of-30 passing day from Corbin Berkstresser. Vanderbilt might not be the Vanderbilt of old, but Missouri has to show right away in conference play that it’s not the Missouri of last season.

2012 Fun Stats:
- 2nd Quarter Scoring: Opponents 106 – Missouri 58
- 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 9-of-16 (56%) – Missouri 10-of-23 (43%)
- Fumbles: Opponents 28 (lost 16) – Missouri 22 (lost 8)

- 2013 Missouri Preview | 2013 Missouri Offense
- 2013 Missouri Defense | 2013 Missouri Depth Chart