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Behind Enemy Lines: Mizzou

Kelly Ward

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No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 16 Missouri has a certain ring to it. After Missouri’s loss to Indiana and Alabama’s to Ole Miss, it seemed unlikely that the two would meet in the SEC Championship in Atlanta. On Saturday, they’ll do just that. Aaron Reiss, the sports editor of Missouri’s student paper The Maneater, had some things to say about the game.

Q: Missouri’s pass rush defense is pretty ridiculous. How devastating of a player is someone like Shane Ray to offenses?

A: It’s kind of like, we didn’t start talking about this until, I think, after the Tennessee game. We were in the press box and there were a lot of people that were saying like, these guys Markus Golden and Shane Ray are probably better than Michael Sam and Kony Ealy last year, like they were their backups, but they were a lot better. It’s crazy, like, how good Mizzou was last year, they’re better this year. Shane Ray has just been incredible. Over a course of the season, obviously looking at his body of work, I think 13 sacks now. But I mean, more than anything if I were Alabama, I’d think, at least as of recently, I’d focus on Markus Golden more so. In the past three games, Markus Golden’s stats have been ridiculous. He sat out the Indiana game which they of course lost and then was injured for a while, but then he’s come out of injury, and he’s just been amazing. Last three games for Markus Golden, 15.5 total [tackles], 6.5 for a loss, four sacks, five quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles, two fumbles recovered. So I mean, yes, Shane Ray is an amazing player and over the course of the body of work he’s just been great, but Markus Golden’s really been great recently. Those two guys are probably the best NFL talent that this team has.

Q: Auburn planned to play Cooper like “any other person.” You saw how that worked out: 224 yards. How does Mizzou stop Amari Cooper?

A: That’ll be interesting because there have been weeks where Mizzou’s secondary has looked pretty good. There have been weeks when they have. Kenya Dennis is a junior college transfer. Some weeks he’s looked really good. Some weeks he’s looked really awful. I think it’s a pretty average secondary, so it’ll really be interesting. I think there’s probably only so much they can do as a secondary. I think a lot of that depends on how well can they pressure the quarterback, because I would say if there’s one strength Missouri has over any other team that Alabama’s played probably is its ability to get to the quarterback.

Q: What is the plan of attack? Everyone saw Alabama’s secondary exposed against Auburn with the deep ball. What do you think Missouri’s going to do on offense to really get going?

A: That’ll be interesting because the past few weeks, not so much against A&M because A&M had this explosion in the third quarter, but for the most part it’s been a winning ugly type thing, I guess you could say, in these games they’ve won out to get back [to the SEC Championship]. It was kind of always like the offense put up enough points for the defense to carry them. Against Florida, they put up 42 points, but the defense outscored the offense. Against Vanderbilt, they just won. Against Kentucky, they just won. I don’t know if it’s going to be like they’re going to gouge the Alabama secondary. I’m not predicting that. I think Maty Mauk had a really rough patch and then he kind of found himself again … against A&M. I would say that was when this offense kind of started to pick it back up a little bit, but you know, it’s interesting, but last week was probably his best performance in a long time. He was just very steady, but even with you know maybe Alabama’s secondary being exposed, I don’t see this passing offense destroying Alabama.

I will say that I think Bud Sasser – he was actually second in terms of catches in the SEC, I believe, behind Amari Cooper – is, I would argue, one of the most underrated players in the country. The guy didn’t play consistently until his senior year. He was a backup last year. He was like fourth receiver. He didn’t play before that. But this year, in his first chance to really play, he’s got almost 1,000 yards receiving, nine touchdowns.

Q: I’d ask about the rushing attack, but Alabama’s rushing defense is second in the country and has given up three touchdowns.

A: This offense is not what’s going to beat Alabama, and I think it’s a very safe assumption that they’re a huge underdog in this game. But I think if Missouri’s going to win, it’s not going to be because they gouge them in the run for like 250 yards. It’s not be going to be because Maty Mauk throws four touchdowns. It’s going to be because they score 17 points and like Shane Ray had two sacks and Markus Golden had a takeaway and the defense scored a touchdown and they win by three. I think the offense is going to be in for a very tough game against Alabama.

Q: That might be the case. I don’t know. One last question. What’s your prediction?

A: I’m going to go 30 to 14 Alabama.

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Behind Enemy Lines: Mizzou