Close games shape Mizzou’s 2014 SEC title run

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By Joey Schneider, 23 Sports

Friday, Dec. 5-

After Mizzou football fell short in the SEC championship in 2013, many were unsure if the Tigers’ success was a fluke. But Mizzou followed up with an underdog mentality on the field to pick up their second consecutive SEC East title in 2014.

Head coach Gary Pinkel led the team to a 10-2 record for the fifth double-digit win season in the last eight years. Mizzou rode a six-game winning streak to the championship and has yet to lose away from Faurot Field in 2014.

These accomplishments have Mizzou set up for their second straight bowl appearance tomorrow, but several valiant efforts helped the Tigers roll over the competition.

Players
1. Marcus Murphy proved to be one of the most versatile athletes for Mizzou, playing slot receiver and running back as well as becoming a large special teams force. The senior captivated the running game with 747 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. His best performance came in a game against the Florida Gators, in which he had two touchdown returns and added another rushing touchdown.

2. Entering his third season as the team’s kicker, Andrew Baggett is in the prime of his college career, yet still facing a learning curve. The junior converted 14 field goals and won SEC Co-Special Teams Player last week when he kicked two field goals over 50 yards against Arkansas. However, his 66% field goal percentage set precedent for Mizzou to grind out slim leads.

3. Bud Sasser proved to be the Tigers’ most consistent receiving threat in 2014, catching nine touchdowns and adding over 900 receiving yards. One of the senior’s best games came against Kentucky in November when he caught two touchdowns. With a new core of wide receivers taking over next year, Sasser modeled strong route-reading abilities that MIzzou will hope for in seasons to come.

4. Shane Ray was a leader on a Mizzou defense that limited opponents to 23.6 points per game. The defensive end picked up 13.5 season sacks this season, including 7.5 in SEC play. Projected to be a first-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL draft, Ray has been a key factor working with Markus Golden during each of the past two SEC title runs.

5. Quarterback Maty Mauk faced early season struggles developing chemistry with both the passing and running game. He’s shown capabilities to improvise and scramble with the ball as well, with over 2000 personal rushing yards. Mauk has done particularly well under pressure, leading the SEC with eight touchdowns and no interceptions in the fourth quarter.

Games (chronological order)
1. In the team’s second road game of the year, the Tigers found themselves in a rut through three quarters against the South Carolina Gamecocks. In the first 45 minutes of play, the Tigers managed just seven points. But the offense tripled their score in the next quarter, highlighted by two Russell Hansbrough rushing touchdowns to give Mizzou its first conference win, 21-20.

2. It’s difficult to consider a loss character building, but a 34-0 shutout at home from the Georgia Bulldogs proved to be the wake up call that Mizzou needed moving forward. The Tigers were outplayed on all aspects of the game, as the defense gave up 400 yards and the offense did not convert a third down. It was the first time Mizzou was shut out on home grounds since 2002, allowing the team to address issues before reclaiming the division lead.

3. The first of five November wins came against the Kentucky Wildcats and staged a turning point in the Tigers’ season. Mizzou held a lead for all four quarters and the 20-10 victory allowed the Tigers to reclaim first place in the SEC East, as Georgia fell to the Florida Gators, a team Mizzou beat two weeks prior.

4. For the second straight year, Mizzou was also able to defeat Texas A&M in a tight 34-27 matchup. The Aggies limited the Tigers to just a field goal in the first half, but Missouri was able to pull ahead from four touchdowns in the third quarter. Running back Russell Hansborough was offensive hero of this game with 199 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

5. With the SEC East title on the line, Mizzou faced one more crucial task in the Arkansas Razorbacks to defend their lead. The post Thanksgiving feast started out sloppy for Mizzou, as the Tigers’ offense only accounted for two field goals in the first half. However, Missouri completed the 21-14 comeback with strong defense and two touchdowns in the home finale.

While Mizzou has thrived of off countless contributions, the Tigers will rely on the experiences from these games and players in the SEC Championship. Mizzou will play the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide at 3.p.m. tomorrow. The game can be seen on CBS.