From meltdown to beatdown

The first seven games proved the Missouri Tigers have physical talent.

7-0, No. 5 in the nation, is fairly good proof.

Game 9 proved they have some mental talent. And toughness. And the ability to forget which, in this case, is a good thing.

After an ugly fourth-quarter meltdown in a double-overtime loss to South Carolina the week before, the Tigers righted the ship in a smooth and dominating way in a 31-3 beatdown of the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday at Faurot Field.

From meltdown to beatdown.

"We closed that (South Carolina) door quick," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "We talked about it Sunday, that we were going to move on. There is so much out there and I think they understood that.

"You can't do anything about the week before except learn a lesson. We applied it."

Against the Gamecocks, you couldn't blame one area for the meltdown, it was all three. The only one not to blame in a Tiger uniform was Truman.

But against the Volunteers, the offense rushed for 339 yards and had 502 yards of total offense. Maty Mauk completed just 12-of-25 passes for 163 yards, but he threw three touchdown passes and led the team with 114 yards rushing.

"You have to remember," Pinkel said, "that he is a redshirt freshman. That's only the third game he has started in his life (well, in college, anyway.)

"I think he did a lot of good things."

The defense held the Vols to 94 yards rushing and 334 total --- and, most importantly, three points. They forced three turnovers --- they've now forced a turnover in 39 straight games, the longest streak in the nation. In 15 plays in MU territory, Tennessee gained just nine yards.

Then there are the special teams ... well, two out of three ain't bad.

Andrew Baggett missed another chip-shot, this one from 29 yards. Off the left upright ... again.

We all have nightmares, something chasing us in our dreams. For Baggett, it must be a goal post.

Still, this was noteworthy bounce-back effort.

"That (South Carolina) game left a lot of players with a bitter taste in their mouths," said Marcus Lucas, who had four catches for 74 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown reception late in the first half.

"They were determined to come out here and beat these guys."

Now, let's take a look at the Tigers' Road to Atlanta. If you are a Missouri fan, you should also be a Georgia fan the rest of the season.

Currently, MU has a one-game lead over South Carolina and Georgia in the SEC East. The winner will face Alabama (let's go ahead and put them in this game, shall we?) in the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 7 in Atlanta.

MU --- ranked No. 9 by the AP and No. 8 in the BCS --- is 8-1 and 4-1 in the SEC; South Carolina is 7-2 and 5-2; and Georgia is 5-3 and 4-2.

If MU loses one of its final three games and South Carolina (at home) beats Florida on Nov. 16, there's a two-way tie and the Gamecocks win the tiebreaker. However, if Georgia also wins out and MU loses one of its final three, there would be a three-way tie.

In this case, the tiebreaker would go to the Tigers.

MU's remaining games --- Saturday at Kentucky (the Tigers are two-touchdown favorites, if you pay attention to that stuff), at Ole Miss (not easy) on Nov. 16, and at home against Texas A&M (really not easy) on Nov. 23.

Georgia plays at Auburn (not easy) on Nov. 16 and hosts Kentucky (really easy) on Nov. 23.

There's one final scenario --- the Tigers win their last three games and none of it matters.

"It's about your goals," Pinkel said. "What do you want to be? We are close to having some great things happen and you have to take care of your business.

"This is fun, I like this, I love this. (The players) love this. But you have to bring your best each week. In this stretch right now, okay is not good enough."