Still in control
Tue, 19 Nov 2013 02:53:32 GMT —
It's the one play that could very well decide Missouri's fate this season.
This time, we're not talking about an Andrew Baggett missed field goal.
This one came Saturday in Auburn, Ala.
The average game has about 140 plays. In a 12-game season, that's nearly 1,700 plays.
One play. Out of 1,700.
Just over 30 seconds left, Auburn had it 4th-and-18 from its own 27. Georgia led 38-37, erasing a 20-point deficit in the fourth quarter to take the lead with less than two minutes left.
Missouri fans had to love this, because a Georgia win would certainly help the Tigers' cause. And then ...
A heave downfield by Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall was going to be intercepted by one of two Georgia defenders. Ball game. Instead, they knocked it away from each other, the ball fluttered into the air and dropped into the hands of Ricardo Lewis.
Touchdown. Auburn 43, Georgia 38. Ball game.
The Immaculate Deflection.
To steal from the best: "I don't believe what I just saw!" This play had everything but Kirk Gibson pumping his arm as he hobbled around the bases.
The Miracle on Ice on Grass now makes Missouri's path to the SEC Championship game (Dec. 7 in Atlanta) perfectly clear --- the Tigers must win their last two games, Saturday at Ole Miss (the Tigers are a slender 3-point favorite) and at home against Texas A&M (the Tigers will likely be a slender underdog) on Nov. 30.
If Georgia had won, then beaten hapless Kentucky at home this Saturday, the Tigers could have lost one of those two games and still won the SEC East.
Not any more.
"That is clutter; teams that prepare right don't let that affect them," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Monday. "They focus on what they can control, and that is playing well. That is when your mental toughness kicks in and you do not let outside things change your focus.
"I will be really disappointed if we put all those kind of pressures on ourselves."
Still, there is no margin for error.
"I don't think it puts any pressure on us, it is just another opportunity that we have to succeed," senior cornerback E.J. Gaines said. "I'm excited about it."
So what can the No. 8 Tigers (9-1, 5-1 SEC) expect from the No. 24 Rebels (7-3, 3-3) on their trip to Oxford on Saturday night? All they want.
A few things to know about the Rebels
* Ole Miss had a massive infusion of talent in its last recruiting class, which was ranked No. 5 in the nation --- led by the overall No. 1 recruit, defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.
* Nkemdiche (6-5, 294) was named the SEC defensive lineman of the week Monday for his efforts in Saturday's 51-21 win over Troy, when Ole Miss rolled up a school-record 751 yards of total offense. Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell (another true freshman and 5-star recruit) had four catches for 53 yards and two touchdowns, and now holds the freshman school record for catches (53), receiving yards (477) and receiving touchdowns (five).
* The three losses for the Rebels would hardly be considered bad losses --- at Alabama (25-0), at Auburn (30-22) and at home against Texas A&M (41-38).
* Those losses came in back-to-back-to-back weeks, but the Rebels have since won four straight, including a home win over LSU (27-24).
In other words, this will be anything but easy.
"We are going to play a really good team on Saturday," Pinkel said. "When you are in the hunt like we are now, you expect to play games like this. You do not need any more motivation than that."
And here's a boost --- senior quarterback James Franklin will be back as the starter, and other Tigers have enjoyed an off week to heal bumps and bruises and other ailments.
"James looks really good," Pinkel said. "He looks just like he left off before the (shoulder) injury.
"The players had a few days off that were very refreshing for them, both mentally and physcially."
Bottom line: Missouri still controls its own fate, starting Saturday.
It's time for the Tigers to make that play and not rely on someone else.