Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA — The last time the Missouri football team had a bye week, the Tigers returned to action with a big loss at home, a 34-0 drubbing at the hands of Georgia.
They would like for things go a little better this time around.
Missouri returns today from its second of two bye weeks at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.
“It was in the back of our minds,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said of the Georgia loss, “but it was nice to get away for a few days and kind of recharge and things.”
For most, the week was a time for rest.
“(I) just take it easy, man,” senior receiver Bud Sasser said. “Just stay off my feet. Whatever I can do. Just lay down and relax.”
Though for Morse, there was a little less relaxing this time around.
“As an offensive line, we watched probably five or six more hours of film than we did the last bye week,” he said. “(It’s) unfortunate that we didn’t do that the (bye) week before, but you know, you learn from your mistakes, and we don’t plan on making the same mistakes as we did last bye week.
“We’ve had the fortunate circumstance to go against two extremely good teams after bye weeks, so we’re just going to have to come out and execute on all cylinders come (today).”
The well-rested Tigers are headed to College Station for the fourth time in five years — and the last time until 2021. Texas A&M (7-3, No. 24 College Football Playoff) is Missouri’s first opponent from the Southeastern Conference West Division this year, and the Tigers, sitting atop the SEC East, need a win against their former Big 12 foes if they hope to return to the SEC Championship game in December.
All of Texas A&M’s losses this year have come to teams now ranked in the top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings. The Aggies are coming off a road upset of then-No. 3 Auburn.
“You know that they’re a good ballclub,” Morse said. “I don’t think the Alabama game (a 59-0 loss) did them justice. I think you can’t sleep on any team in this league, and each week is crazy, and it will be fun coming out there and competing with a good A&M team.”
The game matches a proverbial unstoppable force, Texas A&M’s offense, with an immovable object, Missouri’s defense — with a less-than-enthralling matchup of the Tigers’ offense and the Aggies defense thrown in for good measure.
The Aggies’ offense has put up more yards through the air than any other SEC team and is ranked fourth in scoring and total offense. Missouri’s defense has allowed fewer yards per game, just 301.4, than every SEC team but Alabama in conference play.
The Missouri defense might prove a tad more movable Saturday, however, with two key cogs of the secondary absent to start the game. Senior safety Braylon Webb will miss the first half of the game because of a second-half targeting penalty against Kentucky, and cornerback Aarion Penton is suspended indefinitely after being arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession.
The Aggies, meanwhile, will gain a man this week, as quarterback Kenny Hill returns from a suspension, though true freshman Kyle Allen will continue to start.
On the flip side, Missouri’s offense has struggled mightily, ranking in the bottom three of the SEC in pass offense, total offense and scoring offense. Texas A&M’s defense has allowed just shy of 500 yards per game in SEC play — worst in the conference.
While the Missouri defense faces likely its toughest challenge yet, the Missouri offense’s ability to move the football could prove essential to the Tigers’ chances of avoiding their third loss. The offense has relied heavily on the run in recent weeks, though senior receiver Darius White is expected to return from his groin injuries today.
The Missouri offense was able to find a groove in the first half against Kentucky, gaining more than 200 yards before halftime for the first time since September.
That said, is it possible the bye week came at an inopportune time for Missouri’s offense?
“That’s a good question,” Sasser said, “but I don’t think so. I think it was just perfect timing, because after all those games (in a row), we needed a few guys to get back healthy and make sure our team was as close to 100 percent as can be.”
Though the teams enter the game with seven wins each, the contest holds much heavier conference implications for the Tigers.
Currently leading the SEC East, Missouri is in control of its own destiny with three regular-season games remaining. The Tigers hold a one-loss advantage over Georgia, though the Bulldogs could help Missouri out by losing to No. 9 Auburn today. The 7-3 Aggies, competing in most likely the toughest division in college football, are currently in fifth place in the crowded SEC West.
But the Tigers insist they are focused on today’s game — not postseason implications and not the fact they won’t be seeing the Aggies for a long time.
”Honestly, I didn’t even know it was the last time,” Sasser said. “I guess that’d be good to leave them with a sour taste in their mouth, but what we want to do is just win another game here in November.”