Over the last decade or so, the SEC East has been fairly stable: hated rivals Florida and Georgia generally stand atop the division smiling down at Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Tennessee on their way to the SEC title game in Atlanta.
However, new member Missouri has just thrown a massive wrench into the works. The Tigers limped their way through their first year in the SEC, finishing just 5-7. The 2013 campaign has been anything but embarrassing for coach Gary Pinkel’s squad. Mizzou has opened the year with an undefeated, 6-0 mark and just knocked off the perennially strong Bulldogs to get there.
Can the SEC East newbies keep it going at home against Florida?
For the Tigers to take full control of the rough-and-tumble division, reshirt freshman quarterback Maty Mauk will have to lead the way. Putting up points against Florida’s vaunted defense was not going to be easy with senior James Franklin under center, but after his injury against Georgia, the Tigers will now rely on a redshirt freshman.
Mauk takes center stage for the first time against one of the nation’s best defenses. Even without superstar defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who suffered a torn ACL, Florida’s defense is absolutely dominant.
Star Mizzou wideouts L’Damian Washington (455 yards, seven touchdowns) and Dorial Green-Beckham (399 yards, four scores) will be blanketed all game by Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Vernon Hargreaves III.
Purifoy and Roberson are both juniors, but Hargreaves is just a freshman. Will he be up to the task of defending on such a large stage?
It might not matter. If star defenders Ronald Powell, Leon Orr, Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard can get to Mauk, not allowing him to find his wideouts, the young passer will be in for a long day.
As for the Gators, coach Will Muschamp’s squad will once again need extra help its defense. The team is giving up an average of 13 points per game, good for fourth in the entire nation.
Muschamp’s offense, however, has sputtered in every big game this season. Florida committed five turnovers in a loss to Miami and looked stuck in neutral against LSU.
Missouri has a sneaky-good defense that may give the Gators trouble. Vandy only managed 28 points in a blowout loss, 51-28. Indiana’s very good offense only put up 28 themselves in another blowout, 45-28. Then, they held high-powered Georgia to only 26 points. The program lost defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson to the NFL Draft, but Michael Sam has picked up the slack – in the sack department. Sam has already recorded six on the year and the team has tallied 17.0 total. Those numbers prove that Mizzou’s defensive front is up to SEC standards.
Florida rushing attacks is oft-used (274 carries) but has not been very effective (3.91 yards per carry and only eight touchdowns). How will the depleted squad do without starter Matt Jones, who has been lost for the year with a knee injury? Can a patchwork offensive line led by Jon Halapio clear some running lanes for reserve Mack Brown?
What will be the difference on Saturday? More importantly, what major factor will put one team over the other, and in control of the SEC East?
Luckily for all of us, we don’t have to know the answers to any of these questions. With Mizzou coming off the SEC victory and Florida motivated to come back from its second loss, an SEC East collision is in store for Week 8. When it comes down to it, we will only need to know one thing: