The view from Missouri: Beat writer Q&A
10/24/2013 4:15 PM
10/24/2013 2:40 PM
1. Are people in Columbia, Mo., as surprised by where the Tigers are as everyone else in the SEC is?
Certainly, there are some people surprised by the team’s success, especially after struggling during the first year in the Southeastern Conference. Of course, injuries to quarterback James Franklin and throughout the two-deep at offensive line, had a lot to do with last season’s struggles. But Missouri won 48 games in the last five seasons in the Big 12 and rose to the top of the BCS standings in 2007 (albeit briefly), so success isn’t anything new. The Tigers will tell you they expected to be 7-0 right now, but most fans would have been thrilled with 6-1 and probably expected the team to be 5-2 at this point.
2. What's the book on Maty Mauk?
Mauk graduated from high school as the nation’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completions and total offense. He’s not a big quarterback, standing only 6 feet tall, but he has a strong arm and is surprisingly quick. Mauk has the ability to scramble and keep plays alive and loves to throw the deep ball. His accuracy on shorter routes can be spotty, so those tight-window throws over the middle can become an adventure. Missouri’s wide receivers made a lot of great catches to help Mauk against Florida, which also dropped a few relatively easy interceptions. Bottom line: Mauk is young and prone to the kind of mistakes young quarterbacks make, but he’s supremely talented and has a tremendous pedigree.
3. Why has Missouri's pass rush been so effective this season?
It starts with All-American candidate Michael Sam, a senior who leads the SEC with nine sacks and 13 tackles for a loss. He plays with an exceptionally high motor and sets the tone for the entire defense. Sam is enjoying a monster season, but Missouri also has tremendous depth along the defensive line. Junior Kony Ealy has 3.5 sacks and five pass breakups. He’s an NFL-caliber talent along with Sam, while sophomore Shane Ray continues to emerge as a game-changer. Ray has forced fumbles with vicious blindside sacks in back-to-back weeks. Junior Markus Golden, a converted linebacker, also has become a big-time playmaker with six tackles for a loss. Inside, Missouri doesn’t have anyone quite at Sheldon Richardson’s level, but redshirt freshman Harold Brantley has emerged as a force and great depth allows the Tigers to stay fresh and active.
4. How much home field advantage do the Tigers have in Columbia, Mo.?
Kansas City’s fan recently set a Guiness record for the loudest crowd at an outdoor stadium during a Chiefs game against the Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium, peaking at 137.5 decibels. Many of those same fans are also Missouri supporters, so the crowd at Memorial Stadium knows how to get loud and stay loud, making it tough for teams to make line calls or blitz adjustments. That could be an even bigger issue with Dylan Thompson behind center, because he’ll require more time to read Missouri’s defense than the more experienced Connor Shaw. With ongoing construction to add suites and additional seating, Memorial Stadium’s capacity is a shade under 70,000 right now. The tailgating is always good around these parts and, with homecoming this weekend and all morning/afternoon to get ready for the game, it should be an electric atmosphere.
5. What's one can't-miss restaurant or local attraction for visiting Gamecock fans?
For wings, CJ’s. For pizza, Shakespeare’s. Both are Columbia, Mo., institutions., but there are lots of other bars and restaurants in the area that make for great game-day stops. The Tiger Walk is also a special moment a few hours before the game. Learning about the white-rock “M” on the berm in the north end zone will catch fans up on some of the history and tradition at Mizzou. Other than that, there will be tailgating everywhere and (mostly) friendly faces eager to greet visitors to town.