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October 1, 2012?
If the Missouri Tigers look in the mirror, they just may see the Vanderbilt Commodores staring back. And it goes far beyond the black and gold both teams wear on Saturdays.
The Tigers and the Dores have both started the SEC schedule 0-2. They've both done so by playing the top two pre-season picks in the Eastern Division. Both have lost one competitive game and been blown out once in league play. Both have a gimme win over a non-FBS team. Both tested themselves in the non-conference with a game against another BCS conference school.
Vanderbilt opened the season against South Carolina, losing 17-13 to the Gamecocks in Nashville. The next week, the Commodores traveled to Northwestern, where they lost 23-13 to the still unbeaten Wildcats. After an easy win over Presbyterian (58-0), Vandy was pasted 48-3 by Georgia.
Missouri, of course, played with UGA for three quarters before falling 41-20. They were dominated 31-10 by South Carolina on the road. The difference in the two teams comes in that other BCS game. The Tigers beat Arizona State 24-20 and added a 21-16 win over Central Florida to enter this week 3-and-2. Vanderbilt comes in just 1-and-3.
Both teams have had trouble scoring points and the passing offenses have been the major hangup. The Tigers rank 85th in the country throwing the ball, the Commodores 79th. Vandy is averaging 9.7 points per game against FBS competition and has just offensive touchdowns in those three games. The Tigers have been a bit better, averaging 18.75 poitns and scoring eight offensive touchdowns in four games against FBS teams. Better than Vandy, but not up to the standards Mizzou has set in recent seasons.
Both also have endured a bit of a quarterback carousel. James Franklin missed the Arizona State game due to injury, but has played the last two weeks. At Vanderbilt, Jordan Rodgers started the Commodores' first two games, but was benched for Austyn Carta-Samuels against Presbyterian. Carta-Samuels completed 13-of-20 passes for 195 yards and a score, but Rodgers was the starter again the next week against Georgia. He went 13-for-23 for 218 yards against the Bulldogs, but did not get Vandy in the end zone.
"I didn't feel like we have had anyone who has really taken hold of the quarterback position," Commodores head coach James Franklin (yet another similarity between the two teams) said following the game against Georgia. "We are going to look at who practices well throughout the week and let them play on Saturday until someone grabs hold of the position."
Missouri's quarterback questions seem to have been answered for the time being in a 21-16 win over Central Florida. Maybe not so much in Nashville.
For the second time in five weeks, Mizzou sophomore Marcus Murphy was named the SEC special teams player of the week. Murphy gave Missouri the lead for good with a third quarter 66-yard punt return for a touchdown against Central Florida. He shared that honor with Alabama sophomore Cristion Jones, who gave the Tide a 13-7 lead against Ole Miss with a 99-yard kickoff return for a score.
The touchdown for Murphy was his third on a punt return this season after he ran back two for scores in the opener against Southeastern Louisiana. He is currently seventh in the country, averaging 20.07 yards per punt return, which would also place him fourth on the all-time list at Missouri (Marcus Woods averaged a school-record 26.9 yards on seven punt returns in 2005). Murphy broke Roger Wehrli's school record for punt return yards in a game against Southeastern Louisiana. With 281 punt return yards already this season, he needs just 198 more to break Wehrli's single season record of 478 yards set back in 1968.
Murphy also returned a kickoff 33 yards against the Knights in the second half. T.J. Moe has handled that duty most of the season, but Murphy could be in line to see more time on the kickoff return team as well.
Although the Tigers won't turn their attention to the nation's number one team until Sunday morning, the kick time for the October 13th game against Alabama was set Monday morning.
The Tigers and Crimson Tide will start at 2:30 Central time that afternoon in a game televised nationally by CBS.
Bama is 5-and-0 and has won every game by at least 19 points. The Tide has a bye this week before coming to Columbia. The last time the Tigers faced the nation's top-ranked team, they beat Oklahoma 36-27 on October 23, 2010.
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