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Five Keys to Missouri Repeating in the East

By Matt Osborne
SouthernPigskin.com
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Returning the fewest starters of any SEC team, the Missouri Tigers still believe they have what it takes to repeat as SEC East champs.

Returning the fewest starters of any SEC team, the Missouri Tigers still believe they have what it takes to repeat as SEC East champs.

No. 1 – More DGB

Superstar wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham finished his sophomore season ranked in the top ten in the conference in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, despite playing alongside arguably the deepest group of wide outs in the nation. With the departures of L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, both of whom had at least 50 receptions in 2013, Green-Beckham will now be leaned upon for even further production as a junior. Although Maty Mauk gained significant experience last season, he still will likely go through some growing pains as he adjusts to life as the full-time starter under center in the SEC. When in doubt, his best bet would be to throw it in Green-Beckham’s general vicinity.

No. 2 – No Ealy, No Sam, No Problem

Kony Ealy and Michael Sam combined to give the Tigers the best one-two punch in the country at defensive end last season, combining for an amazing 19.5 sacks. Both players will soon be selected in the NFL Draft, but there is legitimate reason to believe that any potential slip in production from the pass rush would be minimal. Markus Golden and Shane Ray, the new starters on the edge of the line, are exceptional athletes in their own right. In reserve duty last fall, the duo combined to register 11 sacks. Now being thrust into starting roles, Golden and Ray should be able to keep SEC quarterbacks running for their lives in 2014.

No. 3 – Let’s Get Grounded

Even with the return of Green-Beckham on the perimeter, Missouri’s best plan of attack on offense will still be to rely on its running game. Running back Henry Josey declared for the NFL Draft, but the Tigers do return Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy, who combined to rush for 1,286 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. Three offensive line starters return from a unit which finished 16th nationally in rushing offense a year ago. Mauk has also proven the ability to make plays with his feet, rushing for 229 yards on just 41 carries as a freshman, which will add another dangerous element into the offensive mix. Look for the Tigers to at least try to match last season’s 42 rushing attempts per contest.

No. 4 – Secondary is Primary

Missouri was able to represent the SEC East in Atlanta last December despite finishing last in the conference in passing defense, allowing an astonishing 264.9 yards per game. The Tigers were able to offset that number, however, by intercepting a league-leading 20 passes. Unfortunately for the Tigers, three of last season’s starters in the secondary have departed, including All-SEC selection E.J. Gaines. Rising senior safety Braylon Webb is the lone returning starter on the back end of the defense, and he will need young cornerbacks John Gibson and Aarion Penton to mature in a hurry to make up for the Tigers’ lost production.

No. 5 – Conquer the “Big Three”

Just like last season, the biggest stretch of Missouri’s 2014 schedule will come when the Tigers face South Carolina, Georgia and Florida in consecutive games. Last fall, the Tigers defeated Georgia and Florida prior to falling in double overtime to South Carolina. Even so, a 2-1 record against the “Big Three” in the division was enough to put the Tigers out front in the East. Given the projected competitiveness of the division this fall, the Tigers will likely need to replicate that performance during their critical three-game stretch in order to have any chance of a repeat trip to Atlanta.

Matt Osborne - Matt Osborne currently serves as the director of recruiting and lead editor for Southern Pigskin. His work has been published in a number of national publications, including USA Today. Although he loves all levels of football, Matt's number one joy in his life is his relationship with Jesus Christ. Follow Matt on Twitter: @MattOsborne200. For media requests, please email Matt at matt@southernpigskin.com.