Rebels seek fifth straight win as James Franklin makes his return for SEC East leading Tigers
Gary Pinkel and the No. 8 Missouri Tigers travel to the Oxford to take on Huge Freeze and the No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at 7:45 pm ET on ESPN. With a victory, the Tigers will clinch their fourth double-digit win season in Gary Pinkel's tenure in Columbia. Pinkel will also move to within one win of becoming Missouri's all-time winningest coach. The Tigers will need to be on their game, even with the return of their starting quarterback, as the Rebels have won four consecutive games. This is the seventh all-time meeting between the two schools, with the Tigers owning a 5-1 advantage over Ole Miss.
Three Things to Watch
The Return of James Franklin
James Franklin has missed the past four games due to an injury to his right shoulder he incurred against Georgia. Backup Maty Mauk filled in admirably in his place, leading the Tigers to a 3-1 record in Franklin's stead. He threw for 951 yards, 10 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. Despite Mauk's successes, the return of Franklin is clearly an upgrade for Missouri. The last time he was on the field Missouri got its biggest win since joining the SEC, a 41-26 victory over Georgia. During his 6-0 start at quarterback, Franklin completed 14 touchdown passes and threw just three interceptions. Additionally, his 67.7 completion percentage dwarfed Mauk’s 51.7. In the last three games before he got injured Franklin, threw eight touchdowns to zero interceptions, leading the Tigers to big road wins against Vanderbilt and Georgia.
Mizzou's Offensive Weapons
The Tigers have four rushers with 60+ carries and five receivers with 200+ receiving yards. Missouri truly utilizes all of its offensive options with 11 players averaging at least two touches per game. The Tigers' players are extremely efficient when they get the ball, as eight of those players average over 6.5 yards per touch. The big-time contributors for Missouri are RB Henry Josey and WRs L'Damian Washington and Dorial Green-Beckham. The two receivers have nine touchdowns apiece, combining for the fifth-highest total among any wide receiver duo in the country. Washington averages 19.8 yards per reception, which ranks 13th in the nation among receivers with 30+ catches. Green-Beckham, the nation's former No. 1 recruit, is coming off his best collegiate game as he hauled in seven passes for 100 yards and four touchdowns against Kentucky.
Ole Miss Rush Defense vs. Missouri Running Backs
Despite solid quarterback play, the Mizzou offense is led by its trio of strong running backs. The Tigers stable of backs is made up of Henry Josey, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy. Josey leads the way with 760 yards, while Hansbrough averages 6.6 yards per rush and Murphy has seven rushing touchdowns. The Rebels have the country's 25th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 129.3 yards per game, which is also good for sixth in the SEC. Only 15 teams in college football allow less rushing yards per attempt than the Rebels' 3.48. The Rebels' defensive line, led by freshman phenom Robert Nkemdiche, hasn't been very good at pressuring the quarterback, with just 14 sacks. As a result, the importance of stopping the run is even more amplified as James Franklin should have opportunities to make plays against Ole Miss' secondary.
Key Player: Michael Sam, DE, Missouri
The Tigers have made huge strides on defense this season and Michael Sam is a big reason why. While there are three other players on this line that have 4.5 or more sacks, Sam leads the way with 10 sacks and 16 TFL (tackles for loss). The Tigers' defensive line has the potential to dominate a solid Rebels' offensive line, pressuring the rather immobile Bo Wallace.
The main key to this game is James Franklin. If he isn't rusty, the Tigers won't miss a beat. Overall, they are the more complete team, with more explosive offensive weapons and a more star-studded defensive front. Look for Franklin to spread the ball around to his variety of options, allowing the Tigers to stick to their preference of rushing the ball on third downs. Missouri will get a big win before they face a monster task of disarming Johnny Manziel in order to stave off South Carolina for the SEC East crown.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Ole Miss 24