Hot Reads: Breaking down the SEC Championship Game - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Hot Reads: Breaking down the SEC Championship Game

Missouri celebrated its SEC East title last weekend, and the Tigers hope to celebrate another title in Atlanta. (Source: @Mizzou/Twitter) Missouri celebrated its SEC East title last weekend, and the Tigers hope to celebrate another title in Atlanta. (Source: @Mizzou/Twitter)
Amari Cooper has burned nearly everyone he played this year, but getting open against an aggressive Mizzou unit is a tall order. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications) Amari Cooper has burned nearly everyone he played this year, but getting open against an aggressive Mizzou unit is a tall order. (Source: Alabama Athletic Communications)
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(RNN) - The old guard traditionalists, haters and feel-good story followers can all come out and show their faces together in the sun because we're going to be honest about one thing.

Missouri vs. Alabama is the matchup that's going to satisfy all those people. It may not be the game people wanted when the season began. It's not even the game people want right now, judging by ticket prices, but the SEC needs this game. College football needs this game.

This is classic "old bull vs. young bull" on the Discovery Channel. It is not only entertaining, it's educational.

With a win, Alabama stands only to preserve its top ranking and spot in the College Football Playoff, potentially adding another glistening level of symbolic marble to its monolithic dynasty.

If Mizzou wins, then stock the bunker and make sure the radiation suit still fits because the big one is coming. At least, that's the consensus.

Don't believe the hype. The Tigers are not that much worse than the Crimson Tide, and Alabama is not that much better, no matter what anyone says.

But enough rhetoric. Let's see what the numbers and the tape say.

Defense

Generally, a Hot Reads game analysis begins with offense, but mark it down now - defense will decide Saturday's outcome.

Mizzou can exploit one of the few weaknesses Alabama has - turnovers. The Tigers hold a plus-nine advantage in turnover margin, tied for eighth-most in the country. Alabama is minus-two. Missouri has also scored four defensive touchdowns, while Alabama has none.

The personnel matchups also show Alabama could have some problems similar to the ones Ole Miss presented. Remember that game? Alabama does, and Mizzou's defense may be better.

The Tigers are more than defensive end Shane Ray, Markus Golden and their combined 22 sacks. Linebacker Kentrell Brothers is fourth in the SEC in tackles. Braylon Webb and Aarion Penton together have almost as many interceptions (seven) as Alabama's entire team (10).

But what Alabama lacks in speed and ball hawking, it makes up for in physicality. Defensive end Jonathan Allen and linebacker Xzavier Dickson don't get nearly the credit they deserve. They lead the team in sacks and tackles for loss, and they're NFL-size players.

This is perhaps the most telling stat. Mizzou has given up 17 passing plays 25 yards or longer. Alabama has given up 27. If Cyrus Jones, who leads Alabama in passes broken up and passes defended, gets assigned to cover the Tigers' best receiver Bud Sasser, that'll get interesting.

Advantage: Mizzou. Don't get blinded by history and tradition. The evidence right now shows the Tigers can create a lot more damage to an opposing offense.

Offense

Amari Cooper. We could stop there but, you know, balanced journalism and what not. He and Blake Sims have been an awesome duo, but the running game will greatly affect the tempo.

The matchup there tilts slightly toward Mizzou, if we're judging solely by numbers. Tailbacks Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy have combined for 1,696 yards. Quarterback Maty Mauk, who has tailback speed, has added 336 yards.

Alabama backs T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry have racked up 1,639 yards, and Blake Sims - who doesn't run nearly as much as he could - has 302. Don't forget, Alabama has played defenses we'll politely say are upgrades to the ones Mizzou has faced. And, hey look, there's Amari Cooper.

Sims' unwillingness to leave the pocket is a huge plus for the Tide. It allows him to use all the talent surrounding him, keeps him healthy and keeps defenses off guard.

Mauk, as talented as he is, is somewhat predictable. He doesn't go through receiver reads well and sometimes picks the wrong lane to scramble. But he wouldn't have to run as much if Amari Cooper was on his team, because that guy is always open.

Alabama's offensive line is a perfect counter to Mizzou's attacking defensive front because the unit has allowed 19 fewer sacks than the next closest SEC team. It's probably because Amari Cooper gets open so quick.

Advantage: Alabama. They have this really awesome receiver. What's his name, again?

Special Teams

Only four players in the country have a punt return and kick return touchdown, and one of them is Mizzou's Marcus Murphy.

Between the two teams, Alabama is the only one that has allowed a special teams touchdown this season.

If the game comes down to a field goal, don't trust anyone. Alabama's Adam Griffith and Mizzou's Andrew Baggett both have a 67 percent success rate on field goals, lowest in the SEC.

Advantage: Mizzou.

Intangibles

Missouri gives away almost 20 yards more in penalties per game, which is enough to cost someone a win against a team like Alabama. However, Mizzou has lost two fumbles all season. Alabama lost three against Florida.

Mizzou has also made the most of its opportunities, outscoring Alabama a ridiculous 140-56 in points off turnovers.

But the Crimson Tide have been there and done that. Nick Saban's machine-like efficiency has produced players that can tune out the noise and seize any big moment with a death grip.

Speaking of coaches, Gary Pinkel is probably the most underrated in the country, and his players would very much enjoy proving that.

Advantage: Alabama.

The decision

Saying Mizzou is more likely to beat Alabama than a former No. 1-ranked team (Mississippi State) and a team that has already beaten the Tide (Ole Miss) sounds like a foolish thing. But don't laugh at the thought. The Tigers were a successful team before joining the SEC, and they obviously haven't done too bad in transition.

Again, the importance of turnovers cannot be stressed enough. Alabama generally does better when it wins that battle, but the team doesn't do a great job of forcing opponents to cough up the ball. It's odd.

If the Tigers get some good field position from their special teams, force a few turnovers and effectively stretch the field with their running game, they'll win by a field goal. But they need way more to go right for them than the Tide. That's not to say Alabama can afford to make a mistake or two, but if they get an early lead, they'll choke the life out of Mizzou's chances with each passing minute.

Follow George Jones on Twitter: @GJones_RNN

Copyright 2014 Raycom News Network. All rights reserved.

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