Missouri vs. Syracuse: Orange visit Tigers searching for bowl eligibility

Mark Konezny-US PRESSWIRE

A victory at Missouri Saturday would help Syracuse become bowl eligible for just the second time in eight seasons.

The Syracuse Orange visit the Missouri Tigers Saturday (7 p.m. ET on ESPNU) for a non-conference football game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium.

The showdown features two programs coming off thrilling victories and looking to become bowl eligible.

Last Saturday, Syracuse (5-5) earned one of its biggest victories under the leadership of head coach Doug Marrone defeating the then No. 11-ranked Louisville Cardinals, 45-26.

The Orange turned a 10-0 first quarter tie into a 31-13 halftime lead and never looked back.

Senior quarterback Ryan Nassib threw for 246 yards and three touchdowns, two coming in the second quarter, to lead Syracuse to its third win in four games.

Nassib's favorite target was senior wide receiver Alec Lemon, who caught nine passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns. The performance helped Lemon earn the Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Week award.

The Orange defense forced the Cardinals' offense, ranked one of the best in the Big East, to be one-dimensional, as it totaled 424 yards through the air but only 48 on the ground.

The victory helped moved SU one win away from becoming bowl eligible, a feat only done once in the last seven seasons.

Missouri (5-5) is coming off a thrilling 51-48 four-overtime victory at the Tennessee Volunteers. The Tigers trailed 21-7 at halftime, but rallied behind a collegiate-best four touchdown passes from junior quarterback James Franklin, who finished 19-for-32 with 226 yards.

Missouri, facing a 4th-and-2 situation, used a 25-yard touchdown reception from freshman Dorial Green-Beckham from Franklin to tie the contest, 28-28, with 47 seconds remaining in the contest.

After three overtime sessions, the Tigers won on a 35-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Andrew Baggett.

"That was a very emotional win. It was a very tough game," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said about last week's victory, which helped his team move within a win of becoming bowl eligible for a school-record eighth straight season. "I think attitude wise; it's a [great way] to refill our tanks a little bit. We also haven't won back-to-back games this year. It's been a long time since that's happened. We've had a difficult schedule."

This will be the third ever meeting between the two schools. The last meeting came in 1986 when Syracuse defeated Missouri, 41-9. The contest was a part of a home-and-home series, which also featured Syracuse defeating host Missouri, 24-13, in 1987.

What the coaches are saying

Pinkel on Syracuse (via MUTigers.com):

They're very well coached, they've got a lot of talent, they're very powerful on offense and very athletic on defense. We know the significant win they had just a week ago. It certainly says a lot about their talent and their team. It was very impressive to watch.

Marrone on Missouri (Monday's Big East teleconference):

"We're playing a SEC team at their own and I think that's a great challenge. They don't know much about us just like we don't know much about them. Its good and bad. You need to go back and watch a lot of their games. Those are the challenges that you have."

The quarterbacks

Fresh off one of his best performances of the season, Ryan Nassib (6'3, 227) will more than likely leave Columbia as SU's all-time passing leader. The three-year starter needs just six passing yards to surpass Marvin Graves' all-time mark of 8,466 yards.

Last week, Nassib tossed for 246 yards and passed Donovan McNabb for second on SU's all-time list. He also set the Big East career completions record (738) after going 15-for-23.

Already this season, Nassib has set the SU's single-season passing (3,019 yards) and total yards (3,114) records. Nationally, Nassib is ranked 10th in passing yards, 11th in yards per game and 14th in total offense.

At times, he's struggled to take care of the football, however, that hasn't been the case lately. Over past four games Nassib has thrown 10 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

Will his nearly perfect performances continue or will a change to a SEC opponent be an issue?

James Franklin (6'2, 228) entered the Tigers' first season in the SEC with high expectations after last season narrowly missing out on a 3,000-yard passing/1,000-yard rushing season and scoring a total of 36 touchdowns.

In the Big 12 Conference, Franklin was considered one of the best all-purpose quarterbacks, however, in the very deep and talented SEC he has struggled.

Before last Saturday's come-from-behind win, Franklin was on the hot seat with the fan base. In a 14-7 loss to then No. 8 Florida Gators, Nov. 3, he tossed four interceptions and showed none of the mobility that made him a threat to opposing defenses.

The trend seemed to continue against Tennessee -- Franklin was 2-for-8 with 18 yards and an interception at halftime -- but he erupted in the second half with 200-plus yards and four touchdowns.

There's no doubt Franklin could cause problems for Syracuse's defense, which under Marrone has a history of struggling with duel-threat quarterbacks, but if the junior doesn't use his legs and is inaccurate in the pocket it could be another long day for the Tigers offense.

If Franklin does struggling, expected backup freshman Corbin Berkstresser (6'3, 230), who's played eight games and made three starts this season, to get some reps. Berkstresser is more of a pocket passer who's completed just 48.9-percent of his passes for 698 yards with three touchdowns and five interceptions.

Offense

There's no arguing Syracuse's offense is one of the best in the nation. The Orange have topped 500 yards of total offense five times this season, the last coming last week against Louisville, and is on pace to set several new program records.

Though, Nassib gets a lot of the credit for SU's offensive performance the weapons around him deserve just as much credit.

The quarterback is protected by a solid offense line led by last year's All-Big East First Team selection, left tackle Justin Pugh. Most of the time, Nassib has no issues sitting in the pocket and throwing to wide receivers Lemon, Marcus Sales and Jarrod West. The line also has provided solid running lanes for emerging junior running back Jerome Smith, who's ran for 100-plus yards in the last four games, and sophomore backup Prince-Tyson Gulley, who last week ran for 98 yards including a 55-yard touchdown.

Behind Missouri's Franklin is running back Kendial Lawrence, who's totaled 819 yards (5.2 per carry) and 10 touchdowns. Last week, Lawrence ran for a collegiate-best 153 yards on 21 carries. Over his last 14 games, Lawrence is averaging 85 yards with 5.3 per carry.

Franklin's top wide receiving targets are senior T.J. Moe (6'0, 200), senior Marcus Lucas (6'5, 215), who leads team with 39 receptions, and freshman Dorial Green-Beckham (6'6, 220), who was the No. 1-overall recruiting in the nation entering the season.

Defense

If Syracuse has the advantage on offense, Missouri will make up the talent difference on defense.

Led by junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (6'4, 295), who's first in the SEC of interior lineman with 70 tackles, the Tigers defense is big and fast.

Richardson is a beast and is more than likely headed to the NFL after this season. He will lineup inside against the Orange's center Macky MacPherson (6'2, 282) and guard Rob Trudo (6'3, 282), who're both undersized compared to Richardson.

The linebacking corps is filled with veteran starters including seniors Zaviar Gooden, who's the team's leading active tackler (239), and Will Ebner, who has 46 career starts; and junior Anrdew Wilson.

Kip Edwards is a senior cornerback that has 21 career starts under his belt.

The Orange's defense is led by hard-hitting safety Shamarko Thomas, who led the team with six solo tackles last week. Thomas leads a defense that's filled with potential stars, including junior defensive tackle Jay Bromley and sophomore linebackers Dyshawn Davis and Cameron Lynch, but has been inconsistent all season.

At times this unit plays well, however, it has a tendency to give up big chunks of yards on the ground -- USF totaled 369 yards on the ground (Oct. 27) while, two weeks ago Cincinnati, compiled 263 -- and big plays through the air.

Missouri's SEC-like size and speed could provide issues for a defense that has mental lapses.

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