LATSCH"> LATSCH">

He's back! Return of E.J. Gaines sparks Mizzou defense

Nate Latsch details the importance of E.J. Gaines' return from inury, compares QB stats and more!

ST. LOUIS -- Missouri's defense got a big boost on Saturday night with the return of senior cornerback and defensive leader. Gaines, who was out with a quad injury, said he thought he might be ready to go a week earlier but didn't feel right.


"Anybody that knows me knows I'm a competitor, so it was definitely tough," Gaines said of watching the Florida and South Carolina games from the sidelines. "But just being out there leading and helping my guys, I think I did pretty well."


Gaines' impact in the Tigers' 31-3 win against Tennessee was noticeable. His interception midway through the second quarter, on a play where defensive end Kony Ealy pressured Vols quarterback Joshua Dobbs, extended Mizzou's NCAA record streak of consecutive games with a takeaway to 39.


"We were just sitting in a zone and I honestly don't think the quarterback saw me," Gaines said. "I was just dropping back and he kind of threw me some candy -- a welcome back present is what I called it."


The Tigers had just taken a 10-0 lead on a field goal when Gaines snagged the interception. On the next play, Maty Mauk connected with L'Damian Washington for a 26-yard touchdown pass to make it 17-0.


Gaines was credited with six tackles, including one for loss, to go along with one interception and one pass break-up. He leads Mizzou with four interceptions despite missing two games.


"I played pretty well today and I got out there and I felt good," he said.


TIGERS MOVE UP IN RANKINGS


Missouri moved up one spot to No. 8 in the latest BCS standings, which were released on Sunday.


The Tigers (8-1) were bumped up because Miami, which was ranked seventh a week earlier, suffered its first loss of the season against Florida State. Everyone ranked ahead of the Tigers won over the weekend.


Mizzou is fifth in the computer rankings --  the Tigers were eighth a week earlier -- and moved up one spot to No. 8 in the Harris Poll and climbed one spot to No. 9 in both the Associated Press rankings and USA Today Coaches Poll.


COMPARING QUARTERBACKS


How do quarterbacks James Franklin and Maty Mauk compare from a statistical perspective?


Franklin, the senior quarterback from Texas, has completed 67.7 percent of his passes for 1,577 yards, with 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He has also rushed for 290 yards and three touchdowns.


Mauk, the redshirt freshman from Ohio, has completed 48.9 percent of his passes for 748 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He has rushed for 136 yards and one touchdown.


In his six starts, Franklin has accounted for an average of 311.1 total yards (combined passing and rushing) and 2.8 touchdowns (combined passing and rushing).


In three starts, Mauk is averaging 282.7 total yards and 2 touchdowns.


BAGGETT MISSES AGAIN


Kicker Andrew Baggett's up and down stretch continued on Saturday.


Baggett missed two field goals in the Tigers' 27-24 two-overtime loss to South Carolina a week earlier, a 46-yard attempt in the fourth quarter and then the 24-yarder in the second overtime that hit the left upright.


Against Tennessee, Baggett converted a 24-yard attempt in the second quarter but missed a 29-yarder at the end of the quarter when the ball again cruelly flicked off the left upright.


Baggett, a redshirt sophomore from Lee's Summit (Mo.) North High School, has now made 13 of 19 field goal attempts and converted 44 of 46 point-after kicks on the season.


THREE-HEADED MONSTER RETURNS


There were some concerns going into the Tennessee game about the health of running backs Henry Josey (concussion) and Russell Hansbrough (turf toe), but both were back in action against the Vols.


Josey ran 16 times for 74 yards and helped the offense move the chains early while Mauk struggled. Hansbrough added 61 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. Marcus Murphy also ran eight times for 44 yards.


That trio has proved to be a consistent combination all season and a huge factor in the Tigers' 8-1 start. Their production has made life easier for Mauk while Franklin has been out with his shoulder injury.


Josey, Hansbrough and Murphy have combined for 1,611 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns on the ground. They have carried the ball 250 times and are averaging 6.4 yards per carry.


In 2012, when Mizzou went 5-7, the Tigers ran for a total of 1,662 yards and registered 16 rushing touchdowns. Josey missed the entire season after injuring his knee in 2011 and Kendial Lawrence rushed for 1,025 yards and 12 scores.


HONORS FOR BRITT AND MAUK


The Southeastern Conference office announced on Monday morning that senior offensive tackle Justin Britt has been named the league's offensive line player of the week and Mauk had been selected as the freshman player of the week.


The Mizzou offense gained 502 yards against Tennessee, including 339 on the ground, and Britt and his offensive line mates did not allow a sack.


Mauk accounted for 277 yards of total offense, including 114 rushing, threw three touchdown passes and did not commit a turnover.


TWEET OF THE WEEK


Missouri wide receiver Marcus Lucas:




You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter at @natelatsch or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.