Preview: Mizzou faces Ole Miss in must-win SEC game

Quarterback James Franklin is returning to the starting lineup in time
for Missouri’s final push toward the SEC championship game.

The
No. 8 Tigers will need to get past two ranked teams to make it to
Atlanta, beginning with a visit to No. 24 Mississippi on Saturday night.

Franklin
hasn’t started the past four games because of an injured right
shoulder, but Missouri (9-1, 5-1) has remained atop the SEC East by
winning three of four with freshman Maty Mauk under center. The lone
defeat, 27-24 in overtime to South Carolina on Oct. 26, kept the Tigers
from an easy path to the conference title game.

The Gamecocks
have finished 6-2 in the conference and need just one slip-up from
Missouri to head to Atlanta. The Tigers end the regular season with a
home game against No. 9 Texas A&M and reigning Heisman Trophy winner
Johnny Manziel on Nov. 30.

Franklin will try to keep his team in
position for a trip to the SEC championship game — in only its second
year in the conference — by picking up where he left off.

The
senior threw for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions
before getting injured in the fourth quarter of a 41-26 win at Georgia
on Oct. 12, surpassing his 2012 performance in three fewer games.

Franklin
played in two late series in the Tigers’ most recent game, a 48-17 rout
of Kentucky on Nov. 9, but handed the ball off on each of his five
snaps.

“He looks really good. He looks just like he left off
before the injury,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s excited about being
back, and the team is excited about getting him back, too. I obviously
want him to do really well. He had some adversity and battled through it
and we are excited to have him in.”

Missouri will likely face
another challenge with a trip to Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3). The Rebels knocked
off then-No. 6 LSU 27-24 on Oct. 19 as part of their current four-game
win streak.

Ole Miss has averaged 42.8 points during that run and
topped 500 yards in each game, but the last three have been against
teams that have a combined 9-22 record. The Rebels broke a school mark
with 751 yards in a 51-21 victory over Troy last Saturday.

Ole
Miss has played well this season against some of the top teams in the
SEC and the nation. It lost by a combined 11 points to Auburn and Texas
A&M in October, and a 25-0 defeat to top-ranked Alabama on Sept. 28
is the Rebels’ only lopsided one this season.

“With the schedule
we have played, looking back on it, we have had our share of tests, and
this will be another one Saturday night,” coach Hugh Freeze told the
school’s official website.

The Rebels will have some help for
that challenge with running back Jeff Scott back to full health. Scott
rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries against Troy after missing three games
with a deep thigh bruise.

He had 424 yards in his first five
games before getting injured against Texas A&M on Oct. 12. Scott and
Ole Miss, though, will next face the SEC’s second-best rushing defense.

Missouri
is allowing 111.9 yards per game on the ground but has been vulnerable
through the air, ranking last with 274.9 yards allowed. That would
appear to be good news for Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace, fourth in the
league with 266.4 passing yards per game, but the Tigers also lead the
SEC with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions.

Michael Sam’s 10 sacks
top the conference, and E.J. Gaines is tied with Ole Miss’ Cody Prewitt
and two others for the SEC lead in interceptions with four. The Tigers
have forced at least one turnover in 40 consecutive games, the nation’s
longest active streak.

“Very few people have been able to line up
and just run the ball effectively (on Missouri). They get you
one-dimensional,” Freeze said. “Those ends are quick and cause problems
in the backfield.”

Ole Miss is facing Missouri for the first time
since a 38-25 home loss Sept. 8, 2007. Pinkel will try to earn his
100th win with the Tigers in this visit and move within one of matching
Don Faurot’s school record.