Sure, some will tell you that Sheldon Richardson’s jagged comments about Georgia are unwise. Sure, some will tell you that calling the Bulldogs’ play “old-man football” shows arrogance. Sure, some will tell you that the Missouri junior defensive tackle saying nobody in the Southeastern Conference can touch the Tigers if they execute shows ignorance at best.
Forget it all. Embrace the fire. Richardson’s words, as spoken to the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune after Missouri steamrolled Southeastern Louisiana last Saturday, produced the best response for an SEC newbie at the perfect time. Ignore anyone who says otherwise.
After all, what better way to enter the king conference than by rubbing mud on its welcome mat? Why not throw a verbal uppercut or two before the bell rings on the Tigers’ era in the league Saturday night at Memorial Stadium? Why bow to the SEC East favorite when a blow to its ego could give coach Mark Richt’s team something to think about before the biggest game in Columbia, Mo., in recent memory?
Why submit when you can swing?
“I watched that game,” Richardson said, after he was asked if he saw Georgia’s 22-point victory over Buffalo. “I turned it off, too…. It’s like watching Big Ten football.”
Those are drop-your-gloves words in the Sun Belt region, and they show Missouri is ready for a scrap. Look, the Tigers have proven nothing as an SEC member. This fall is fascinating because it’s hard to read. We’ll learn soon if coach Gary Pinkel’s team is ready.
No one knows how junior quarterback James Franklin’s surgically repaired right shoulder will fare against SEC defenses. No one knows how Pinkel and his staff will scheme for unfamiliar opponents or how others will prepare for them. No one knows if the Tigers can extend a streak of six consecutive seasons with at least eight victories after facing a schedule that includes Alabama and South Carolina in addition to the Dawgs.
Missouri could sink. Or it could surprise. Predicting a result between the two extremes seems like a safe choice at this time.
Still, those questions don’t make Richardson’s bravado misplaced. In fact, it’s healthy. It shows a program that has earned 48 victories over the last five years has strutted into the SEC rather than cowering in a corner. Missouri has earned the right to make some noise.
The Tigers also have reason to puff their chests a little. Consider how Georgia enters the SEC opener with scratch marks all over its depth chart: senior cornerback Sanders Commings was suspended for two games in February after being charged with simple battery and domestic violence; sophomore running back Isaiah Crowell was kicked off the team in June after being arrested on three weapons charges; junior linebacker Chase Vasser was suspended for two games after a DUI arrest in May; senior safety Bacarri Rambo and junior linebacker Alec Ogletree were benched in the season opener.
Old-man football? That’s harsh, but the Bulldogs gift-wrapped Richardson’s opening.
“‘Old-man football?’ Well, I don’t know what he meant by that,” Richt said in a teleconference Sunday. “But bottom line is, we got to get after it and do what we do well, and they’ll be trying to stop everything we’re trying to get accomplished.”
Finally, that’s when the verbal spats will stop. Richardson’s words were far from an isolated incident. They extended a pattern of brash talk from the black and gold in the past two months.
At SEC Media Days in July, Pinkel said, “People act like we’ve been playing a bunch of high school teams,” when referring to the Tigers’ former league. Also in Hoover, Ala., senior tackle Elvis Fisher said, “(The SEC) is the best conference, don’t get me wrong, but we weren’t playing high schoolers in the Big 12.” Later, multiple players said they were prepared for SEC life throughout preseason camp.
Some say the Tigers have shown a lack of respect in their transition. But fans in the Show-Me State would have more reason to worry if comments like Richardson’s hadn’t filled their computer screens.
We don’t know what result the smack will produce. However, no one can call Missouri submissive. That, itself, is the Tigers’ first SEC victory.
Meanwhile, Richardson has lived this situation before. Last November, he said he hated people from Texas before Missouri beat the Longhorns for the first time since 1997. He’s honest, and he speaks without self-censorship. That should be praised, not criticized, when far too many players and coaches tiptoe around microphones in this image-conscious era.
Were his Georgia observations the smartest thing to say? Not from a competitive standpoint, but this game won’t be won on a bulletin board.
If the Tigers win, Richardson’s play will be remembered far longer than his words. If the Bulldogs win, his statement will be thrown back at him on sports-talk stations throughout the South — then banter will turn to Georgia’s next game against Florida Atlantic. All will be forgotten. The cycle churns on.
Still, Richardson’s confidence is a reflection of his program’s own as it enters the SEC. Talk of old-man football? From a newbie? The audacity, some will say. But Richardson showed wisdom beyond his years. For that, Missouri should be encouraged.