The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide get back to work this weekend, making the trip to Columbia to take on SEC newcomer Missouri.
The defending national champions were idle this past weekend and embark on a two-game road trip that ends at Tennessee on Oct. 20. Nick Saban's squad has looked the part of a team that in no way wants to relinquish its title as champion, making light work of the competition in 2012 thus far, including a 33-14 win over Ole Miss to close out September at 5-0 overall and 2-0 in SEC play.
Gary Pinkel's Tigers have not been met with a warm reception into the SEC ranks in their first season in their new conference. Missouri has won its three non-league games thus far, but has lost all three SEC contests, with lopsided losses to Georgia (41-20) and South Carolina (31-10), followed by last week's 19-15 setback against Vanderbilt.
Despite the SEC letdowns, the Tigers are still motivated.
"They're competitors. They're frustrated and angry, and they should be," said Pinkel following the Vanderbilt loss. "They want to win and be successful. This is not the fun part of playing or coaching. How we handle it will be the most important thing. We're going to get back to work. A lot of guys are frustrated and that's good. We're going to wipe ourselves off and get going. I've been here. We're not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves."
This is just the fourth time that these two teams have met on the gridiron. Missouri holds a 2-1 series advantage, but this is the first meeting since 1978.
A well rested Alabama offense could be a dangerous thing. The team enters this contest averaging 40.1 ppg and doing so on a balanced 401.0 yards of total offense. Gone is All-American Trent Richardson in the backfield, but the Tide are still getting it done on the ground, at 188.2 yards per game. Instead of a bell-cow in the backfield, Alabama has relied on the duo of Eddie Lacy (314 yards, four TDs) and T.J. Yeldon (292 yards, two TDs).
Quarterback AJ McCarron has been extremely efficient under center managing the game. He has completed 65.8 percent of his passes thus far, for 999 yards, with 12 touchdowns. He has yet to throw an interception in 111 pass attempts this year. Amari Cooper has been the team's top option in the passing game, with 17 receptions, for 222 yards and three touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide are without several All-Americans on the defensive side of the ball that took their talents to the NFL this season. That hasn't stopped the team from once again dominating. The squad ranks first in the country in both scoring defense (7.0 ppg) and total defense (191.6 ypg), while ranking third against both the run (65.8 ypg) and the pass (125.8 ypg).
Alabama is once again a big-play defense, recording 34 TFLs, 16 sacks and 15 takeaways in the first 5 games. The unit is paced by the linebacking corps, headlined by CJ Mosley (team-high 39 tackles, 1.5 sacks) and Nico Johnson (24 tackles).
The Tigers aren't void of offensive talent, although the talent the team does possess hasn't exactly put up gaudy stats of yet.
The offense revolves around quarterback James Franklin. The Missouri signal- caller has completed 61.3 percent of his throws this season, but for just 805 yards and four TDs. Marcus Lucas (30 receptions, 309 yards, two TDs) and T.J. Moe (24 receptions, 231 yards, one TD) give Franklin a couple of targets to look for downfield.
Missouri's rushing attack is generating a modest 139.5 yards per game, with the bulk of that coming from Kendial Lawrence (487 yards, 5.7 ypc, five TDs).
The Tigers have had their moments defensively this season and the numbers have been solid for the most part. Missouri is allowing just 326.7 yards per game overall and has been particularly stout against the run (107.5 ypg).
The squad has recorded 14 takeaways, including nine fumble recoveries, in addition to 53 TFLs and 15 sacks. Senior middle linebacker Will Ebner leads the team in tackles with 41 stops, including 7.0 TFLs. Junior cornerback E.J. Gaines and junior tackle Sheldon Richardson rank second on the team with 38 stops. Gaines has 7 TFLs, while Richardson has 6.5, with 3.0 sacks.
Saban knows Missouri's defense can cause problems.
"They are a very good defensive team, said Saban this week. "They are ranked nationally in most categories. Defensively, they are physical, tough and aggressive. They create a lot of negative plays for the offense."