Early Analysis: Alabama vs. Missouri

No. 1 Alabama at Missouri
Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CBS
Line: Alabama -21 ½

Now three games into their grand SEC experiment, it’s safe to say that things aren’t going quite as planned for the Missouri Tigers football team. Early losses to Georgia and South Carolina were excusable (even if they were by 21 points each), but Saturday’s stumble against Vanderbilt at home wasn’t nearly as much. As they say, “there’s no such thing as a night off in the SEC,” something the Tigers and their fans are learning the hard way.

And as if all that weren’t bad enough, well, we’ve got some even worse news for the Missouri faithful: You’ve got No. 1 Alabama coming to town Saturday.

On Saturday it might not even about winning for Missouri. It might be about simple survival.

For Alabama to Win: Is it too easy to say they just need to keep doing what they’re doing? It sounds too good to be true, but when you’re ranked No. 1 in the country, have college football’s best defense and an offense averaging over 40 points, that’s all that really needs to be said. Especially when you’re going against a team which is 0-3 in SEC play.

Of course for Alabama, there is plenty of reason to not only take care of business, but to do it early and get all their key players out of the game. That reason? They’ve got a brutal next four weeks, with trips to Tennessee and LSU and visits from Mississippi State and Texas A&M.

Look for Alabama to jump on Missouri early and leave nothing to chance. There’s too much at stake in the coming weeks to do anything otherwise.

For Missouri to Win: It’s going to take a lot, but if the Tigers are even going to sniff an upset, the No. 1 key is keeping quarterback James Franklin upright in the pocket.

The truth is that since their move to the SEC the offensive line is the one place where Missouri has been exposed above all others, as simply being inferior to their new competition. As things stand, the Tigers have allowed 15 sacks through five games, a number which ranks them 97th nationally. It’s also a big reason why Franklin has taken Tyler Wilson’s mantle from last year as “Quarterback who gets most bludgeoned by opposing defenses over the course of a 60 minute football game.

Simply put, your quarterback can’t throw the ball if you can’t protect him, and for Missouri, protection will be key Saturday afternoon.

Key Player, Alabama: We’re going to go a bit obscure here, and say freshman running back T.J. Yeldon.

Now is Yeldon truly the most important player to a Tide victory on Saturday? Probably not. But again, for Alabama it isn’t just about winning Saturday, but about winning while also setting up themselves up for success in the next month. And with Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart both lost to injury, Alabama will need more than running back to fresh and performing at a high level over the next month. Having Eddie Lacy isn’t enough, which is why Yeldon will be key Saturday

And the good news for Alabama (as if they needed more) is that based on what we’ve seen so far from Yeldon (he’s averaging 5.8 yards per carry this season), the true freshman seems more than capable.

Key Player, Missouri: How about defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who has 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks on the season.

With Richardson though, his importance goes beyond numbers, and to the fact that he’s one of the few players on Missouri’s defense that is SEC ready from a size, speed and athleticism standpoint. Going up against the best offensive line in college football, Richardson won’t just need a great game, but a transcendent one to keep his team in this one.  

Key Stat: We’ll go with 7.5, which is the number of points less per game Missouri has averaged this year (25.3) as compared to 2011, their final season in the Big XII (32.8).

That’s a bad number as it is, and even worse when you’re going up against the No. 1 defense in college football.

There isn’t just a chance Missouri will lose here, but almost a certainty.

Alabama will roll here.

For all his insight, analysis and opinion, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.