- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Sheldon Richardson got the attention of the college football world when he called Georgia's style of play, "Old-man football."
Missouri's star defensive lineman continued: "If we execute, nobody in this league can touch us. Period."
That was before Missouri got its first taste of SEC play and Richardson was forced to eat his words. The Tigers were blown out by Georgia 41-20 and haven't won either of their two league games since, losing by three touchdowns to South Carolina and a 19-15 heartbreaker to Vanderbilt last weekend.
Richardson, for his part, apologized to Mark Richt and has been mum on the subject since. But what the 6-foot-4, 295-pound junior has done on the field has spoken volumes to Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who pointed him out as a player to watch when the two teams meet on Saturday afternoon in Columbia, Mo.
"They’ve got some good guys," said McCarron, sizing up the Missouri defense that's totaled 15 sacks and 53 tackles for loss this season. Richardson is tied for second on the team with three sacks. "[Richardson] is a pretty good ball player. But I think they play very good, sound defense as a whole. I think everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. They do it well. Force you to make plays to beat them. They’re not gonna beat themselves."
McCarron said the defense is "sound in what they do" and, "they make you move the ball down the field.
"They’re a good defense."
Opponents have tried to slow down Alabama's offense in recent games by putting eight men in the box to try to stop the running game and pressure McCarron when he drops back to pass. In turn, Alabama has attempted more short passes, and subsequently fewer deep shots down the field.
Alabama didn't complete a single pass of more than 20 yards against Ole Miss two weeks ago, but it's not anything that has McCarron worried.
"Everybody keeps talking about the vertical passing game, but if they’re not going to give us the vertical passing game then we’re not going to take it," he said. "Teams have been giving us underneath and that’s what we’re going to take. We’re not going to force things."
McCarron said he'll take the same attitude into Columbia. Missouri is giving up an average of 219.2 yards per game passing.
"Some teams are gonna load the box, play man, make you throw the ball vertically and beat them," he explained. "Some teams are gonna play zone, they can have the outside linebackers stacked in, closer to the box, so they’re able to guard the pass in zone and play the run at the same time. They’re a little more run-first oriented as a defense. So they’re going to give you different looks, you just got to take what they give you and go from there."
Stretching the secondary
While McCarron and Alabama look to take what the defense gives, Missouri's offense is predicated on making the first move.
Sophomore safety Vinnie Sunseri said he expects Missouri to use a lot of empty formations, something the Tide haven't seen much of this season.
"They come out with a lot of quads and a lot of empty formations, a lot of red personnel," he said. "We're just getting ready for that and the coaches are getting us really prepared for the game."
Sunseri said the Tigers can go uptempo with their no-huddle scheme, but they can just as easily slow the pace of the game down. Either way, he expects the ball to be in the air, even without starting quarterback James Franklin available. More than 60 percent of Missouri's offensive production has come on passing plays this season.
"We're really looking forward to someone throwing the ball on us," he said. "We're all trying to go out there and play our best. The coaches are putting us in great positions to make plays and we're just got to keep playing."
Special teams replacements
Given the loss of DeAndrew White and Dee Hart for the season, UA is left with two significant holes to fill on special teams. White was a key member on the coverage unit and Hart played in multiple roles on special teams, notably taking over on punt return for Christion Jones of late.
On Tuesday, Sunseri gave an indication of who the players might be to take over in their absence.
"Everybody's getting chances out there," Sunseri said. "Brent Calloway is going to be somebody that's in there. Christion Jones got moved back to punt returner. Should have a good set of guys back there for each special teams."
5dSam Khan Jr.