Folks, I’ve watched Missouri’s first two games so, God willing, none of you will be forced to suffer such an inhumane plight. Getting straight to the point, through two games, they are not a good football team. They looked fine against South Dakota in their opener, a little undisciplined with 7 penalties, but those were mostly first game issues. Their second game against Middle Tennessee State was hilarious. For all the talk of SEC size and strength, Mizzou got bodied by MTSU. If not for a blown coverage on a simple wheel route, the Blue Raiders would have returned home to Murfreesboro with a win. They looked like the better team for most of the game.
First and foremost, the Missouri offensive line is a dumpster fire. Drinkwitz tries his best to help them with his gimmicky offense, but in the end, MTSU was the more physical team. They ended the game with 7 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. Let that sink in for a second. A Conference USA team went on the road and physically dominated the offense of an SEC school. Some of it was MTSU’s aggressive defense, but most of it was Missouri’s linemen losing one-on-on match-ups with the Blue Raider front. It was a bizarro football game where the P5 team needed to break out the tricks to compete with the G5 team, because they couldn’t hold up physically. I would write it off to the Tigers overlooking an over-matched opponent, but they did the same thing against South Dakota, giving up 7 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. To put that in perspective, Kansas State given up 1 sack and 9 total tackles for loss on the season, 6 of those against a Troy team known for their defense.
The defense for Missouri looks better than the offense. Middle Tennessee State usually has a decent offense under Rick Stockstill, and the Tigers held them under 20 points (which was important, because MTSU held Missouri under under 24 points). They bottled up the Blue Raider run game, holding both the lead back and quarterback to under 3 yards a carry. Linebacker Ty’Ron Hopper and defensive lineman Darius Robinson were both preseason 3rd team All-SEC. Hopper has started slow, only picking up 6 tackles in the first two games (that’s a half of work for Austin Moore) but Robinson leads the team in tackles with 10, including 1.5 tackles for loss. The one match-up that gives me some indigestion is Robinson bumping out to defensive end and going against Carver Willis. The first two games haven’t been kind to Willis, he’ll need to be on point Saturday or the ‘Cats will quickly move to plan B, with Beebe slinging over to right tackle and either Poitier or Leingang coming off the bench to fill the left guard spot. In the first two games, a “look out” block from the right tackle is annoying, in the 3rd game, it might get you beat.
The secondary is the real strength of Missouri. I think they’re going to throw everything they have at the Wildcat line, and hope their guys can hold up in coverage. That’s not a terrible plan with preseason second team ALL-SEC defensive back Kris Abmas-Drain at corner and physical defensive back Daylan Carnell (6’2”, 210) playing the nickel role. Throw in Clemson transfer Joseph Charleston at safety and the Tigers are solid on the back end. Will Howard will need to remain patient and avoid potential game changing interceptions. Last week he ignited a brief Troy flare up after throwing a late deep ball down the middle that ended up in the wrong hands. The Tigers need to turnovers to win this game. Their offense isn’t good enough to win without extra possessions, with advantageous field position.
Speaking of the offense, it’s similar to last season. Drinkwitz is still going to move players around and try to confuse the defense. He caught MTSU last week when they got lost and forgot to cover a simple wheel route that went for an easy 7. Quarterback Brady Cook has been efficient so far this season, completing 77% of his passes, with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions, but he’s also been sacked 5 times. Missouri likes to add a zone read option to most of their plays, but I’d play it like a straight hand-off until Cook proves he’s willing to pull the ball and run. For Cook, efficiency is great, but you don’t get points for completion percentage. He'll need to look down the field in this one, and hope his protection holds, because I can’t see his team beating the Wildcats with long, sustained drives,
That brings me to Luther Burden. The sophomore sensation looks out of place. It looks like a Georgia or Alabama receiver got lost on the way to school, ended up in Missouri, and decided to stick it out. Sophomore corner Jacob Parrish and junior college transfer Will Lee have both done a great job in the first two games, but Burden is an entirely different proposition. In terms of pure talent, the secondary won’t face anyone better than Burden this season. On the year, he has 15 receptions, for 213 yards and a touchdown, that’s an average of 14 yards a reception. The rest of the Mizzou receiving group has 9 receptions combined. At 5’11', 210 Burden is tough to bring down once he gets the ball in his hands. They’ll look to get him the ball behind the line, in the short passing game, and will take the occasional deep shot. K-State will need to watch for the double move, because if you bite early on Burden, you won’t catch him late. If he has a running start, the safety won’t be able to run with him. My advice, if you get beat, tackle him and take the 15 yard penalty.
Overall, Missouri has a punchers chance. Their defense is serviceable and Burden is a superstar. The Wildcats have to avoid giving up the big play on defense. I don’t think the Tigers can drive down the field, but Burden has the talent to take an innocuous swing pass and turn it into 6 points in a hurry. The only chance I see for the Tigers is coming out hot, getting the crowd into the game early, and K-State self sabotaging along the way.
For the ‘Cats, it’s all about establishing dominance early and extinguishing hope. Jump on Missouri out of the gate and you’ll clear out the stadium by halftime. Start slow, and this thing will be a game heading into the 4th quarter. If you gave Drinkwitz truth serum, he would tell you the goal is to be within a touchdown heading into the 4th, and hope something weird happens. To prevent that, the K-State defense needs to stay alert. Mizzou knows they can’t win playing heads up, so I expect a heavy dose of trick plays to try and keep this thing interesting.
On offense, I’d love to see the run game get going after a rather pedestrian performance against Troy. Last season Deuce was the master of getting every yard a play was blocked for, and then tacking on extra at the end. While Giddens and Ward have done a decent job of picking up the “blocked for” yards, I’ve been disappointed in their ability to turn a 4 yard gain into a 12 yards by breaking a tackle or making someone miss in tight quarters. Down-the-line, as competition improves, a more explosive run game will be necessary. I haven’t seen that yet. Saturday would be a good time to fire it up.
I’ve got K-State winning this game, and winning it handily. I also see a few paths forward for Missouri if the ‘Cats play with their food and let them hang around. I don’t anticipate that happening, but college football is nothing if not unpredictable. We haven’t seen the “A” game from the Kansas State offense yet, and that needs to change on Saturday.