Game time: 4:00 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Missouri Tiger Sports Network
Odds: Missouri -7.5
Things aren’t going particularly well for Missouri at the moment. Dating back to last season, the Tigers have now dropped nine consecutive SEC games, their last win coming when they defeated South Carolina at home in Drew Lock’s first career start. The last two games have been particularly rough, as Mizzou got trounced in both Baton Rouge and Gainesville by a combined score of 82-21.
The Mizzou offense in particular has really lost its way of late. After looking downright explosive in September, Lock and co. have taken a couple of big steps back in those last two games. Despite some early optimism, it’s clear that whatever afflicted the Tiger offense in 2015 has not quite made its way out of their system just yet.
With that said, the toughest two-game stretch of the Tigers’ schedule is now behind them, and with that reprieve comes a homecoming date with Middle Tennessee State. Despite being a non-Power 5 team, the Blue Raiders are no pushover, as the line for this game reflects. This is a winnable game for Missouri, no doubt, but in order to walk away with that W, they cannot come out expecting this to be a cakewalk.
So, with that in mind, let’s get to the three things I’m most interested in watching:
Can Damarea Crockett build off of his recent success?
Crockett, a true freshman, has taken the reigns of Mizzou’s starting running back gig. Against Florida last week, he put up 140 yards, consistently breaking through the second level for big gains. Yes, some of that came with the game already out of hand, but Crockett is no longer the future of the position for Mizzou -- he’s the present.
Against a rush defense that ranks 101st in the country, per S&P+, this is an opportunity for him to have a big game and continue to carry momentum forward through the most crucial portion of Missouri’s season.
Is there a quarterback rotation?
In my recap of the Mizzou-Florida game last week, I noted the contrast in performance the Tigers got out of their two quarterbacks. Drew Lock was terrible -- the worst game of his career — but it was against maybe the best defensive backfield in the conference. Marvin Zanders, Lock’s backup, however, moved the ball very effectively, albeit late in the game when many of the Gators’ starters had been pulled.
I’m interested to see whether the disparity in those two performances, while taking into consideration the personnel each came against, alters both player’s playing time this week. Zanders certainly seems to have earned more PT at this point, but it’s also far too early to just give up on Lock.
I would definitely expect Zanders to get more snaps this week, especially while the game is actually competitive, but the Middle Tennessee defense figures to be much easier on Lock than either LSU or Florida and he could have another big game and put this controversy -- if there even is one -- to rest.
Can the Tigers use tempo to their advantage?
In recent weeks, Mizzou’s desire to go fast has done more harm than good. I keep harping on the disasters at LSU and Florida, but in those two games Missouri possessed the ball for a grand total of 40:28, meaning those teams held the ball for about 80 minutes longer than the Tigers. That’s unsustainable.
Josh Heupel’s warp speed offense works great when the Tigers are moving the ball. It gets opponents tired and makes it difficult for them to adjust play to play. But when the offense stalls, as it’s done a lot recently, Mizzou has not shown an ability to adjust and slow things down in order to avoid wearing out the defense. In fact, Missouri has not once -- not even against Delaware State -- won the time of possession battle this season.
They do not have to win it this week, either, but an ability to move the ball and get that tempo working in their favor would do a lot for their confidence and their chances of winning the game. Fortunately, Middle Tennessee’s porous pass defense should allow for just that, as long as the Missouri quarterback are capable of putting the ball on their receivers consistently.
What Will Happen
The goal for this Missouri team is return to a bowl game after a 5-7 season in 2015. This game marks the beginning of the most crucial stretch of the Tigers’ season, as it’s followed by three winnable conference games (home against Kentucky, at South Carolina, home against Vandy) that will make the difference between accomplishing that goal or not. The Blue Raiders should not be taken lightly, but this is a game the Tigers should win.
Prediction: Missouri 38 - Middle Tennessee 27