Game Time: Saturday, September 10, 6:30 CT
TV: SEC Network Alternate
Odds: Missouri (-24.5), O/U 58 (via OddsShark)
The Missouri Tigers' season did not get off to as good of a start as they had hoped, as they dropped Barry Odom's first game as head coach 26-11 to the West Virginia. In that encounter in Morgantown, the Tigers became the first FBS team since the 2014 San Jose State Spartans to put up 462 yards of total offense without totaling more than 11 points.
Reading that factoid, you might think the Tigers simply got unlucky, but that's without considering the reality that it took them 100 plays to reach that total -- the fastest tempo in the country in Week 1. So while the volume was good, the efficiency was not. There are still questions to be answered before Mizzou fans can safely put the offensive embarrassment of 2015 behind them.
This week's game against Eastern Michigan will be another step towards reaching that ideal combination of volume and efficiency. It will be a small step, to be sure, but there are definitely things to look forward to and learn from in Mizzou's home opener.
Can the Missouri offense move the ball and gain some confidence?
As mentioned above, the yardage total Mizzou put up against West Virginia was misleading. The 4.62 yards per play the Tigers had in Morgantown would've ranked 118th in the country last season. However, there were flashes that we seldom saw last season when Mizzou averaged 4.38 yards per play, the fourth-worst mark in the country.
The biggest difference in Week 1 was the play of the offensive line, where the five starters all played every snap. It still wasn't great, but you weren't fearing for Drew Lock's safety on every play like you were last year. That seemed to give Lock some confidence to step into his throws and take some shots that he never had time for before.
Eastern Michigan did have a nice defensive game against Mississippi Valley State, but Jerry Rice's alma mater is one of the worst teams at the FCS level. Last year, EMU was the third-worst defense in the country on a per-play basis, and if the Tigers can't move the ball and score some points against this team, then it's going to be a very long season.
How does the Missouri defense look against the run?
The biggest strength of the Missouri team coming into the season was supposed to be its defensive line. That was not the case in Week 1, as the Tigers got taken advantage of repeatedly, especially in the middle of the field. Preseason All-SEC candidate Charles Harris was a no-show, even with West Virginia's left tackle going down for the season in the first half, and the interior of the line was regularly exploited to open big running lanes.
On this week's Mizzou depth chart, there were only a couple notable changes, but a pair of those occurred along the defensive line where Spencer Williams was moved to a co-starter role with Jordan Harold at left defensive end, and Terry Beckner Jr. was elevated to the same role with Rickey Hatley at defensive tackle.
If there is a strength to this Eastern Michigan offense -- playing without it's starting quarterback Brogan Roback, who is suspended -- it's the rushing attack. The Eagles ground game is led by sophomores Shaq Vann and Ian Eriksen, who combined for over 250 yards and four touchdowns in Week 1. It would go a long way towards easing Missouri fans' minds if D-Line Zou were to make an appearance after not making the trip to Morgantown.
Can Missouri get its backups in early, and how do they look?
Mizzou has significantly more talent than Eastern Michigan. This should be a game where the starters get in a productive 30 minutes before turning things over to the twos in the second half. With Georgia coming to Columbia next weekend, it's even more important than usual that the Tigers leave this game healthy and rested. Heading into halftime with a big lead would do wonders in terms of meeting that goal.
If that is something the Tigers can achieve, then this is an opportunity to see what their depth looks like. Personally, I'm most interested in seeing what the backup offensive lineman look like because, as previously mentioned, they didn't take a snap in Week 1. The starting five linemen are still extremely inexperienced, so what do the guys playing behind them look like when they're put in a real game, and who can Mizzou count on if one of those five go down? The hope is that this game can answer those questions.
So, what happens?
This is a bit of a look ahead game with the Dawgs coming to town next week, but Eastern Michigan is not the type of mid-major that Missouri should have any trouble winning. I think we see our first glimpses of the defense we expected in the pre-season, and some further improvements on offense as Mizzou wins big to get Barry Odom within 117 wins of tying Gary Pinkel's wins record.
Prediction: Missouri 41, Eastern Michigan 13