Game Time: 4 p.m. ET/3 p.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Radio: Purdue Sports Network || Tiger Network
How to watch online: Watch ESPN
Odds: Missouri -7.5 || Over/under 76 (via OddsShark.com)
The Missouri defense showed improvement in Week 2. Granted, that comes partly from the bar being set so low after a dismal opening-week display. It still wasn’t enough to see DeMontie Cross keep his job. The Tigers defensive coordinator since 2016 was relieved of his duties on Sunday. Head coach Barry Odom said the move had “zero to do with on-field performance.” He said it came down to “philosophical differences.”
That’s hard to buy when the person is hired for a specific position, such as defensive coordinator. Did Cross suddenly change his philosophy overnight? Or did a lack of progress on the field perhaps lead Odom to ask Cross to change a few things, which he was unwilling to do? Definitely not the former but possibly the latter.
Regardless, Odom is now on the hook for whatever happens to the defense going forward. First up is a test against Purdue (1-1). The Boilermakers have had their issues on defense as well. Their offense, however, is capable of putting up big points at Faurot Field on Saturday afternoon.
To start the season, Purdue lost a 35-28 shootout with reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and Louisville. The Boilermakers bounced back with a 44-21 win over Ohio University, thanks in large part to a 24-point second quarter.
In both games, Elijah Sindelar started at quarterback but split duties with David Blough. Statistically, Sindelar has been like Missouri quarterback Drew Lock was against South Carolina. Blough has been like Lock against Missouri State. Sindelar is 20-42 with 178 yards, three touchdowns and one interception; Blough is 29-39 with 410 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Expect both to see a lot of time on Saturday, but Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm could decide to ride the hot hand, if one emerges. Expect whomever is under center to have a successful day against the Mizzou defense, although the group will likely be motivated given the week’s events.
Which Lock Will Show Up?
Headlines have largely been dedicated to the Missouri defense this week—understandably so—but the offense faces just as many question marks after a rough outing last week in a 31-13 loss to South Carolina.
The Tigers (1-1) started off well with an early 10 points. Things unraveled from there, though.
Lock reverted to his previous ill-advised self after putting up 521 yards and seven touchdowns—both school records—in the 72-43 win over Missouri State. The Gamecocks picked off a pair of passes and completely stymied the Tigers passing attack.
A bruised tailbone suffered by Damarea Crockett added injury to insult. He barely played in the second half. Ish Witter filled in admirably, but Crockett provides a physicality that the rest of the running back corps has yet to show. With Crockett back healthy this week, Lock has no excuses for failing to pile up the yards. Mizzou’s offense doesn’t force him into too many difficult spots. He just has to flat out make better decisions. His receivers dropped some passes last week, but it’s the interceptions that will always haunt a quarterback.
The interception he threw in the second quarter helped change the game for the worse. After Deebo Samuel got South Carolina back into the game with a kickoff return touchdown, Lock threw a pick on Mizzou’s next play from scrimmage. Samuel scored again the following play, and the Gamecocks never relinquished the lead.
Lock can’t make mistakes like that this week. Or any week for that matter.
Special Teams Need to be … Adequate
The aforementioned kickoff return touchdown was just one special teams disaster for the Tigers during last week’s SEC opener.
Mizzou also had a field goal blocked just before halftime. It would have pulled the team within 14-13 at the break. The Tigers also had several penalties on punts that changed field position. The final straw was a muffed punt that helped seal the result.
The unit doesn’t have to be flawless. Special teams rarely are at the collegiate level, but it often separates the bad teams from the good and the good teams from the great. Mizzou and Purdue enter with similar offenses and defenses, so this could be the deciding factor in a potentially close game.
Tigers fans shouldn’t expect much.
Making all their kicks inside 45 yards would be a start. Cleaning up the penalties, so that punter Corey Fatony can become the X Factor he is capable of being, would also be nice. Finally, just keep the opponent’s kick returners out of the end zone.
It’s that simple.
Doing those things might not guarantee a Missouri win, but they sure wouldn’t hurt.
So, what happens?
A week talking about a fired defensive coordinator will have the Tigers motivated. The unit isn’t good enough to thrive on motivation alone. Any game that Mizzou limits a team to fewer than four offensive touchdowns should be considered a success.
Offensively, expect Lock and Crockett to have big games on Saturday. Lock will make a mistake or two, but the presence of Crockett, who should be motivated following his injury setback, will ease the pressure on an offense looking to bounce back.
In one of the least nationally appealing SEC-Big Ten matchups one could come up with, these two offenses should at least make this game exciting. In two games so far in Columbia, the Tigers and their opponents have combined for 159 points. These teams could finish around that 79.5-point average, but I don’t think they will reach the threshold.
Purdue’s two-quarterback system will give Mizzou some trouble. The lack of a rhythm will keep either signal-caller from truly dominating. The Tigers will force a few short drives (I would say three-and-outs, but I’m not sure Missouri is actually capable of doing that.) that will benefit Lock and Co.
Odom will see his guys step up just enough to get the target off his back, if only for a week.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Purdue 28