Game Time: 7:30 p.m. ET/6:30 p.m. CT
Radio: Auburn Sports Live || Tiger Network
How to watch online: WatchESPN
Odds: Auburn -17.5 || Over/under 60 (via OddsShark.com)
Suffice it to say, this is not how fans of Auburn or Missouri envisioned their seasons starting. The teams’ campaigns have not exactly been similar, but both are surprised to find themselves at somewhat of a crossroads this early in the year.
The Tigers who will visit Columbia, Missouri on Saturday shouldn’t be shocked to be 2-1. There is no shame in losing to defending champion Clemson. It’s the manner in which the team has performed that is alarming. The defense has allowed just 31 points all season, but the offense has been hugely disappointing.
On the other side, the hosting Tigers this weekend are jealous of those “issues.” Mizzou has given up 31 points—at minimum—each game. The offense has only managed 16 total points over the past two weeks. It’s left head coach Barry Odom’s future on shaky ground.
For the winner of Saturday night’s meeting, it’s a chance to put a rough three weeks in the rear-view mirror. That doesn’t mean any win is good enough for Auburn, which comes in as the clear favorite. Missouri would take the ugliest win one could come up with at this point.
The worst part about this awful start for Mizzou is that Saturday’s game will be the fourth straight at home. The Tigers could be 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC without ever leaving Columbia. With road games at resurgent Kentucky and East-favorite Georgia, they could easily be 1-5 before a brief reprieve against visiting Idaho.
Saturday’s contest will be Auburn’s first SEC game of the season after nonconference contests with Georgia Southern, Clemson and Mercer. After a strong opener, the Tigers managed just six points at Clemson and 24 at home versus Mercer. With SEC West title aspirations, a loss on Saturday would be tough to overcome.
Frankly, Auburn could not have picked a better team to play this week than Mizzou. A chance to get the offense back on track while also picking up a conference win is the college football version of having your cake and eating it too. Expect the visitors to pig out, Tina Fey-style.
Can Auburn’s offense get it going?
There was one major reason Auburn was a trendy pick to end Alabama’s reign atop the SEC. His name is Jarrett Stidham. He quarterbacked Baylor before transferring to the Tigers and was hailed as the missing link.
Auburn fans are still waiting for him to play up to his potential. Stidham has been efficient, completing almost 70 percent of his passes on the season. However, he is averaging just 209.3 yards per game with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
To be fair, the onus isn’t completely on Stidham. Running back Kamryn Pettway has struggled in the two games he’s played in. Pettway’s averaging just over 100 yards a game with three touchdowns, but he’s only averaging 3.6 yards per attempt.
Stidham has been outstanding at getting multiple receivers involved. Eleven different Tigers have caught a pass this season. In fact, all 11 have at least two catches. Ryan Davis (19 catches, 123 yards, one touchdown) and Will Hastings (nine catches, 151 yards, one touchdown) lead the way. The problem is a lack of explosive passing plays with the longest connection being 38 yards.
Saturday seems like the perfect opportunity for the Auburn offense to get things figured out. If the Tigers defense continues to perform at a high level, my money is on the offense to follow suit—sooner rather than later.
Missouri has allowed 43 points to Missouri State, 31 to South Carolina and 35 to Purdue. If Auburn doesn’t put up 30-plus points, it will be time to sound the alarm bells. Until then, write off the Tigers at your own risk.
Mizzou’s season is on the ropes
It’s hard to imagine a much worse start to the Missouri football season—short of actually losing to Missouri State. For a team with so few expectations, the Tigers have been worse than the most pessimistic Mizzou fan could have ever thought possible.
Things were bad against Missouri State, they were worse against South Carolina and they were the worst in maybe 20-plus years against Purdue. The Boilermakers are much improved in 2017, but there is no excuse for the display the Tigers put out there last week.
If things don’t improve, it’s hard to see Odom keeping his job into 2018. He already let his defensive coordinator go. At this point, DeMontie Cross is the lucky one. The unit did not improve at all after his removal, suggesting Cross wasn’t the main issue.
The more worrisome development has actually occurred on the offensive side of the ball. People knew the Mizzou defense wasn’t going to be something to text home about. But the offense led by quarterback Drew Lock, running back Damarea Crockett and wide receiver J’Mon Moore had all the makings of an exciting group. They wouldn’t win every game, but they would hang around with their quick-strike ability.
But they’ve looked lost the past couple of weeks. They looked outstanding against the Bears but seemed to lack energy against the Gamecocks and Boilermakers. It’s one thing to be discouraged by a bad play or two, but the Tigers seemed disinterested from the opening drive last week.
Fair or not—and it most definitely is—it all comes back to Odom. He already seems to have lost this group. With another bottom-of-the-barrel recruiting class coming in 2018, don’t expect things to magically get better in another year.
So, what happens?
Auburn has too much talent to mess this up. Maybe if the visiting Tigers were playing outstanding, they would be susceptible to an upset. But this group will be focused coming into Columbia. That does not bode well for a Missouri team that got blasted by a Purdue squad coming off a 3-9 season.
However, I think Auburn could get off to a slow start—similar to South Carolina—but a big second quarter will give them a comfortable halftime lead. Missouri will have wasted some early opportunities to get points, and it will lead to a blowout by the start of the fourth quarter.
With Mississippi State next up, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn will give his defensive stalwarts a much-deserved rest in the fourth quarter. That decision, which is the correct one, will see Missouri put up some garbage-time points. It will be enough to make the score more respectable, but the home team will never threaten to get back in the game.
A relaxed Malzahn will have a chance to focus on beating the Mississippi-based SEC teams at home the next two weeks. Meanwhile, a jealous Odom will face another week of fans questioning his ability to lead the Missouri program.
Prediction: Auburn 35, Missouri 17