Game Time: Noon ET/11 a.m. CT
TV: SEC Network
Radio: GoVandals.com || Tiger Network
How to watch online: Watch ESPN
Odds: Missouri -14 || Over/under 62.5 (via OddsShark.com)
It’s hard to imagine a team garnering more confidence from two losses than Missouri has from its past two defeats. The Tigers seemed to have hit rock bottom entering their much-needed off week. Mizzou had allowed an embarrassing number of points in its opener and followed that up with three humiliating losses.
I guess the Tigers really had nowhere else to go but up. They finally showed some signs of life against a Kentucky program on the rise. The team didn’t let a heartbreaking loss to the Wildcats carry over when they faced a Top 5 Georgia team, either. They kept things close before the Bulldogs’ superior talent allowed them to pull away for the victory.
Sure, both teams had probably overlooked the Tigers. But they still get credit for coming back from the dead. It’s just a shame the Tigers decided to wait until the month of October to look like a real football team.
To be clear, Barry Odom and his players have proven nothing. They are 1-5 with the lone victory coming against FCS opponent Missouri State. Only one of their defeats can even be deemed “close.” This is an awful team with one of the worst defenses you will ever see at the FBS level—save for the Big 12. But the difference in the past few weeks has been noticeable and should be commended.
It would have been easy for these players to give up on the season. The same can’t be said for Odom and the rest of the coaching staff, as they are all essentially fighting for their jobs week in and week out. This week will show if either group has anything left in the tank when Idaho (2-4) comes to town.
Will the defense make an appearance?
Let’s be honest. The Missouri team that we’ve seen the past two weeks is the one we expected to see this season. The offense can score in bunches with quick strikes against virtually any team, while the defense just tries to keep up. It can’t be easy for the latter unit to spend so much time on the field. As exciting as the two-minutes-and-under scoring drives are, it doesn’t exactly help keep the defense fresh.
That being said, the defense has to get better—plain and simple. The season got off to an ominous start when the Bears put up 43 points, including a still incomprehensible 35 in the first half. The Tigers have allowed no fewer than 31 points in a single game. On average, they have given up a hair over 42 points per game. That’s just not going to cut it.
If the defense is ever going to get right, the next two weeks are when it needs to happen. Along with Idaho, the Tigers face UConn on Oct. 28. Those are the team’s final nonconference games of the year. After that is a final slate of SEC games against Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas—none of which are over .500. Good teams could reasonably expect to go 3-1 in those games. Decent teams could hope for 2-2. Missouri would be lucky to win one of the four.
But that’s Missouri in its current construction. Start allowing 30 points a game instead of 40, and there might be a few wins to be had in the second half of the season. However, if the defense can’t slow down the Vandals or Huskies the next couple of weeks, expect the aforementioned SEC teams to have their way with the Tigers.
Offense Can’t Let Up
Obviously, the way Mizzou plays puts a lot of pressure on the defense. We’ve discussed that already. What we didn’t do is look at how the offense is burdened with their style of play. We will now.
With a no-lead-is-ever-safe defense, the Tigers are forced to view every non-scoring drive as a missed opportunity. In games against good teams, it’s generally expected that the opponent will eventually manhandle the Missouri defense. That gives the offense a finite amount of time to get itself into the game. If it doesn’t, displays like you saw against Purdue end up happening.
Quarterback Drew Lock remains an enigma. He either looks like one of the best signal-callers in the SEC or one of the worst. There’s no in between. We’ve gotten to see good Lock the last two weeks.
Against Kentucky, the junior was 22 for 42 (even good Lock rarely completes a high percentage of passes) with 355 yards and four total touchdowns. All three of his passing scores—one each to J’Mon Moore, Emanuel Hall and Johnathon Johnson—were from 50-plus yards. Last week, he found Hall again deep on two separate occasions for 63-yard touchdowns. They accounted for along exactly half of Lock’s 253 yards, as he completed 15 of 25 passes with four touchdowns and one interception.
The worrisome thing is the inability to get the running game going. Damarea Crockett is suffering through a sophomore slump. Ish Witter had a great night against the Wildcats with 139 yards, but he followed that up with just eight on five carries against the Bulldogs. The team, as a whole, averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in Athens.
Expect the offense, or at least the passing attack, to keep things rolling against Idaho. Whether that’s enough to put Mizzou back in the win column is unknown, but it’s better than the Boilermaker-esque alternative.
So, what happens?
Don’t let the two TD line fool you. This game is still a toss up, as sad as that sounds. A team ranked 15th in the Sun Belt Conference visiting a member of the vaunted SEC. This game means more to Idaho than it does to Missouri. That’s usually a recipe for at least a scare.
Had this game happened a few weeks ago, I would have picked Idaho and not thought twice about it. After the loss to Purdue, it seemed impossible for Mizzou to be favored at all the rest of the season. But the showings the Tigers put together against the Wildcats and, especially, the Bulldogs are enough to generate optimism. Or at least enough of it to think Idaho will be overmatched on Saturday.
I think the Vandals will hang around for the first half—maybe even the first three quarters—before the Tigers get one big turnover in the fourth quarter to seal the game.
Missouri hasn’t proven it can win an SEC game, and there’s still a good chance they won’t in 2017. The Tigers haven’t even proved capable of beating an FBS school this season, but that will change this weekend. If it doesn’t, a different kind of change needs to occur within the football program.
Prediction: Missouri 42, Idaho 31