Game Time: 6:30 p.m. ET/5:30 p.m. CT
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: UConn IMG Sports Network || Tiger Network
How to watch online: College Sports Live
Odds: Missouri -13 || Over/under 76 (via OddsShark.com)
Two years after an absolute snooze-fest between Missouri and UConn unfolded in Columbia, we get treated to a rematch. Thankfully, there should be more points scored this time. Although, that will only require each team to reach double-digits.
That’s because the aforementioned 2015 contest produced a 9-6 final score. Contrary to the five-field goal game that scoreline would suggest, both teams scored touchdowns. Missouri found the end zone on a Maty Mauk run in the third quarter. That won the game after Mizzou had a safety and UConn a touchdown — with the extra point blocked — in the opening period.
The two teams have changed dramatically in a short amount of time. So much so that both teams are more likely to reach the thirties than they are to be stuck in single-digits. Mizzou put up 68 points in a blowout win over Idaho last week. That comes after scoring a respectable 34 and 28 apiece the prior two weeks. The Huskies, meanwhile, have failed to reach 20 points in only one game this season — a 38-18 loss to Virginia.
After terrible starts to the season, both teams have played much better in recent weeks. However, it’s for starkly different reasons that Mizzou and UConn enter this game playing their best football of the season. The Tigers (2-5) have turned things around, because their high-powered offense finally kicked into gear after their off week following a 1-3 start.
The Huskies (3-4) had no problem scoring points in their first five games, but it’s been the defense stepping up that has UConn on a two-game winning streak. Connecticut allowed 90 points combined to East Carolina and SMU before a 70-31 loss to Memphis on Oct. 6. Since then, the Huskies have wins over Temple (28-24) and Tulsa (20-14) that can be credited to an improved defense.
Something will have to give on Saturday evening.
Can Lock Feast on Huskies?
On paper, it seems to be a one-sided matchup. Missouri quarterback Drew Lock against the worst pass defense in FBS football. (*”Define worst,” yells the kid from the back of the room.* Fine.) UConn has allowed the most passing yards per game this season out of the 129 teams in FBS. That number is a whopping 373.4 yards per game. What’s even crazier is that they have actually allowed the same number of passing yards as the 128th-ranked team, East Carolina. Only the Huskies have allowed their 2,614 yards in seven games; the Pirates have needed eight to allow that many.
As bad as those numbers are, they were even worse a few weeks ago. In those two straight wins, UConn has allowed 356 passing yards to Temple and 259 to Tulsa. Not exactly stellar numbers but the performances brought the average way down. Prior to the win over the Owls, the Huskies pass defense was giving up almost exactly 400 yards per game.
It’s hard to believe UConn will be able to slow down Lock. The junior has thrown for 2,190 yards this season and has 23 touchdowns to eight interceptions. He’s averaging a whopping 16.8 yards per completion. Although, it’s fairer to say the chronically inaccurate signal-caller is averaging 9.4 yards per attempt.
Given Lock’s penchant for the deep ball, expect a few long touchdown passes for the Tigers this week. That being said, Missouri did show an impressive ability to sustain drives — albeit against Idaho — in last week’s victory. After relying heavily on 50-plus yard touchdowns against Kentucky and Georgia, Mizzou didn’t have an offensive touchdown from outside the red zone. The longest offensive score came on a 20-yard pass from Lock to Emanuel Hall. It was the fifth of six touchdown passes for Lock in the game.
Expect another big outing. He probably won’t have 467 yards and six touchdowns again, but maybe he’ll put up 425 and five.
Can UConn Make This a Shootout?
While the Connecticut defense has been given a lot of credit for helping the Huskies win the past two weeks, it has to be concerning that the offense hasn’t been performing well. Quarterback Bryant Shirreffs tossed three touchdown passes — each from six yards out — against Temple, but he only threw for 105 yards on 18-of-28 passing. The following week, Shirreffs put up the yardage (372) but not the points (one TD pass). Neither game saw the running back corps do much of anything.
On one hand, Missouri’s defense presents a clear chance to get back on track. On the other hand, the Tigers should have more confidence than at any point this season. Last week, Mizzou allowed a season-low 21 points with seven of them coming in the final minute. That’s probably as good as it will ever get for this unit.
A few early scoring drives will likely fuel the Huskies and send the Tigers back into reality. Shirreffs has a chance to go off. The redshirt senior has piled up the yards this year with 1,952, but he hasn’t been able to find the end zone as often as his counterpart (13 passing touchdowns). However, Shirreffs has been more accurate (68.2 percent to 55.8 percent) and thrown fewer interceptions (four) than Lock.
Perhaps, the biggest key to the game will be UConn’s rushing ability. If the Huskies can get anything going on the ground, the Tigers could be in trouble. While Shirreffs is a capable quarterback, he becomes much more dangerous when the defense can’t focus all of its attention on him. Nate Hopkins is the team’s leading rusher with a mere 289 yards. The redshirt freshman is averaging just 3.86 yards per carry. For comparison, Mizzou’s Damarea Crockett has carried the ball only five more times than Hopkins (80 to 75) but has put up almost 200 more yards (481 to 289).
UConn will likely make this a shootout, but don’t expect Shirreffs to get much help. And that could ultimately be the Huskies’ downfall.
So, what happens?
One reason I think Lock can put up similar numbers to the Idaho win is out of necessity. The Huskies should put up more of a fight than the Vandals ever did. UConn packs some offensive punch that I think will come out on Saturday.
Missouri will score and won’t find much resistance — even against a defense that’s improved in recent weeks. Conversely, the Tigers defense will have a tough time stopping Shirreffs and Co. after a reprieve last week. That adds up to a high-scoring game, which these teams owe us after that atrocious 2015 contest.
This game will be close heading into the fourth quarter, but a few defensive stops will allow Missouri to escape with a win. That would give the Tigers two in a row heading into a favorable final stretch. This team still hasn’t shown anything that suggests they will become bowl eligible, but Barry Odom couldn’t ask for a better SEC stretch run than Florida, Tennessee, Vanderbilt and Arkansas.
None of those may end up in the win column, but Saturday’s game should wind up there.
Prediction: Missouri 52, UConn 42