Coming into the season, most expected a 9 to 10 win season, with a minimum of 8 wins. After facing two ranked opponents on the road in the first 4 games, 8 wins looks like a best case scenario. Mizzou is in the unusual position of having been tested so early in the season and knowing how good it is just one game into conference play.
The following predictions are based on the fact that Mizzou's offense is good, but not great, with an excellent run/pass balance. Their defense is great at stopping the run and bad at stopping the pass.
But Doc, you say...
we've only played 4 games and our schedule is among the toughest in the nation. These stats are meaningless. But consider this: Arizona State had 388 yards against us, but only average 260 without our game. Oklahoma had 448, but only average 310 without our game. Much worse than average. Meanwhile, our rush defense is much better than average.
So which came first, the chicken or the egg? Do teams pass more because they can, or do they pass because they can't run? The answer reminds me a whole lot of the 2009 defense, which is, it doesn't matter. They are passing with success. And much like 2009, the problem wasn't in the talent.
Since no remaining team in the league has a dominant defense and our offense looks to score, it's a fair bet to say that we'll beat the teams that rely on the run. We'll lose to the teams with top-notch passing attacks. And we'll have tossups with the teams that pass it above average.
W/L - Team - Rushing Rank - Passing Rank
W - Miami (Ohio) - 118r - 39p
L - @ Arizona St. - 60r - 24p
W - Western Ill. - N/A - N/A
L - @ Oklahoma - 49r - 6p
W - @ Kansas St. - 24r - 114p
W - Iowa St. - 64r - 56p
L - Oklahoma St. - 55r - 2p
L? - @ Texas A&M - 46r - 19p
W? - @ Baylor - 15r - 7p
W - Texas - 21r - 81p
W? - Texas Tech - 38r - 9p
W - Kansas - 17r - 72p
The bad news is that 8 teams on our schedule sport a top 40 passing attack, and 6 of them have a top 25 passing attack, including 4 remaining opponents. If my assumptions are correct, that means 6-6 is worst case scenario, and 8-4 is best case UNLESS SOMETHING CHANGES, which we'll get to later.
Coming into the season, I thought Oklahoma State and Texas A&M would be our swing games. Now it looks like Baylor and Texas Tech are our swing games and OSU/A&M are only going to happen if something changes.
I have reason to hope though. While both Baylor and Texas Tech sport top 10 passing offenses (and Baylor a top 15 rushing attack to boot) I don't think they can keep it up. Tech in particular has played against miserable defenses and I think they'll fall apart in conference play. As such, I'm predicting a Tech win.
Baylor is a bit tougher. They have very good receivers and even against cupcakes, their efficiency is crazy. Griffin is scary good. That said, I still am not sold they can do it in conference play. Yes, TCU was a good win, but TCU is not a good pass defense this year. Even without the Baylor game they'd be outside the top 50 in pass defense, and outside the top 80 in pass efficiency defense. I really see this as our swing game, mostly based on the matchup of offense vs defense. Now back to...
Unless something changes (4 keys to the rest of the season)
1. Execute consistently on offense
The good news for Missouri is that the offense is still improving. And not in some hard to measure way. We just flat out need to execute better. It's notable that our output is somewhat the same, regardless of the quality of the defense (gross athletic mismatches aside). The good news is that we can score on any remaining team on our schedule. The bad news is that we also won't necessarily score THAT many more points against a worse defense, so winning a 45 point shootout is not going to happen unless we improve. Of the 4 keys, this is the most likely to happen, as the offensive line gels and Franklin gets more comfortable with his receivers at game speed.
2. Improve on 3rd down
This is closely related to number one, but aside from simple execution (blocking the right assignments on short yardage), we also need to find Egnew more on 3rd downs. The value of any great TE is in the red zone and on third down. Coffman was one of the all time greats at this and Rucker was also a stud. Egnew, not so much, even last year. Franklin has to learn to find his biggest targets when we need to move the sticks, and Egnew has to realize that this is his time to shine.
3. Get more pass rush
Like you, I'm not sure what's going on here. When Aldon was not on the field last year, we had the same DE's and still got more pressure. Plus, we have better push up the middle this year from our DTs, so it's harder for QBs to step up in the pocket to avoid pressure. So where's the pressure? Maybe teams are adjusting to Madison's spin move (you know they scouted it). But it's definitely been disappointing. One of two things is going to happen here if we start getting more rush. The ends will start finding more success through continued effort (maybe the tackles were just that good so far). Or more likely, the coaches will get more creative with blitzes and stunts. Of course, that's an issue in its own right.
Steckel dialed up a lot of blitzes on Saturday, and overall OU picked it up pretty well. We didn't do it often agaisnt ASU, but it also didn't get there when we did. If we dial up a blitz, the LBs have to get to the QB. The most successfl strategy, in the end, could be just a lot of 3rd and longs, where we have had more success. When our line knows they can pin their ears back and come full force, it's a totally different pass rush than when we're uncertain.
4. Better coverage
This is one of those things that's unlikely to happen over the course of the season, but not impossible. There's a reason an experienced secondary is usually better than a more athletic young secondary, like we have now. To think there would be no dropoff would have been naive. That said, they have an opportunity to get better every game, and they seem to be doing so. We don't have to be top 25 in pass defense, We just can't be #99 like we are now.
Do those things, and suddenly Texas A&M and Oklahoma State become our swing games. Similarly, other teams could improve. If Case McCoy gets more comfortable in Austin, that game suddenly becomes quite difficult.