Sorry this comes later than normal...better late than never...being that I had to rush through yesterday's BTBS Preview without much analysis, I'll be referring to it often here.
But before I get to the position-by-position matchups...
Game Key #1: 1st Quarter. Q1 is a strength for both teams (MU-CU game aside). In conference play, Mizzou holds a 55%-45% success rate advantage over their opponents, while ATM holds a 49%-41% advantage. ATM must not fall behind much in this game, and obviously Q1 play will dictate what kind of game this is.
Game Key #2: 3rd Quarter. Q1 might define how the game will play out, but Q3 will be where Mizzou makes its move. They hold a sickening 58%-35% Q3 success rate advantage in conference play, while ATM is at a disadvantage (50%-46%). ATM had better figure make some really strong adjustments...otherwise the game will be over before Q4, and Q4's where ATM might hold a distinct advantage of its own.
Now on to the matchups...
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Mizzou QB vs ATM Defense
ATM's defense is physical and conservative, and it can dictate the play if you let it (like Mizzou did last year in the second half in College Station). Chase Daniel is now an official Heisman candidate. Edge: Mizzou.
Mizzou RBs vs ATM LBs
ATM's Mark Dodge is a tackling machine...but he's more of the Joe Pawelek/Alvin Bowen variety (as in, 'yes, he makes tackles, but most of them are 9 yards down the field') than the Jordan Dizon variety. Meanwhile, even though Tony Temple really hasn't gotten untracked this season, the Temple-JJackson-Washington triumverate really got rolling last week. Each of Mizzou's three main RBs have distinct running styles (Temple = fast cutter, Jackson = bull, Washington = half-fast cutter, half-bull), and they hold the advantage over an ATM LB corps that only has a 48% success rate on the year. Edge: Mizzou.
Game Key #3: ATM LB Success Rate. I just mentioned why this is important. The ATM LBs are big and strong and physical...but they're not particularly fast. If they can't keep up with both the Mizzou RBs and TEs, this game's a blowout. Dodge, Misi Tupe, and the other LBs have to figure out a way to make plays somehow.
Mizzou WR/TEs vs ATM DBs
As always, I'm not going to go in a lot of detail here. ATM will likely be content to go into bend-don't-break mode and just do whatever they can to avoid the big play. In other words, don't expect a lot of long bombs. But the "You can't stop them, you can only hope to contain them" cliche totally applies here. Chase won't try to force the deep ball--he's proven he has no problem throwing 8- to 12-yard passes all day long, and they will be open. Edge: Mizzou.
Mizzou OL vs ATM DL
This is an interesting matchup. My line yardage and sack rate numbers suggest that Mizzou's OL is strong, but not fantastic. Meanwhile, the DL is ATM's main strongsuit on defense. There will be a lot of pressure on Red Bryant, Chris Harrington, et al, to make some plays. Edge: Push.
ATM QB vs Mizzou Defense
After reading the M-I-Z Q&A with 12th Manchild, it's really hard to favor Stephen McGee in any competition at the moment. Dude really is a helluva runner, but after the show the Mizzou D put on last weekend (the 3rd-best defensive effort of the season by any team in the conference, according to some VOA numbers I've come up with but don't really feel like sharing just yet), I'm gonna have to go with the Tigers' D here. Edge: Mizzou.
ATM RBs vs Mizzou LBs
Led by Sean Weatherspoon, the Mizzou LB corps had a nice bounce-back week in Boulder...but Jorvorskie Lane is as big as Weatherspoon and Brock Christopher combined. Okay, not really, but it's hard for me to pick against Lane...especially since apparently Mike Goodson may not play, and therefore might not be around to steal carries from the J-Train. Edge: ATM.
Game Key #4: ATM 3rd downs. The Ags aren't particularly great at 3rd downs (44.7% by my count), and Iowa State game aside, Mizzou's been pretty solid in defending the 3rd down. But if Lane is getting yards on first down, the third downs might be manageable...and if ATM converts a few, the D will begin to wear down at some point. You remember last year's game, right? The Mizzou run defense was unbelievably good against ATM in the first half, but they were on the field too damn long, and Lane started getting bigger and bigger carries in the second half. For better or worse, you know that Mizzou will never hold onto the ball for very long, so it's up to the D to make some stops on third down.
ATM WR/TEs vs Mizzou DBs
I proved on Mizzou Sanity that the fastest way to get me into a rant was say the words "Martellus" and "Bennett" back to back. It's not that I think he's a poor player--I just got horribly sick of seeing Bennett placed ahead of Martin Rucker and/or Chase Coffman simply because he was a Rivals 5-star recruit. Rucker and Coffman are better, period. However, Bennett's still a threat, and he'll need to catch some passes for the Aggies to be successful. Meanwhile, as with Colorado, there's just not a big-time, big-play threat for the Aggies, and that helps a physical secondary that plays well close to the line of scrimmage. Edge: Mizzou.
Game Key #5: Kerry Franks. It's been pretty obvious for a while that either a) Stephen McGee can't make reads and find open receivers anymore, or b) Stephen McGee's receivers can't get open. However, when Kerry Franks does catch the ball, good things tend to happen. Of his 22 catches, 20 have resulted in a 'successful' play, and beyond that, he's averaging just a hair under 1.00 PPP. One of the reasons Mizzou was so successful against Colorado last week was because they shut down CU's secret weapon, Tyson DeVree. Well, Franks is ATM's secret weapon. He's not deserving of a high rating or anything, but he'll sneak up on you.
ATM OL vs Mizzou DL
This really is the key matchup of the game. In fact...
Game Key #6: this matchup. As I said earlier, Lorenzo Williams and the Mizzou D-line had a simply huge first half in College Station last season, but they wore down with the combination of the J-Train and quick offensive possessions. The ATM O-line has been banged up this year, and have therefore been less effective, but you never know what to expect from week to week. Meanwhile, Mizzou's front four have improved steadily over the last few games. This matchup will decide whether MU-ATM is a tight game or a blowout. For now...Edge: Push.
Jeff Wolfert has improved from some early jitters, Adam Crossett has been quite reliable (blocked punt in Boulder aside...not that that was his fault), and Jeremy Maclin is Jeremy Maclin. Meanwhile, ATM's punting and return game have been decent, and their kicker is shaky. Edge: Mizzou.
One coach appears to have quit on his team. The other has not. Edge: Mizzou.
One team is playing for a conference title. The other is playing for a coach who appears to have quit on his team. Edge: Mizzou.
That's 8-1-2 Mizzou. It sounds like the crowd really might be pretty decent for an early kickoff, and I really think we see a strong Senior Day effort from the Tigers. Whether ATM has quit or not, it just shouldn't matter. My numbers cranked out a 35-17 Mizzou prediction, and while I think it could be much worse than that (45-10 maybe), I'll go conservative. 35-17 it is.