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EMU at Missouri preview: Tigers have prime opportunity to build confidence

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EMU’s run game and pass rush could challenge Missouri, but the Tigers have a chance to prove the potential we think we see.

Truman Bill Carter

This is typically where I would write a Beyond the Box Score preview, but at the moment I don't really think we have enough 'box score' to go beyond. Not only have both Missouri and EMU played only one game, but EMU's was against maybe the worst FCS team in the country. Not much to go by.

So instead, based on the EMU offensive and defensive depth chart pieces, we’ll just skip to the end of the typical BTBS preview, where I talk about the primary keys to the game. (Spoiler: some of them will be pretty obvious.) And we’ll probably toss some stats in just because I can’t help myself.

5 keys to Eastern Michigan-Missouri

1. Mizzou vs. the chains

Rankings after one week are mostly worthless, but consider tomorrow an opportunity for reassurance. We saw a high-tempo identity in place last Saturday, and that's good -- between injuries and shaky WR and OL play, Mizzou had no identity last year.

But while we spent most of the week talking about promise and potential, there's this: Missouri ranked 126th in Success Rate+ last year (123rd rushing, 115th passing, 125th on standard downs, 110th on passing downs). And after one game in 2016, Mizzou ranks 120th in success rate (117th rushing, 116th passing, 115th on standard downs, 115th on passing downs).

No, those Week 1 numbers aren't adjusted for opponent. Yes, it's only one week. But the parallels there are ... off-putting.

Just for the sake of Mizzou's fan base, scarred from having to watch some of the worst offense in Missouri's history over the last 12 months, Saturday is an opportunity to prove that belief in potential is justifiable. Missouri faces an opponent with a pretty good pass rush but a run defense that was worst in the country last year.

The Tigers should be able to establish the run, generate yardage out of those sideline passes they tried a lot last week, block well, and actually generate some efficiency. If you can't do it against EMU, you certainly won't be able to do it against Georgia next week.

Missouri v West Virginia
Drew Lock
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

2. Mizzou vs. the red zone

One other "no, please no" parallel with last season: In 2015, the Tigers ranked 126th in the country, averaging just 2.9 points per scoring opportunity. Through one game in 2016, Mizzou ranks ... 126th, averaging 1.8.

I actually want Missouri to attempt a couple of field goals because I want to see Tucker McCann put a couple of them through the uprights and generate some confidence. But I also want to see Missouri create between about seven and 10 scoring opportunities ... and that leaves five to eight that should finish in touchdowns. I'll settle for five.

3. Mizzou vs. Shaq Vann (and Ian Eriksen)

Shaq Vann hinted at major explosiveness last season and began 2016 with confirmation. He and Ian Eriksen combined for 253 yards on 32 carries against MVSU, and while they won't average 8 yards per carry all year, they could drive a pretty solid EMU run game.

Meawhile, Missouri allowed five-yard gains on 44 percent of WVU's carries last week. That puts Mizzou at 105th in opportunity rate after one week. Michael Scherer told media that miscommunication/misunderstanding were at the heart of the problems, and that those problems should be rectified soon. Here's to hoping. In theory, Mizzou's got too much offense for EMU no matter what, but a successful EMU run game could keep this game competitive into the second half. I want to see a blowout.

Missouri v West Virginia
Mizzou’s run defense has something to prove
Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

4. Mizzou vs. special teams

Per my special teams efficiency model, EMU attempted five returns against MVSU -- four KR, one PR -- and all five were 'successful' returns. Mizzou, meanwhile: 1-for-4, and with zero successful kickoffs to boot. Return advantage: EMU.

Not only did McCann miss two field goals (one of which was blocked, yes), but he also had zero touchbacks in two kickoffs; after what we saw in the spring, I thought super-deep kickoffs would be the norm. Not the case yet.

McCann needs a nice game on Saturday, and Mizzou needs to make sure that the return game doesn't drastically favor EMU. Special teams opportunities create upsets. Let's not.

5. Mizzou vs. opportunity

If Missouri takes care of business out of the gates -- the Tigers shut down Vann and the running game and generate pressure on quarterback Todd Porter; meanwhile, they establish a solid ground attack and convert scoring opportunities -- then this could be the first legitimate blowout opportunity since last year’s season opener against SEMO.

First of all, this would just feel good. It should be a pretty nice evening weather-wise (which was almost never the damn case last year), and a steady, solid, easy win would give Mizzou fans a happy home experience. They didn’t provide many of those in 2015.

Second, a blowout would allow for a lot of freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores to get their respective feet wet. Most of Mizzou’s most successful players last weekend were upperclassmen — Chris Black, Aarion Penton, Scherer, Sean Culkin, maybe Anthony Sherrils; very few of the youngsters Mizzou is counting on this year made much of an impact. Now’s a chance to provide glimpses, build a little bit of confidence, etc. It would be a shame to miss the opportunity.

NCAA Football: Missouri at West Virginia
Freshman Dimetrios Mason
Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Winning this game by any cost is obviously the No. 1 goal on Saturday. Winning by a lot is No. 2.

***

S&P+ projection: Mizzou 36, EMU 16 (win probability: 87%).

That projection sounds about right to me. I’m seeing something in the 31- to 38-point range for Mizzou, though if it’s played at a high tempo, Mizzou might have opportunities to crack 40+ even with some drive failures. Meanwhile, I’d like to see the Tigers holding EMU more to something in the six- to 12-point range, though EMU’s run game, Mizzou’s sudden defensive question marks, and, again, a large number of possessions should result in the Eagles at least cracking into the teens.