Just a little bit has changed since the last time Missouri and UConn met on a football field. Just 25 months ago, the Tigers and Huskies put on what I truly think is the worst football game I’ve ever seen in person, a 9-6 Mizzou win that featured barely 500 combined yards, five fumbles, two interceptions, 12 punts, two missed field goals, and, despite a final score perfectly divisible by 3s, no made field goals.
It was gross and almost entirely empty of offensive competence. Mizzou’s Tyler Hunt had a 51-yard catch. UConn receiver Noel Thomas had a 29-yarder. That was about it.
I’ll be floored if these two teams haven’t combined for 15 points by the end of the first quarter.
How much UConn will be able to move the ball on a remodeled (for how many times now?) Mizzou defense is unclear. But it will be awfully disappointing if Mizzou isn’t able to figure quite a few things out against a Husky defense that has never really had a chance in 2017.
- Cole Ormsby (6’3, 264, Sr.) — 14.5 tackles, 6 TFLs (6 sacks), 3 run stuffs, 2 FF, 0% success rate allowed
- Cameron Stapleton (6’4, 230, Sr.) — 8.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 8% success rate
- Folorunso Fatukasi (6’4, 303, Sr.) — 22.5 tackles, 5.5 TFLs (3 sacks), 8 run stuffs, 14% success rate
- Kevin Murphy (6’1, 280, So.) — 5.0 tackles, 29% success rate
- Luke Carrezola (6’3, 260, Sr.) — 12.5 tackles, 3.5 TFLs (1 sack), 5 PBU, 2 PBU, 7% success rate allowed
- Sheriden Lawley (6’4, 275, Jr.) — 6.0 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 run stuffs, 38% success rate
“If [new defensive coordinator Billy] Crocker has the pieces in the back, he’ll have the pieces in the front.” That’s the way I put it in my 2017 UConn preview,
It looked like the Huskies would have a pretty excellent front seven to offer for Crockett, the former Villanova defensive coordinator. Linemen Cole Ormsby, Luke Carrezola, Folorunso Fatukasi, and Cameron Stapleton combined for 23.5 tackles for loss last season, and they combined for 8.5 tackles and 4.5 TFLs against Mizzou in 2015.
Toss in a nice linebacking corps of Vontae Diggs, Junior Joseph, and E.J. Levenberry, and you have the makings of an all-around excellent front seven. But Levenberry got hurt before the season, there were just enough scheme changes to slow progress, and the complete and utter disintegration of the secondary has been just a little bit of an issue.
The front is still a relative strength. UConn ranks 68th in rushing success rate, 41st in power success rate, and 59th in Adj. Sack Rate. That's not nothing. And if the Huskies pull a home upset on Saturday evening, it's likely because the defensive line was able to hold its own, slow the Mizzou run game, and force some mistakes.
- Vontae Diggs (6’2, 221, Sr.) — 38.5 tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 5 run stuffs, 48% success rate
- Darrian Beavers (6’3, 216, Fr.) — 4.5 tackles, 2 TFLs (2 sacks), 25% success rate
- Junior Joseph (6’1, 232, Sr.) — 50.5 tackles, 4.5 TFLs (2 sacks), 7 run stuffs, 3 PBU, 37% success rate
- Santana Sterling (6’0, 223, Jr.) — 7.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 run stuff, 50% success rate
- Chris Britton (6’1, 225, Jr.) — 27.5 tackles, 4 TFLs (1 sack), 4 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 26% success rate
- Eddie Hahn (6’3, 205, RSFr.) — 7.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 29% success rate
Even without Levenberry, this is a solid, seasoned unit. Diggs and Joseph have been through some battles, and Britton is producing more disruptive plays than Levenberry did in previous years. He’s used well near the line of scrimmage, while Diggs is used both near and far.
- Tyler Coyle (6’1, 202, RSFr.) — 24.0 tackles, 2 INT, 2 PBU, 70% success rate
- Omar Fortt (6’1, 190, Fr.) — 18.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU, 60% success rate
- Jordan Swann (5’10, 180, Fr.) — 8.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 PBU, 1 FF, 67% success rate
- Kyle Williams (5’7, 170, So.)
- Brayden Brown (6’1, 192, Fr.) — 14.5 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 run stuff, 86% success rate
- Anthony Watkins (5’10, 197, Jr.) — 17.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 2 run stuffs, 1 PBU, 64% success rate
- Marshé Terry (6’4, 212, So.) — 27.0 tackles, 1 PBU, 75% success rate
- Suspended: John Robinson IV (6’2, 195, So.)
- Jamar Summers (6’0, 190, Sr.) — 35.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 5 PBU, 1 FF, 76% success rate
- Tre Bell (5’11, 175, Sr.) — 19.5 tackles, 2 run stuffs, 2 PBU, 2 FF, 82% success rate
And here’s where things have gone wrong. Crocker inherited a secondary that needed to replace three of its top four players from last season. Jamar Summers, who had seven tackles two years ago in Columbia, was the only returning starter, and it was up to Crocker to figure out what the hell else he had to work with.
And then Ian Swenson (12 tackles) was lost for the season with a shoulder injury. A couple of weeks later, Brice McAllister went down with a hand injury. This week, Tahj Herring-Wilson is out with a leg injury. Backup John Robinson IV is suspended, too.
Now, just over halfway through the season, the two-deep lists nine players — Summers, veteran backups Anthony Watkins and Tre Bell, and six freshmen and sophomores.
It’s not going so well.
UConn ranks 114th in Passing S&P+ and 110th in standard downs success rate. Opponents, knowing they don't have to run the ball, don't really even try to — UConn faces a run rate of 48 percent on standard downs (125th in FBS) and 26 percent on passing downs (123rd).
Part of that is the schedule; the Huskies have faced pass-happy ECU, SMU, Memphis, and Tulsa teams. But they've also been losing a lot (which tends to lead to higher run rates), and they've also faced Holy Cross, Virginia, and Temple.
When you hear that the Huskies rank last in passing yards allowed per game, this is at least part of the reason why — they’ve faced a lot of passes. Still, they haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory here.
Opponents have completed 67 percent of their passes at 12.5 yards per completion, with a 20-to-3 TD-to-INT ratio and a 156.6 passer rating. UConn is doing an alright job of preventing big plays, but a) so was Idaho before facing Mizzou, and b) you can have all the smaller plays you want. If Missouri executes well, and Drew Lock is as sharp as he has been over the previous three weeks, it’ll be a surprise if the Tigers are held under 30-35 points.
If you're looking for reasons to worry, it does bear mentioning that UConn did one hell of a bend-don't-break job against Tulsa last week. The Huskies allowed 6.3 yards per play against the Golden Hurricane — which run their own version of the Baylor defense, not too many strands of DNA away from Josh Heupel's — and eight of 12 TU drives ended in UConn territory. But the Huskies still allowed just 14 points; they picked off a pass, forced two punts, a missed field goal, and a turnover on downs.
They lived dangerously, and since Missouri still hasn't proven it can finish drives proficiently (when it's not scoring on 70-yard bombs), this is a concern until it isn't.
We’ll go ahead and talk about special teams now, too.
- Michael Tarbutt (6’0, 187, So.) — 20-for-21 PAT, 5-for-7 FG under 40, 1-for-2 FG over 40; 38 kickoffs, 26 touchbacks, 49th in kickoff success rate
- Will Rishell (5’11, 184, Sr.)
- Brett Graham (6’3, 197, RSFr.) — 33 punts, 39.8 average, 74th in punt success rate
- Luke Magliozzi (6’3, 203, Fr.)
- Quayvon Skanes (5’11, 175, RSFr.) — 4 KR, 24.0 average
- Jordan Swann (5’10, 180, Fr.) — 8 KR, 25.9 average
- Quayvon Skanes (5’11, 175, RSFr.) — 6 PR, 6.3 average
- Jordan Swann (5’10, 180, Fr.) — 3 PR, 8.7 average
UConn ranks 87th in Special Teams S&P+. Michael Tarbutt has been pretty effective on kickoffs, booting more than two-thirds of them for touchbacks, and a host of kick returners (Skanes, Swann, and Kyle Buss) have all been pretty strong in that department. But place-kicking has been a bit of an adventure, and neither punts nor punt returns are in any way memorable.
As long as Tucker McCann is hitting the end zone with his kickoffs and not giving Skanes and company any decent return looks, this unit should be either a win or a tie for Mizzou.