We all know which Missouri players opposing teams will be paying attention to on film as game week with the Tigers draws near.
But what about the players and coaches in the MATC? To which players on the schedule will they be devoting most of their time and attention?
I went through Missouri’s 12 definite opponents for 2018 and picked out the top player the Tigers will have to face at each position group: quarterback, running back, receiver, interior and edge offensive and defensive lineman, linebacker, cornerback and safety.
Spoiler alert: All of them are from Alabama. OK, only four are from Alabama. I tried to spread the wealth.
QB: Tua Tagovailoa, Soph., 6-1/218, at Alabama (Oct. 13)
2017 stats: 49-of-77, 636 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT; 133 yards, 2 TD rushing
Missouri had the good fortune to miss Wyoming’s Josh Allen by one year. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they get to run smack dab into the guy who shredded Georgia in the National Championship Game. Tagovailoa came off the bench for a struggling Jalen Hurts and delivered throws like this … and this … to bring the trophy back to Tuscaloosa. Missouri didn’t have to deal with too many true dual-threat quarterbacks last year – especially ones whose offenses also boasted a punishing run-game complement – so Tagovailoa could be a bit of a problem, without proper preparation.
Honorable Mention: Jake Fromm, Georgia
RB: Damien Harris, Sr., 5-11/213, at Alabama (Oct. 13)
2017 stats: 135 carries, 1000 yards, 11 TD; 12 catches, 91 yards
As I was just saying. Think of all the outstanding running backs that have come through this program. Now consider that, if Harris runs for 1,398 yards this year – not an entirely unreachable figure, to be sure, given he’s a two-time 1,000-yard rusher – he’ll be the program record-holder in career rushing yards.
And that’s not the real problem. The real problem is, with as much talent as Alabama has all over its offense, Harris may not even be the one who ends up scorching Missouri’s defense. It could be Najee Harris. Or former Tigers target Josh Jacobs.
Honorable Mention: Benny Snell, Kentucky
WR/TE: Deebo Samuel, Sr., 6-0/210, at South Carolina (Oct. 6)
2017 stats: 15 catches, 250 yards, 3 TD; 30 yards, 1 rush TD; 2 KO returns, 194 yards, 2 TD
Career vs. MU (2 games, 2 starts): 14 catches, 170 yards; 32 yards, 2 rush TD; 97-yard KO return TD
Samuel played only three games last season before a broken leg cost him the rest. That came a little too late for Missouri, who arguably had the entire first half of its season torpedoed by two Samuel touchdowns (one kick return, one rushing) in quick succession.
Samuel’s the sort of receiver who can burn a defense in a variety of different ways and could be one of the best athletes the Tigers face all season. And the real bad news is that he’s not the only potentially game-breaking receiver on the Gamecocks’ roster…
Honorable Mention: Bryan Edwards, South Carolina
Second Honorable Mention, for his name only: TE Joey Magnifico, Memphis
C/G: Hjalte Froholdt, Sr., 6-5/315, vs. Arkansas (Nov. 24)
2017 stats: 12 games, 12 starts at left guard
Career vs. MU: 2 games, 2 starts
The converted defensive tackle is going into his third year starting at guard for the Razorbacks. The native of Denmark helped Arkansas put up 446 yards against Missouri last year and largely kept Terry Beckner and A.J. Logan in check (one solo, three assists, one sack combined). Beckner gets another shot this year and, with Chad Morris installed as Arkansas’ head coach, the offense will probably be a strength.
Honorable Mention: Ross Pierschbacher, Alabama
T: Jonah Williams, Jr., 6-5/301, at Alabama (Oct. 13)
2017 stats: 14 games, 14 starts
He’s been starting since Day 1 on the top college football program in the nation. As a freshman, he held down the right edge of the line, before switching to the blind side last year. He was a Freshman All-America selection in 2016, then a second- or third-team All-America selection (depending on who you’re asking) last year.
I mean, what more is there to say about Tide players at this point? They’re the best in the league at, like, every position. If Missouri still hasn’t figured out their equation on the edge by the middle of October, Tagovailoa could have all day to throw.
Honorable Mention: Martez Ivey, Florida
DE: Carl Granderson, Sr., 6-5/261, vs. Wyoming (Sept. 8)
2017 stats: 77 tackles, 16 TFL, 9.5 sacks, 2 INT
Granderson tore his ACL in the middle of his sophomore season – Oct. 2016 – and still came back to be one of the most productive mid-major pass rushers in the FBS. While all three were losses, Granderson showed up biggest against the Cowboys’ marquee opponents: Iowa, Oregon and Boise State. He had nine tackles and a sack against Iowa, three tackles for loss against Oregon and three sacks against Boise State. So he likes the big stage.
Honorable Mention: CeCe Jefferson, Florida
DT: Raekwon Davis, Jr., 6-7/308, at Alabama (Oct. 13)
2017 stats: 69 tackles, 10 TFL, 8.5 sacks, INT
I have a general rule in life: Dudes named “Raekwon” are probably pretty legit. This particular Raekwon is no exception. You look at the numbers he put up on (again) a stacked Alabama defense, and that’s plenty impressive enough. Then you look a little deeper and watch him running in the open field like a tight end after picking off Fromm in the National Championship Game, and you think, “This guy is a problem.”
He played end earlier in his Alabama career, but the Tide moved him inside this spring. Good luck with that, Trystan, Kevin and Tre’Vour.
Honorable Mention: McTelvin Agim, Arkansas
LB: Josh Allen, Sr., 6-5/252, vs. Kentucky (Oct. 27)
2017 stats: 65 tackles, 9.5 TFL, 7 sacks, INT
Career vs. MU (3 games, 2 starts): 8 tackles, 2 TFL, 2 sacks, 2 FF
Yes, another Josh Allen. And, in his 2017 stats, I’m not counting an especially costly batted ball for Missouri in the two teams’ matchup last year. Aside from that bit of…er…gamesmanship, Allen put together an All-SEC caliber season as a hybrid outside linebacker/edge rusher for the Wildcats. He also has managed to record a sack and forced fumble in each of the past two outings against the Tigers.
He has a bit of a Bud Dupree profile, if we’re talking Kentucky edge rushers of recent vintage. And Missouri can attest that he’s pretty savage in end-of-game situations.
Honorable Mention: Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
CB: Deandre Baker, Sr., 5-11/180, vs. Georgia (Sept. 22)
2017 stats: 44 tackles, TFL, 3 INT, 9 PBU
Career vs. MU (3 games, 1 start): 3 tackles, PBU
Despite losing to the Bulldogs each of the past two seasons, Drew Lock has actually had pretty modest success hitting Georgia’s secondary up top. One assumes he’ll try that again with Emanuel Hall this year, seeing as how Hall scorched the Bulldogs for 141 yards and two scores on four catches last year. But Baker was on the other side of the field. Holding J’Mon Moore to 8 yards on one catch.
So…yeah…Baker was one of the most dependable cover corners in the league last year, and there’s no reason to think that won’t continue. If Hall struggles getting off Baker’s jams at the line, it could take away a large part of the Missouri offense’s lethality.
Honorable Mention: T.J. Carter, Memphis
S: Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Jr., 6-0/207, at Florida (Nov. 3)
2017 stats: 58 tackles, 6 TFL, sack, 2 INT, 7 PBU
Career vs. MU (2 games, 1 start): 8 tackles, 2 PBU
Much like Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Trystan Colon-Castillo and Aarion Maxey-Penton before him, Gardner-Johnson enters a new season with a little more attached to his last name. The erstwhile Chauncey Gardner made his name (pun most definitely intended) last year after stepping in for the injured Marcell Harris before last season and never stepping out. He recorded interceptions and 40-plus yard returns in back-to-back weeks against South Carolina and UAB toward the end of the season, and was especially tough in the box during close losses to LSU and South Carolina.
Lock’s kryptonite in his career thus far has been temporary safety blindness: throwing the ball into an area and not seeing the coverage coming down over top. Gardner-Johnson is just the sort of player to punish him for those bad impulses.