Each game has its certain matchups within the game that are oh so very important to the outcome. Matchups so important that they can be the difference in a win and a loss. For every game this season, I’ll be taking a look at the three most important matchups regarding an individual or even an entire position group.
1st Down: Mizzou Left Tackles vs Ali Gaye
Like last week, the Tackles are going to have their hands full this week. There was a bit of shuffling as the starter from week one as Zeke Powell sat out due to a foot injury. That gave redshirt sophomore, Bobby Lawrence, the start at tackle. Powell’s struggles have been chronicled, but Lawrence filled in and had a very uneven performance. According to PFF College, he actually posted the best run blocking grade of all the starters last week (88.4), but his pass blocking is where he struggled. He finished with the worst pass blocking grade of all the starters (35.9). That is two consecutive weeks where the pass blocking grade of the starting left tackle has graded out in the thirties. It absolutely has to be cleaned up, no matter the starter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any easier on Saturday when Ali Gaye and the LSU Tigers come to Columbia.
Gaye already has three tackles for loss, a sack, and three batted balls to his credit, and to be honest, I’d argue that after watching some LSU film, he’s been way more impactful than even those numbers indicate. Another very athletic defensive end who does a really good job of collapsing the pocket and forcing the QB to at the least step up in the pocket. He’s going to require constant attention. Expect to see tight ends and running backs used to chip him off the edge often.
Gaye could be a huge problem for the Missouri offense if either of the tackles on Connor Bazelak’s blind side can’t step up and neutralize him.
2nd Down: LSU Running backs vs Mizzou Defense
Last week we saw the Tennessee Volunteers gash Missouri to a tune of 236 yards rushing. One thing I’m looking forward to finding out is if that itself was an aberration, or a problem that is going to be a reoccurring theme this season. I think the pieces are there for this Missouri defense to thrive against the run, but last week they certainly did not, and now this week they have what could be an even more naturally talented running back group then they say last week.
LSU has two running backs in John Emery Jr, and Tyrion Davis-Price that can be home run hitters if given the opportunity. I expect LSU to test the Missouri defensive line by getting them involved early and establishing a run game. If Missouri wants any chance at the upset, one of the big improvements is going to have to come against the run. If they can’t get off blocks, fill holes correctly, and be disciplined, it’ll be a very long day.
3rd Down: Connor Bazelak vs Derek Stingley, Jr.
Earlier this week, in my newest edition of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, I finished by pounding my proverbial fist on the proverbial table for Connor Bazelak to be named the starter this week against LSU. Then, on Tuesday afternoon, Coach Drinkwitz did exactly that.
That was the easy part. Now he’s got to back it up by being a competent starting quarterback in the SEC, which in every week there is at least one future draft pick on the opposing defense. There is probably more than just one future draft pick on this LSU defense, but Stingley, Jr is without a doubt the best one.
The number one cornerback in the country is going to be on the field, and Bazelak is going to have to be aware of him all afternoon long. He will probably be matched up on the outside, which could prove to be a problem. If you listened to the most recent episode of Before The Box Score, you would’ve heard our very own BK drop a very interesting factoid about Bazelak, in that he has primarily thrown on the outside of the numbers. It seems like something is going to have to give here.
In all likelihood, Missouri will probably try and avoid Stingley whenever possible, but this is a really good test for Bazelak as he deals with a great player taking away what his normal instinct and throws may be. How is he going to react if his first read is blanketed by Stingley? Can he continue to process the field? Can he adjust to what will be a smaller field for him to read? All questions to be at least partially answered this week.
Bazelak has the arm talent and ability to do some nice things this week, but he better watch out for Derek Stingley.