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PREGAMIN’ LSU

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THAR SHE BLOWS! STORMY SEAS HAVE FORCED ALL THE TIGERS INTO COLUMBIA FOR A MATINEE! SO WE’RE PREGAMIN’ EARLY THIS WEEK

Keep Calm, and Wear a Mask!

All Aboard the Hype Train!

So we’re kind of doing a back-track on over-produced highlights, moving to a more slowed-down access feel to game day. I like it.

So Fresh and So Clean, Clean

Mizzou’s costumes have improved every week. The white lid is easily the best component the jersey department (yeah, that’s an official thing I just decided) has to work with. Is it better with the throwback Tiger logo? Sure, but the modern one is still excellent on that icy helmet. Couple it with the white pant and the classic black jersey and you’ve got yourself a winning combination. If they’re going to start 0-3, they’ll look damn good doing it!

What the “Experts” are Saying

Mizzou is now 0-2, like many of us suspected they would be at the start of the season. But it’s hard not to be frustrated about how that second loss came to be. Did the loss to Tennessee change your perspective on the season as a whole, or are you still feeling at ease?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: I say this with kindness in my heart: if you’re feeling perturbed or anxious about the state of Mizzou Football under Eli Drinkwitz at this moment, you might need to have your head examined.

If you’ve paid any attention to us at Rock M — or really any sane outlet covering college football — you’ll know that this season is basically a free pass. Between COVID and a lack of eligibility guidelines, there’s just no way for a coach to be 100 percent sure about who is playing in any given week. Add to that the fact that Drinkwitz is in a new place with new players who didn’t get a ton of reps in over the summer... oh, AND he’s installing a new offense. In a normal year, we wouldn’t think it wise to get up in arms about a coach’s first two games at a new job, so why start now?

Brandon Kiley, Lead Football Writer: I’ve changed my tune on that game a bit, because I think our friend Nate Edwards has changed my perspective on the season. This is all about showing signs of progress. It’s a pandemic season with the toughest schedule Mizzou’s played in quite some time. The expectations should be low. That doesn’t mean the loss wasn’t frustrating — it was — but it did come with a massive silver lining. Mizzou appears to have something in Connor Bazelak.

Let’s not understate what that could mean for 2020 and beyond. If what we saw from Bazelak was real, he very well may be the starter moving forward. This is going to be a big game for him to prove that it wasn’t a one game flash in the pan. The competition is going to take yet another step up. I can’t wait to see what he has to offer.

Mizzou got one of the toughest draws of the redrawn SEC slate, but the three-game slog will end this weekend. In your opinion, will this opening three-game stretch against three of the best teams in the country help or hurt Missouri in the long run?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Josh Matejka: In theory, this is a question of relativity. Compared to what their schedule would have been, there’s certainly a case to be made that playing a softer schedule would’ve eased the transition into Drinkwitz’s system.

But you also have to consider that swords are forged in the hottest fires. If you look at some of the players getting reps right now, you can see opportunities for growth. And sometimes in football, taking licks is necessary for said growth. Would guys like Ennis Rakestraw, Ishmael Burdine, Jalen Knox and Connor Bazelak look better against Arkansas State than Alabama? Of course. But they’re also more prepared for the heart of an SEC schedule now than they ever have been in their entire lives.

Brandon Kiley: It’s hard to say it helps them. Despite the final score, they were never a real threat to Alabama, and it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which they’re a significant threat to LSU on Saturday. But I also don’t necessarily think it’s been particularly harmful. People didn’t expect Mizzou to beat Alabama or LSU, so the way they lose is more important than the fact that they lost.

The loss against Alabama had enough to leave fans somewhat optimistic. Hopefully the same is true against LSU. Has it helped them? No. Not really. But I don’t think it’s actively hurting their season goals, either.

LSU isn’t nearly as dangerous as they were last year, but they’re clearly no slouch. What does a bounce back performance look like for the Tigers as they head to Baton Rouge wait for Baton Rouge to head to them?

NCAA Football: Louisiana State at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: I’m cribbing from Nate Edwards in last week’s After the Box Score, but getting in the end zone a few times is probably priority number one. Bazelak was able to get some sustained drives in, but failed to capitalize in enemy territory several times. Seeing the freshman get into the red zone and find Keke Chism for a score would probably have us all breathing a huge sigh of relief.

On defense, it would also be nice to see some standout performances from players not named, “Bolton, Nick.” Several guys have been on the cusp of standing out — Trajan Jeffcoat, Devin Nicholson, Martez Manuel — but someone needs to step up and have a game. Maybe a few sacks and a forced fumble from a lineman? Maybe a pick and a notable PBU from the secondary? Multiple TFLs from a linebacker? The Missouri defense has been the big disappointment on the year so far, and they need some sort of positive momentum outside of their All-American leader.

Brandon Kiley: Keep this game competitive going into the fourth quarter. To me, that means keeping the score within 10 points going into the fourth quarter. But more importantly, I want to see the offense get some sort of rhythm against the LSU defense.

LSU gave up 44 points to the Mississippi State offense in week one. I understand the Tigers were without their best cornerback in that game, but that shouldn’t magically get better overnight. I tend to believe Vanderbilt’s 7-point performance last week told us more about Vandy than it did about LSU. So let’s see what Missouri’s offense can do. If they play well and LSU fails to cover the 14-point spread, that would be enough for me to come away feeling pretty good moving forward.

PICK ‘EM. The Tigers are 1-1 against the spread this year and are facing a borderline three-score line against LSU. Can the Tigers get back to their covering ways?

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

Josh Matejka: After some internal debate, I’m changing my mind on this. Initially, I had Missouri covering a -20.5 spread due to the unexpected travel to Columbia for LSU. But things have changed. Not only has the line moved to 14 points as of Friday morning, but Eli Drinkwitz has said, in not as clear terms, that Mizzou will be without some key contributors on Saturday. No matter how well Missouri plays, their talent deficiency against a team like LSU cannot overcome the absence of big players. Give me LSU covering with the Tigers battling another mini-outbreak.

Brandon Kiley: This line moved in a big way throughout the week. Missouri opened as a 18-point underdog. That moved to as much as a 20.5-point underdog at some books early in the week. It’s now down to a 14-point spread at most sportsbooks in Vegas. I’ll take LSU minus the points, especially with the late news that the Columbia Tigers are expected to be without a half-dozen players due to a positive COVID-19 test.