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PREGAMIN MISSISSIPPI STATE

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WHO’S READY FOR AN AIR RAID?!

Josh Matejka

Keep Calm and Wear a Mask

All Aboard the Hype Train!

No traditional hype video this week, so enjoy this look at Eli Drinkwitz calling members of #NewZou21 and putting their placards on the big board.

So Fresh and So Clean, Clean

Well, well, well, what do we have here? A little mystery on our hands?

Aside from the Top Chef-inspired video, this is the coolest uniform reveal Mizzou has had all season. I love a good behind-the-scenes joint, and the details their media team captured here are really fun. The helmet vault with the spinning handle is [chef’s kiss.]

As for the uniforms, it looks like all-white is the choice. They’re also making a switch back to the oval tiger, which is a much better fit on the white lids than the black. I was personally hoping for the retro Tiger look, but I think anything looks good in the all-whites, so you’ll hear no complaints fro me.

What the “Experts” are Saying

Eli Drinkwitz didn’t mince words after the Georgia loss, saying Missouri’s roster needed better talent to compete with elite programs like Georgia. Well, Drinkwitz just locked up most of his first full recruiting class. Is his work on that arena good enough to have Missouri competing with the big dogs down the road?

Josh Matejka, Deputy Manager: Yes, so far. Eli Drinkwitz has already proven he’s a step ahead of any recruiters Missouri has had in a long time. The issue is, can he keep doing it? And could he get even better?

It’s a lot of fun to realize that Drinkwitz only took one year to deliver the best class Missouri has seen in the 21st century. It’s less fun when you realize Missouri is still floating around 8th or 9th in conference rankings. Of course, Drinkwitz has already proven he can get good results out of a depleted roster — Missouri is currently 73rd in SP+, but owns a 5-4 record. But the rest of the conference isn’t going to stand pat and let Drinkwitz overtake them. Tennessee will eventually try to find another head coach that doesn’t underachieve. Georgia and Florida will continue recruiting at borderline Top 5 levels. South Carolina won’t rank last in the conference every year. In order to put an SEC Championship caliber team on the field, Drinkwitz will have to prove that the class of 2021 was no fluke and maybe just the beginning.

Nate Edwards, Football Editor: Over one year? Yes. The issue is that he needs to pull of a Top 20 class next year. And the year after that. And the year after that. And basically every year that’s he’s here. The SEC is the most elite recruiting conference and while, yes, you can occasionally rise up and challenge for a division when a blue blood slips, the best way to do that while also fielding a Top 20 talented team. Missouri has been the worst recruiting team in the SEC over the past five years so it’ll take a while to get going but, so far, Drink has shown that he has the mentality and approach to have elite recruiting classes at Missouri...something I never imagined could happen here.

Once more, Missouri will play in a game that pits two first-year SEC coaches against each other. Removing Drinkwitz from the equation, how would you rank the other newbies based on the job they’ve done so far?

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: I wrote about this a little bit when I evaluated the SEC Coach of the Year chances — which I have to believe Eli Drinkwitz is the runaway favorite for now. But based on the body of work, here’s where I think they stand:

1. Sam Pittman. Arkansas was hot, wet garbage under Chad Morris. Sam Pittman arrived, brought Barry Odom with him and has turned what is essentially the same team into a middle-of-the-pack SEC squad. Yes, they’re going to finish 3-7, but they play in the SEC West and have been largely competitive with everyone they’ve faced. The results aren’t where they’d like, but Arky is far better off now than they were a year ago.

2. Lane Kiffin. Ole Miss ranks the highest of all these teams in SP+, but I still think it has to be acknowledged — the Rebels didn’t get much better than they already were. Sure, they have a really fun offense now, but their defense is putrid. They’re recruiting well, so Kiffin could be higher on this list in the future. But you don’t get credit for doing exactly what your predecessor did. Sorry, Lane.

3. Mike Leach. After hanging 44 points on LSU in the season opener, the Air Raid Bulldogs have yet to top 24 points in a game this season. Their 2021 recruiting class currently ranks 34th nationally and 11th in the SEC. All in all, not a great start for the pirate in Starkville.

Nate Edwards: Removing Drinkwitz here’s how I’d rank the SEC newbies:

  1. Sam Pittman. If it wasn’t for Vanderbilt, Arkansas would have been the absolute worst Power 5 team in all of college football last year. Sam Pittman came in, made some dynamite coordinator hires, and took Chad Morris’ team - a team that never won an SEC game - and immediately made them competitive in the SEC West. The record doesn’t show - because, again, they’re in the West - but the fact that this Arkansas team is largely the same team that looked absolutely helpless in 2019 speaks volumes to the work Pittman and his staff have done so far.
  2. Lane Kiffin. Lane took over an Ole Miss team that was ok on offense and pretty good on defense and made them elite on offense and a dumpster fire on defense. His recruiting has been lackluster until the past five days and he’s gone 4-4 this year. Granted, Ole Miss won 4 game total in a 12-game season last year so that is, technically, an improvement. But it just seems like Kiffin pushed each unit to the extreme and done nothing to make them better or worse.
  3. Mike Leach. Leach teams take a while to get going and his Mississippi State squad is no different. They’re still super dangerous, mind you, but the fact that the money at Starkville chased off Joe Moorhead was probably a little too trigger happy of a move and State has regressed in every unit and in the W-L record.

Mizzou is gearing up to face a Mike Leach offense which means they’ll see one thing and one thing only all day — footballs flying through the air. Does Missouri’s paper-thin defense and inconsistent offense have what it takes to win an Air Raid game in Starkville?

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Despite its high-flying reputation, Mississippi State has actually been better on defense than offense in 2020, ranking 61st the latter and 91st in the former. That’ll be nice for the Tigers, who could use a pick-me-up after the Georgia defense swallowed them whole last week.

On defense, I can’t confidently say if we know what’s coming. Mike Leach obviously is a pass-first-pass-only-run-never type of coach, and I believe Ryan Walters is a good enough defensive coordinator to scheme for that. That also takes some of the pressure off of Missouri’s defensive front, which can get to the QB but cannot stop the run. Get them on a one-track mind (“hit the guy with the ball”) and I think they’ll play a little lighter.

But how will the secondary respond? As stated in the question, the secondary is paper-thin, and depth will be a question since the Bulldogs will do everything they can to have Mizzou’s safeties and cornerbacks running around all day. Mizzou needs to do everything it can to attack Will Rogers and force him into some bad throws and the guys in coverage a break.

Nate Edwards: Missouri is fielding a ton of freshmen in the secondary for this game so that’s a huge red flag. Luckily, SEC defenses have had a lot of success against Leach by simply dropping 8 guys into coverage and making Will Rogers beat them. Granted, he’s been doing that more frequently as the year goes on - especially against Georgia - so it’s not as simple as “do this and win 100% of the time”. I think the Tigers will get a few stops, yes, but all State needs is a few big plays to break, and they’ll be hanging around and in prime position to win. And if Missouri’s offense falls into a funk it could be a long, stressful day ahead.

PICK ‘EM! Missouri is a one-point favorite as of the time this question was written, so we’re essentially looking at a toss-up. Do the Tigers continue their streak of winning (presumably) close games?

NCAA Football: Georgia at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Matejka: Despite their difference in record, Mizzou and Mississippi State are far more evenly matched than it may appear at first glance. The Tigers are probably slightly more talented, but are playing on the road where they’ve struggled. In the end, this probably comes down to which team gets up to play from the start.

If you look at it that way, it’s fairly clear Missouri has more to play for at the moment. The Tigers could secure an over .500 record in Eli Drinkwitz’s first season and are playing for bowl positioning. The difference between 6-4 and 5-5 feels big when you take these things into consideration. Meanwhile, Mike Leach’s team is committed to installing his system, no matter how many problems it may cause at the moment. By all those measurements, Missouri should want this game more. If they play like it, they’ll come out on top. I can’t see it being anything but close, though, so let’s say the Tigers win by a touchdown.

Nate Edwards: Missouri loses big and wins close — yes, Vanderbilt, I see you, put your hand down — and this game definitely falls into the, “win close,” category. Drinkwitz has been incredibly lucky in one-score games this year — 3-0 to be exact — but that doesn’t mean that he’ll always win close games. Winning close games takes good game management, clutch quarterback play, and a reliable special teams unit. I think most Missouri fans will argue that the Tigers have all three of those but, again, expecting consistency at the collegiate level is a fallacy. Regardless, I do think this game comes down to the wire and Missouri wins it off the foot of our big beautiful Thiccer... but it’s going to be a rollercoaster of frustration and anguish come Saturday.