How important is this game to you? It depends on what you’re wanting out of this season.
Clearly we all want them to win, as that’s the whole point of watching your team play games. But if you’re still dreaming of an 8 or 9-win season, then Missouri absolutely must win this game. However, if you’re more interested in just getting bowl eligibility, then this would be a nice win for insurance against a future stumble later in the schedule but certainly isn’t a must win.
Regardless, this game is a bit of a statement game for the young Drinkwitz regime. Since 2016 Missouri has been 8-17 on the road, good for a 32% winning percentage. Stretch that back to 2015 and it goes to 9-20, a 31% winning percentage. And that’s not just on Odom either; last year Drinkwitz went 1-3 on the road with the lone victory coming on the terrible interception thrown by Luke Doty for a South Carolina squad that had all of its elite players opting-out of the season after their coach was fired halfway through the year.
So it would be nice for the Tigers to get another one of those rare road wins, but doing so against a P5 squad certainly isn’t easy. Since Gary Pinkel took over in 2001, the Tigers have had six true road games against non-conference Power 5 teams. Their record in those six matchups? 3-3. Add in a 6-6 bowl record as well and you get the idea; going up against Power 5 teams out of conference is hardly a guarantee.
So what’s up with the Eagles from Boston College? You might have heard that second-year head coach Jeff Hafley has them cookin’, scraping together a 6-5 COVID season and starting 2021 with a 3-0 record. You also might have heard that they lost their NFL Draft-caliber quarterback, Phil Jurkovec, for the foreseeable future, which sucks for Phil but is great for Miz...oh, wait a second, I’m being told that Missouri is cursed to forever play like crap against backup quarterbacks. Hmm.
For what it’s worth, backup Dennis Grosel and Phil Jurkovec have thrown almost the exact same amount of passes so far this year, and even with small sample sizes, the offense hasn’t really let up all that much. The passing game rocks, the running game is a Top 20 attack, and they have seven receivers that can hurt you in a litany of ways. But while all the advanced stats are opponent adjusted, I still feel like it’s worth pointing out just who those opponents were:
Again, SP+ is an opponent-adjusted metric so the fact that BC has played terrible competition is factored for. But...wow...BC has played terrible competition, noted by their current strength of schedule— 129th. While Missouri’s is barely better at 103rd, all three of BC’s opponents are schools that are based in the notoriously thin recruiting ground of the northeastern United States. Missouri might have SEC lines in name only, but BC hasn’t played a team of Mizzou’s caliber yet and the hope is that the jump in quality - actual or not - is a shock to their system.
Missouri, meanwhile has played a team of Boston College’s caliber. It was also on the road and they lost by a touchdown in the final minute. Maybe you remember that one:
So what does Missouri have to do to climb up to the top sails and snag a win without losing their leg? Here’s how I see it:
When Missouri Has the Ball
Much like Kentucky, Boston College’s roster - particularly the defense - is very old. Lots of seniors, lots of experience, and they added dynamic, 5-star impact corner Jaiden Woodbey from the transfer portal via Florida State last spring. The Eagles are at least competent - and usually downright good - in almost every advanced statistical field out there so this will be a tough test for Bazelak, Badie, and the boys.
Say hello to Deep-Ball Dom
Boston College’s 34th-ranked pass defense thrives off of eliminating the short passes, stop routes, and quick hitters that Missouri utilized heavily while pecking away at the Kentucky defense. While the Eagles play tight coverage and press their receivers off their timing, they are also hellaciously prone to giving up big plays through the air, ranking 108th in passing explosiveness. Connor Bazelak and his receivers had a grand-ol’ time trying to connect on some deeper routes against SEMO and, hopefully, that practice will pay off against a defense that, so far, has welcomed the challenge of letting teams beat them deep (and failing). Look for Bazelak and Dominic Lovett - or whoever - to connect on at least five passes that go for more than 25+ yards; achieve that and the Tigers will have BC’s defense on their heels.
Passing Downs Success Rate
Along those lines, BC’s defense thrives in Standard Downs, ranking an elite 15th in standard downs success rate when it’s 1st down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, and 3rd/4th-and-4 or fewer. Most of that is probably because opposing offensive coordinators believe they can waste a down to try and beat the 30th-best rushing defense. However, when opponents absolutely, positively have to pass the Eagles defense becomes slightly more mortal, ranking 53rd overall, thanks to the aforementioned propensity to getting burned on explosive pass plays. It’s going to be uncomfortable if this game goes as scripted and the Tigers continuously get put in passing downs situations, but if they can maintain at least a 30% success rate in those situations they should be able to hang around long enough to win.
Finish your dang drives
Same as it’s always been. BC’s defense ranks a nasty 21st in the nation in points per opportunity scored, coming in at 2.8 points per opportunity. Mizzou’s offense is currently average 5.2 points per opportunity (thanks, SEMO!). Split the middle and you get 4 points per opportunity; I’ll take that.
When Boston College Has the Ball
Bad news: Boston College’s offense is good at everything. While Jurkovec and the 18th-ranked passing game gets most of the acclaim, the Eagles are also a Top 20 rushing team as well. There are a few things that their middle-of-the-pack in - explosive plays on standard downs, running on passing downs, stuff rate - but those are situational weaknesses that are covered by, well, everything else that they do. This offensive line is certainly not of the athletic caliber that Kentucky’s was but is certainly just as good. Here are the few cracks that Missouri’s defense needs to jackhammer.
Make ‘em throw
Granted, I’m not sure if the 2021 Missouri defense can convince anyone to throw on them but it’s certainly a goal to shoot for. Missouri’s run defense is currently 118th in the country while their pass defense ranks 36th. The Tigers outright suck on standard downs (108th) and passing downs (107th) but the latter is because they give up 3.93 yards on the ground before contact in passing down situations. Everything revolves around them being bad against the run, but you knew that. For all of its passing acumen, the Eagles offense is painfully predictable: run on standard downs (75.8% of the time!), throw on passing downs (78.4% of the time!). The BC passing game is also overly reliant on explosive plays (4th in the country!) while Missouri’s secondary has done a good job of mitigating big pass plays. So if Missouri can play the odds and get aggressive against the run on standard downs - blitz both linebackers, a corner, a safety, whatever - they can hopefully feast in passing downs situations. Central Michigan had a 48% rushing success rate, Kentucky was at 57.8%, and SEMO was at 57.6%; if Missouri can hold BC to at least a 42% success rate on the ground it would be a.) a heroic feat yet to be seen in 2021, and b.) a good indicator that the Missouri defense is dictating the game.
Small sample size caveat and all yes...but with a quarter of the season in the books here’s how many times Boston College quarterbacks have been sacked: zero. And, over their 61 passing attempts, Eagle quarterbacks have seen a blitz 14 times, with actual pressure reaching them 11 times. Meanwhile, Mizzou has the 8th-highest blitz rate against the pass in the country and has the 2nd-best pressure rate in the country at 48.5%. What do you think dear, sweet Dennis Grosel is going to do when he see the Viking Warrior Blaze Alldredge crashing down into his grill? How will the Eagle offensive line - admittedly, ferociously stout so far - react to the zone blitzes Steve Wilks can dial up? The answer is, currently, unknown but could help keep BC on their heels long enough for Missouri to find a lead. If Missouri can manage a 25% havoc rate or better I’d imagine that they’ll have BC’s offense rattled.
This will be another tight one, folks. BC has aced every test so far but hasn’t seen a team like Missouri yet. Our Tigers might not be the most SEC team out there but they are an SEC team that can conceivably hang in a shoot out. Missouri’s defense doesn’t need to stop BC’s offense outright; in fact, nabbing a few turnovers and stealing some possessions for the Missouri offense to capitalize on can shift the game to a point where the Eagles are looking to throw it a little more and play into Missouri’s strength. Granted, why any team would ever throw against this defense is beyond me, so we’ll see if the run defense found anything in the SEMO scrimmage.
I’m certainly not predicting a win but I do anticipate a close game. Drinkwitz lost his first close game against Kentucky, here’s hoping he can help the Tigers finish strong out east.