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What does Mizzou have to accomplish to keep its bowl game aspirations alive on Saturday?

With five games left in the season, winning in the “Other Columbia” could pay dividends for a chance to go bowling.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Missouri
Eli Drinkwitz leaves the field after Missouri’s win against Vanderbilt.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

After narrowly squeaking out a win against Vanderbilt at home, Missouri sets its sights on newly ranked South Carolina (no. 25 in the AP poll), after upsetting Texas A&M at home. Missouri sits at 3-4 and with five games left on the schedule, and with three needing to be won, each game grows in importance.

Sure, this is not technically a must-win game, but doing so would bring two things: First, it would finally give Drinkwitz a notable road win, something he’s been in search of for quite some time. Second, it would obviously increase the chances of going to a bowl game, which is the ultimate goal of this season. We know Missouri will most likely not win out and end up in the top 25. And yes, it’s hard to call Missouri a good football team at the moment. But at the end of the day, if Missouri can play in a meaningful postseason game, that’s what matters.

So, how can Missouri knock off a solid top-25 team on the road? Here are three things it must do to produce a winning streak.

1. Defense continues exemplary performance: It is no secret whatsoever. If the Missouri Tigers want to win games this season, it’s going to have to be on the back of its extraordinary defense, led by Blake Baker. The defense, strangely enough, has been far and away the shining light for this team, despite being its worst attribute last season. The Tiger secondary has been tremendous this season, as guys like Kris-Abrams-Draine and Ennis Rakestraw, Jr (finally healthy after a season-ending knee injury in 2021) have held their own. The Tigers are allowing 198 YPG through the air, good for fifth in the SEC. On the ground, the Tigers are holding their opponents to 130 YPG, also landing them fifth in the conference. This adds up to 330 total YPG, effectively putting Missouri at fourth in the SEC and 18th nationally. This is a sizeable jump in comparison to last season, where the Tigers allowed 439 YPG, shoving them into the 104th spot in the country. Blake Baker has done a tremendous job here and the stats support it.

The Missouri defense has been led by Florida transfer Ty’Ron Hopper, who currently ranks second amongst all SEC defensive players in solo tackles with 37. Hopper has also contributed an interception and two sacks to go along with it. Also of note is junior safety, Jaylon Carlies. Each season, Carlies has seen his role increase as well as his overall importance to the team. In 2022, Carlies is tied for fifth amongst SEC defenders in solo tackles with 32. Carlies has also snagged two interceptions and immersed himself as an enforcer in the back end of the secondary. If Missouri wants to win in a tough environment this weekend, it’ll have to be led by its tough defense, with Hopper and Carlies leading the charge.

2. Establish a competent ground attack: Let’s call it for what it is: The Missouri passing attack leaves much to be desired. It’s flat out mediocre at best. Currently, Missouri ranks 101st out of 131 FBS teams in passing yards per game, with 194. Brady Cook also plays behind a pitiful offensive line, one that allows him to get sacked 2.5 times per game, ranking 85th in the country. With that being said, the Tigers’ best opportunity for garnering any type of offensive success would be potent in the rushing attack. Missouri currently averages 150 YPG on the ground, which puts them at 9th in the conference. Nathaniel Peat has been Missouri’s most effective ball carrier, amassing 387 yards on 87 carries. D-II Truman State transfer Cody Schrader has also chipped in, adding 363 yards, despite having 19 fewer carries. The Tigers have not been great on the ground, due to the unfortunate fact that the offensive line has constantly allowed negative plays. If the line can put together a serviceable performance, Missouri may just have a chance.

3. Play clean football: I’ll keep this last point short and sweet because it’s self-explanatory. Limit the turnovers and limit the penalties. Missouri is penalized 6.7 times per game, which ranks them 78th in the country. In terms of penalty yardage, Missouri averages 53.7ypg, which is good for 62nd in the country. Every game Missouri plays has the potential to be close due to its excellent defense. To win close games, you have to play clean and not shoot yourselves in the foot.