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Opponent Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Another super tricky opponent for Eli Drinkwitz’s second bowl game as Missouri head coach. Should be fun!

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

After 28 days of zero Missouri football games, the Tigers will take the field in Tampa, FL to play Wake Forest in the Gasparilla Bowl. CAN YOU FEEL THE EXCITEMENT?

I took a look at Wake Forest’s football program here and looked at their bowl performances under Dave Clawson here. Wake recruits like a mid-tier G5 team but plays like a middle-to-upper tier P5 team, consistently scaring the hell out of its ACC brethren and bowl opponents. With three starters out, Mizzou’s vaunted defense will get a tough test from the 8th-best offense in the country while the Tiger’s lackluster offense will get a chance to look brilliant against one of the 20 worst defenses in the country. Could be super pointsy, could be fun!

So let’s take a look at the matchups and the keys to a Mizzou win:

When Missouri Has the Ball

Missouri’s Offense vs. Wake Forest’s Defense

Good news: this will be the worst SP+ defense Missouri has faced since Vanderbilt. The bad news: Missouri managed to score only 17 points against that Vandy defense. Of course, this Wake defense has been consistently bad for the entire year while the Vanderbilt defense actually improved as the year went on. This is another scenario where the opponent will let you do almost anything you want to do while, conversely, Mizzou’s offense has a habit of making bad defenses look awesome. Here are the goals the offense needs to hit to make sure it’s the former scenario rather than the latter.

Explosive Plays

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou is overly reliant on big plays and Wake’s defense is happy to give them up. Whether it be on the ground (66th) or the air (91st), the Deac’s defense against explosive plays sits at 106th overall, while Mizzou boasts the 50th best explosive offense in the country. Cody and Luther need to get that oxygen ready because they need to break some big plays on these dudes consistently. Nine explosive plays would be a good indicator of a healthy Mizzou offense.

Passing Downs Magic

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Missouri William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

Despite its conservative nature, Mizzou’s offense is a Top 40 offense in passing downs success rate, mostly thanks to Brady Cook running around and making things happen in obvious passing situations. Wake Forest is an institution of learned doctors, savvy businessmen, and smart football coaches so they’ll know that tendency exists and work to erase it. Whether they can - and whether some other guys step up - will be key in determining of the Tigers can actually move the ball down field or helplessly spin its tires. A 35% success rate on passing downs is a good goal to hit here.

Finish your dang drives

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Wake Forest’s defense is bad at many things but the one thing they are decent at is limiting touchdowns once offenses get into the red zone. Uh oh. Mizzou is still 77th in points per scoring opportunity and 84th in getting touchdowns once in the red zone. Wake’s offense is going to happily move the ball a lot so it’ll be key to capitalize on opportunities and keep up in a potential shoot-out. Shoot for at least 7 scoring opportunities and at least 5 points per opportunity.

When Wake Forest Has the Ball

Missouri’s Defense vs. Wake Forest’s Offense

Say hello to the 8th-best offense in the country! Wake has a funky offense that utilizes odd-ball read-options and quick hitting passes, thriving on matriculating down the field on easy, successful plays. It’s a group of overlooked high school players who are maxed out in a specialized system that utilizes their exact talents and confuses defenses with the way the run their plays. Mizzou will have to be smart and aggressive to keep the Deacs in check but it absolutely can be done.

Clog Up the Pass

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Is Wake Forest a Top 10 passing team? Yes, yes they are. Is Mizzou a Top 20 passing defense? Yes, yes they are. Even with being down Martez Manuel, this secondary should be good enough to eliminate the quick stuff Wake relies upon in the passing game. And that, right there, is a big thing to call attention to: Wake Forest is not an explosive offense. Ranking 65th through the air and 129th on the ground, the Demon Deacons are not big play maestros which plays into Mizzou’s hands perfectly. Wake likes to run but they aren’t very good at it; keep the passing success rate at 42% or lower and the Tigers will be operating at a massive advantage.


Syndication: The Knoxville News-Sentinel Saul Young/News Sentinel / USA TODAY NETWORK

Here’s the other aspect that plays perfectly into Mizzou’s strengths and weaknesses: Wake gives up a lot of havoc plays, ranking 73rd in the country. The offensive line is ok at keeping defenders out of the backfield during the run but give up way too many pressures and sacks. It’s a shame that Isaiah McGuire and D.J. Coleman will be missing this game because they could have had an absolute party. Alas, Trajan Jeffcoat, Ty’Ron Hopper, and all their friends will have to create that havoc instead and should aim to hit their golden rule havoc rate of at least 19%.


Mizzou’s offense is facing a defense that gives up the one thing the Tigers need to move the ball, and Mizzou’s defense is facing an offense that can’t utilize their kryptonite. This is why I’m feeling good about this game don’t like it. Feeling confident about a Mizzou bowl game? Impossible! Absurd! We’ll see if season trends hold true in this matchup and, if they do, expect a win for the good guys. If the missing pieces and time off throw those trends out of whack, however, it’s anyone’s game to claim.