In 2019 Missouri opened with a road trip to Laramie, Wyoming and I cautioned (in my first Rock M piece) that playing a team that’s really good at utilizing underdog tactics could make for a dreadful first game. It did.
In the COVID-induced all-SEC schedule of 2020 Missouri, opened against Alabama and...well, what they heck are you going to learn about your team while playing Alabama?
The 2021 opener featured a feisty Central Michigan squad who I knew could pose enough of a threat to keep pace with a young, mostly bad Tiger team.
It’s 2022. I believe it’s time for Missouri to do more than eke out a win over it’s first opponent of the year.
Here’s the preview I did on the Bulldogs in April. There’s been some personnel changes, sure, but three things have stayed the same:
- They are coached by a brand new staff and a guy who has never been a head coach before.
- Most of last year’s offensive starters transferred away and their projected starters on defense transferred in (and, in a quirk, most were on Illinois’ roster).
- Their air-raid-style offense will be helmed by a former walk-on quarterback who couldn’t see the field at Georgia or TCU and has attempted 48 passes in his five-year career.
Let’s take a look at the key factors that I think Missouri needs to achieve to win this game.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Missouri is clearly the more talented team on paper in this matchup but it should also be the more talented team on the field as well. If this Missouri team is truly as talented as we, the fanbase, believe - and the coaches have hinted at this in their public comments as well - then the Tigers should absolutely snuff out this team in the first 20ish minutes. Here are the three keys to doing that.
Maintain ground efficiency
Most offenses claim to be predicated on the run game but the Drinkwitz offense is certainly true to that. The Missouri offense of the past two years has been blessed with two NFL-caliber running backs that were more than ready to shoulder the load and be the sole scoring weapon. It is unclear if a combination of Nate Peat/Elijah Young/Cody Schrader/et al are able to be “that guy” this year but, frankly, they shouldn’t need to be. As long as the combined rushing effort maintains a success rate of 45% at the end of the game they are replicating Tyler Badie’s efficiency of last year and are in good shape.
Show off those super cool receivers
Eli Drinkwitz went on the radio in St. Louis on Friday and said that he believes this wide receiving corps can reliably go six deep. Ok! Prove it! The Drinkwitz offense has seemed awfully boring the past two years because the passing game designs are overly reliant on athletic dudes turning short passes into big plays with yards after the catch and...that has yet to happen. In addition, the staff seem to only trust three receivers at a time, last year being overly reliant on Keke Chism, Tauskie Dove, and Barrett Banister, two of whom are still on the roster. Missouri hasn’t had a super-athletic kind of receiver that can YAC their way to success but they certainly do now. Look to the explosive passing plays in this game: the Tiger offense should be able to notch at least six passing plays over 16 yards against this defense.
Finish your dang drives
You all remember this old chestnut. Thanks to - or because of - Missouri’s tremendous Thiccer Kicker reliability and an excellent running back, Drinkwitz has a tendency of getting conservative in scoring opportunities and taking the easy 3 points. This has resulted in the Tigers averaging the exact same points per scoring opportunity over the past two year: 4.14 (ranking 70th in both years); for context, Coastal Carolina was the #1 team in points per scoring opportunity last year with 5.4. With a quarterback willing and able to move, a receiving corps that should be much more dynamic than years past, and (most likely) several running backs capable of seeing the field, the offense should be much more aggressive this year. And against the Louisiana Tech defense they should be able to feast. I expect at least 5 points per scoring opportunity on Thursday.
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
There is absolutely a way this Bulldog offense can make the Missouri defense a living hell. Sonny Cumbie is an air-raid disciple and by now you should know what that looks like: lots of tempo, wider splits from the offensive line, quick passes to the flat or the sideline, and do all of that 60 times per game. It’s the passing version of the triple option where it’s simple to learn, simple to execute, and deadly effective at limiting athletic disparities between overmatched teams. Its easy to see a scenario where the young Tiger cornerbacks get burned several times or the transfers on the line not generating pressure which gives LaTech some confidence. So here’s what a successful defensive effort looks like.
Limit explosive plays
Missouri’s secondary wasn’t the best at limiting efficiency passing plays last year (89th) but even worse at limiting explosive passing plays (108th) and that was with two corners that are now in the NFL. The Bulldogs will get their completions no matter what the defense does but the key is to limit the explosive plays. If the Tigers keep the Bulldogs under 4 explosive plays through the air then things should be going well.
Dominate on Standard Downs
As a reminder, a standard down is defined as any 1st-down, 2nd-and-7 or fewer, 3rd-and-4 or fewer, and 4th-and-4 or fewer. They are, essentially, scenarios in which the offense has an advantage because they can run anything and probably convert the down. As you can imagine, Missouri was awful in standard downs situations last year (99th) and that’s why there’s six transfers in the mix on the defensive line. Missouri needs this line to be functional at a minimum and execute much better on standard downs than they did last year. If the Tigers can keep the Bulldog standard down success rate under 40% then they’ll be in a situation to dominate.
At the risk of breaking character and jinxing the hell out of our favorite football team...I think Missouri is going to beat the piss out of Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have been bad for quite some time, lost a lot in the portal, will be running new schemes on both sides of the ball and doing so under a new coaching staff with a head coach who’s never been anything but a coordinator. Missouri has better athletes, a more experienced and established staff, and they’re playing at home with a crowd that should be absolutely juiced for this game. If this is a struggle you will be justified in being concerned...but crazy things happen in college football constantly.
Regardless, football will be back in Columbia, MO and that is always a good thing. M-I-Z.