Missouri passed their Week 1 test. It wasn’t a hard test, mind you, but it was one the Tigers absolutely needed to ace and they did. Awesome.
Their reward? A Week 2 road tilt at the dark horse XII contender, Kansas State. Bummer.
Here’s the preview I did on Kansas State in the spring. Based off of one game the Wildcats are exactly what I thought they would be even back then: a tremendous ground game with tons of option looks involving QB Adrian Martinez and RB Deuce Vaughn, sub-optimal passing game, and a strangling defense. The athletes they recruit out of high school and JUCO might not have had the greatest pedigree but, much like the Snyder teams of yore, Head Coach Chris Kleiman recruits to fit his scheme and get them to max out the one thing each player is really good at. And it works.
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
As you’ll see in the depth chart comparisons, Kansas State recruits like a really good G5 team, similar to what Gary Pinkel and Barry Odom used to do. There’s a smattering of blue chippers on this roster (mostly added via transfer portal) but they are no where close to a 50% blue chip ratio nor even close to 25%. They’re smart about who they offer, the skills they look for, and the schemes they run and get guys who can fit that exactly. They might not have the stars coming out of high school but both units are deadly effective at what they do. Here’s what Missouri needs to do to win.
Kleiman defenses thrive in wiping out the run and forcing quarterbacks to beat them. The good news is that there aren’t a ton of elite quarterbacks out there so its a strategy that usually goes well in their favor. The bad news is that when there’s an athletic advantage they can fall behind quickly and the well-tuned machine falls apart. We all know the Drinkwitz offense is predicated on establishing the run and building off of looks set up by successful run plays; we also know the offensive line was suspect against Louisiana Tech and, while we saw who the better back was on Thursday, Drink will still most likely juggle guys in that position. Therefore, it’s going to fall to Burden, Lovett, Dove, and the rest of the receiving corps to step up and provide consistent successful plays. The Tigers need to have at least a 44% success rate through the air if the ground game can’t find any footing.
No, I’m not talking about the kind you experience after a midnight El Rancho visit. I’m talking long runs off tackle that Tyler Badie consistently delivered in his All-American season last year. Since there were very few big plays through the air in the ‘21 campaign Badie was able to provide that with his vision and speed. Kansas State’s run defenses tend to be elite but, for whatever reason, they’ve also been susceptible to getting gashed on the ground for large chunks of yards. And if that tendency holds true through this year, that means Nate Peat and friends need to shake off the run stuffs they’ll inevitably experience and pounce on the over-pursuit to tote the rock far distances. If Missouri scores five runs of 12+ yards against the Wildcats then they should be providing an effective offensive attack.
Finish your dang drives
Always, always, always. And even more so when playing a peer program on the road. Missouri averaged a robust 5.8 points over their 9 scoring opportunities and I’ll almost guarantee both of those numbers will be lower this time. Kansas State was 20th in the country last year in points per scoring opportunity with 3.4 per trip and just shut out a decent FCS squad so the Tigers need to do slightly better than that. Let’s shoot for at least 4.2 points per opportunity.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
Outside of dynamic Deuce Vaughn and replacement right guard Hayden Panzer, every starter on the offense has at least four years of collegiate experience, with seven of them being redshirt seniors. Again, the recruiting pedigree coming out of high school ain’t there but they know what they want to do and are really good at doing it. Blue chip transfer Adrian Martinez only attempted 15 passes against South Dakota and certainly didn’t impress in that aspect but if the ‘Cats run the triple option the entire game they could easily hang - or beat - our beloved visiting Tigers. Here’s what Missouri needs to shoot for to stop it.
Throw Them Off Schedule
Just like those Snyder teams you older Missouri fans despised, Kleiman’s offense is predicated on moving at a glacial pace, controlling the clock, running the ball, and limiting mistakes. They’re usually just looking to get their 3-5 yards on the ground every play and are perfectly content to do that 12 times per possession. Get them in passing downs situations, however, and the offense becomes much less lethal. Missouri’s defense needs to force them to counter punch and shoot for a rushing success rate of less than 42%.
This was one of the surprise developments from the defense last week in that Missouri’s starting defenders were attacking, disruptive, and able to generate turnovers and havoc plays. It’s the best antidote to an offense that likes to play keep away and it will be a necessity to repeat that style again this week. A havoc rate of over 40% is a good goal to shoot for.
Three years into his Missouri tenure Eli Drinkwitz is 2-7 in road games and 8-11 against P5 competition. His two road victories were against P5 opponents, true, but they came against a ‘20 South Carolina squad that ranked 84th in SP+ and the ‘21 Vanderbilt team that ranked 122nd in SP+ and is the lowest ranked P5 team of all time. Kansas State is distinctively not that, as they rank 23rd overall in SP+ with the 47th best offense and 13th best defense. Win this one and all of a sudden Missouri’s stretch goals for the year are on the table. Lose this and the season certainly isn’t over but gunning for bowl eligibility would be the main focus. Missouri teams of the past have always let the wind out of momentum sails early in the season and it would be great to avoid that this year. This is a tough assignment but, after watching the Tigers dismantle a clearly overmatched opponent, I’m somehow feeling better about this one. M-I-Z