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The matchups that will determine Missouri vs. Ohio State

The Tigers are set for a date with the Buckeyes in the Cotton Bowl. Here’s the key battles that will determine who will come out on top.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

The house that Jerry Jones built will be the scene for the conclusion of Missouri’s 2023 football season.

Following a widely entertaining 10-2 campaign in which these Tigers delivered countless memorable moments, highlight-real plays and statement wins, they now find themselves in the Cotton Bowl taking on No. 7 Ohio State (11-1).

The Buckeyes feature a roster chock-full of NFL talent and were seven points away from being the No. 1 overall team in the College Football Playoff. While the OSU offense was more pedestrian than it had been in year’s past, the defense has been much improved in allowing 11.0 PPG (2nd in the nation). The Buckeyes will be without a handful of key players in this one (Kyle McCord, Julian Fleming, Chip Trayanum to name a few), but they still present a tough challenge.

Against a similarly constructed team, Mizzou managed to hold its own in a 30-21 loss to Georgia. This will be yet another measuring stick of how close the Tigers are to being among the nation’s elite, and a few key individual matchups will likely determine the outcome of this game.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Schrader vs. Tommy Eichenberg

Cody Schrader 2023 Stats: 247 carries, 1,499 yards, 6.1 YPC, 13 TDs, 191 receiving yards

Notable PFF Stat: 39% of Schrader’s runs go for 15+ yards.

Tommy Eichenberg 2023 Stats: 82 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 forced fumble

Notable PFF Stat: Misses 7.4% of tackles (38th in the nation among LBs).

When these two meet in the hole on Dec. 29, it will be with violent intentions.

Schrader’s story has been well-documented up to this point, as is his running style. He won’t back down from anybody, will always fall forward and has great vision that helps him immensely in the Tigers’ stretch zone running scheme. And, of course, when Schrader finds that alley to run through, he hits it with real force.

Standing in his way will be the Big Ten Linebacker of the Year, Tommy Eichenberg. The first Buckeye to ever win that award, Eichenberg has actually seen a decrease in production following his phenomenal 120 tackle, 12.0 TFL season in ‘22. Still, the graduate student from Cleveland has seen it all at the collegiate level and has been a leader of this defense as a two-time captain. It’s tough to make Eichenberg miss in the open field, and he’s more than likely going to be named to yet another All-Big Ten First Team this season. He did struggle against Michigan somewhat, but I’d imagine that that is even more of a reason that he will attempt to show out in his final game as a Buckeye.

I mean, the guy did this without working thumbs:

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

Kris Abrams-Draine vs. Marvin Harrison Jr./Emeka Egbuka

2023 KAD Stats: 47 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 4 INTs, 12 PBUs, 1 forced fumble

Notable PFF Stat: Only allowed 25 completions on 50 targets.

2023 MHJ Stats: 67 catches, 1,211 receiving yards, 14 TDs, 18.1 YPC

Notable PFF Stat: Hauls in 62.5% (15-of-24) targets of 20+ yards downfield.

2023 Egbuka Stats: 35 catches, 452 yards, 4 TDs, 12.9 YPC

Notable PFF Stat: Averages 16.6 YAC on passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage.

As of writing this, it is unknown whether or not MHJ will play. If not, the KAD vs. Egbuka 1v1 will still be must-watch TV.

NFL Scouts will be glued to the action when these three are targeted on the field, and frankly even when they aren’t.

Kris Abrams-Draine has had a meteoric rise from when he came to Mizzou as a wide receiver. He broke out with three interceptions in ‘21, followed that up with 12 pass breakups in ‘22 and then put it all together with four INTs and 14 PBUs in ‘23 after spurning the NFL for one final year. KAD’s instincts and make-up speed are perhaps his two biggest strengths, but it’s also very difficult to find a weakness in his game. He’s physical, rangy and has already gone toe-to-toe with some of the nation’s best pass-catchers over three seasons in the SEC.

Jalin Hyatt, Malik Nabers, Will Sheppard and others that KAD has faced are all great...but they aren’t quite at the level that MHJ has achieved. The latest elite wide receiver out of Columbus, Harrison Jr. has been a star for two seasons now and is nearly a lock to be a top five pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.

Much like Abrams-Draine, it’s hard to pinpoint a weakness in his game. MHJ is an incredible route-runner, has a 6-foot-4 frame, reliable hands and turns 50/50 balls into 80/20. He may not have game-breaking speed, but he can certainly run by most opposite defensive backs and will fight through arm tackles for extra yards.

Emeka Egbuka has been a notable second option to Marvin Harrison Jr. for two seasons now, and the 6-foot-1 receiver now has his chance to shine in this game. The numbers have dipped from his 74 catch, 1,151 yard campaign in ‘22, which is in large part because the former Texas Tech receiver has been hampered by injuries throughout this season. But, when healthy, Egbuka is deadly in the open field and has all of the ball skills to win in 50/50 scenarios. Much like most of OSU’s receivers in years’ past, it’s hard to pinpoint a weakness in Egbuka’s game, and he’s sure to be drafted within the first two days of the 2024 NFL Draft.

Overall, this is one of the most intriguing one-on-one (on one?) matchups of the entire bowl season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 25 Arkansas at Missouri Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Blake Baker vs. Brian Hartline

2023 Missouri Defense Stats: 22.3 PPG allowed, 222.2 passing YPG allowed, 125.0 rushing YPG allowed, 18 turnovers forced

Notable PFF Stat: Have recorded 139 QB hurries as a unit.

2023 Ohio State Offense Stats: 32.8 PPG, 282.7 passing YPG, 142.3 rushing YPG, 12 turnovers committed

Notable PFF Stat: Have only allowed 42 QB hurries.

I always like to look at coaching matchups in games like these, and there’s an intriguing one at the coordinator spots.

Blake Baker has revitalized the Tiger defense in his two seasons at the helm, bringing needed energy and passion to that side of the ball. It has translated to his players, as two Tiger defenders landed on NFL rosters from last season (Isaiah McGuire, DJ Coleman) and plenty more are expected to do so after this year. Baker runs an aggressive defense that prides itself on creating havoc and stopping the run, and it has led to two-straight seasons of allowing 25 or less PPG.

And, if all else fails, he’ll get out there and cover Ohio State’s wide receivers himself:

Baker will go head-to-head with Ohio State offensive coordinator Brian Hartline, who took on that position over the summer after working as the Buckeyes’ wide receivers coach from 2018-21. The former OSU wide out has helped develop the likes of Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson, Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emega Egbuka during his time on staff, and he is also renowned as one of the best recruiters in the sport.

The Buckeye offense has certainly taken a step back this season, which will happen when you lose NFL Rookie of the Year candidate C.J. Stroud and the aforementioned JSN. Still, the unit has been anything but pedestrian when fully healthy, and Hartline is a creative play-caller that knows how to utilize his playmakers in the best possible ways.

That’s in part because he used to be a pretty big playmaker at The Horseshoe himself:

The chess match between these two coordinators will be intriguing to watch. There’s a healthy chance that a good amount of other programs will be paying close attention as well, purely because these are two up-and-coming names in the coaching world that are sure to secure to a head coaching gig within the next couple of years.

NCAA Football: Memphis at Missouri Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

Xavier Delgado/Javon Foster/Armand Membou vs. Tyleik Williams/JT Tuimoloau

2023 Missouri O-line Stats: 169.4 rushing YPC, 4.3 YPC (Cook, Schrader, Peat), 20 sacks allowed

Notable PFF Stat: 63 QB hurries allowed.

2023 Ohio State D-line Stats: 112.5 rushing YPG allowed, 3.4 YPC allowed, 22 sacks, 64 TFLs

Notable PFF Stat: 133 QB hurries registered.

Ohio State’s strength on defense has resided in its D-line this season. Junior Tyleik Williams has come into his own after having to cut some weight when he first arrived on campus, and he leads the team with 10 tackles for loss. He’s a disruptive force on the interior, and former 5-star recruit JT Tuimoloau complements Williams in coming off the edge. Tuimoloau burst onto the scene with two sacks, two INTs, a forced fumble, pass breakup and touchdown against Penn State in 2022, and he has carried that over into an even stronger ‘23 campaign.

Both of those guys have NFL futures ahead of them, meaning that this will be a great chance for Javon Foster, Xavier Delgado and Armand Membou to make a statement to scouts. Foster is set to enter the draft this season after a lengthy and productive career in COMO. He became one of the major voices within the program in 2022 and has been a mauler throughout his time as a Tiger.

Delgado has been just as much of a mainstay on the line as Foster has been, and he’s largely been undervalued given his consistency. “X”—as the teams calls him—should have a great battle with Williams on the inside.

Membou still has another year before he can enter the draft, but he already has an NFL outlook and could put together some great film against some of the country’s best D-linemen in this game. If Schrader is to get to the second level to have that battle with Eichenberg, Foster, Membou and the O-line will need to win up front first.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Luther Burden III vs. Denzel Burke

2023 Burden Stats: 83 catches, 1,197 receiving yards, 8 TDs, 14.4 YPC

Notable PFF Stat: 40% of his targets have been of 10+ yards downfield compared to 35% last year

2023 Burke Stats: 19 total tackles, 2 TFLs, 9 PBUs

Notable PFF Stat: Has allowed 23 receptions on 45 targets

If there is any game for Burden to make his claim to be WR1 in the 2025 NFL Draft, this is the one. He’ll be going head-to-head with one of the better 2024 cornerback prospects in Burke, and if Burden shows out, scouts will certainly take notice.

That will be easier said than done, because Burke is yet another elite DB in a long line of lockdown Buckeye cornerbacks. He missed two games due to an ankle injury this season but was still the premiere cover corner on this Ohio State team, showcasing great speed and technique throughout the campaign. Burke also has solid size at 6-feet, 190 lbs. and certainly knows how to use it:

Outside of Kamari Lassiter of UGA (and Kris Abrams-Draine in practice), Burden hasn’t gone up against this caliber of cornerback this season. There’s few players in the country who can truly match up with the athletic, rangy receiver, but Burke will pose challenges for Burden. It’s tough to see the Buckeye defensive back truly shutting down Burden given how Kirby Moore finds ways to get him the ball, but if the Mizzou star is held to under 50 yards, then that’s a win for OSU.

Who do you see coming out on top in each of these matchups?