clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

K-State vs. Mizzou Round Two: What needs to change for the Tigers

On one fateful morning in Manhattan last fall, Missouri was humbled. Now, the Tigers look to take vengeance.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Missouri at Kansas State

The date was Sept. 10, 2022.

An upstart 1-0 Missouri team walked into a rainy Manhattan, Ks. looking to pick up the first major non-conference victory of the Eliah Drinkwitz era. Instead, the future Big 12 Champions dominated the Tigers in nearly every facet of the game, winning 40-12 and beginning a downward spiral for the visitors.

But, this is a new year with two teams that have experienced turnover within the past 12 months. Adrian Martinez, Deuce Vaughn and Felix Anudike-Uzomah no longer don the purple and silver for Kansas State, and Mizzou has since brought in a new offensive coordinator and a handful of offensive transfers.

Moral of the story? The 2023 meeting between these two teams should be far different than last season’s, although it still figures to be a tightly-contested game on paper. Thus, let’s take a look at what went wrong for the Tigers last time around and what they will need to do to take down Chris Klieman’s bunch this season.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

2.7 Yards Per can’t happen again

It was an abysmal day on the ground for Mizzou in this game last season. The Tigers managed only 94 yards on 35 total carries, and the longer the game went on, the more apparent it was that K-State did not respect Missouri’s ability to generate push against four down linemen. Brady Cook led the way with 56 rushing yards, while neither Cody Schrader nor Nathaniel Peat eclipsed the 20-yard mark.

In terms of overall numbers, the Tigers will need to hit at least 150 rushing yards to have a chance in this game. But, the yards per carry number is what will be especially key. That will show how much push the O-line is able to consistently manufacture and, in turn, will reveal how balanced the offense is on Saturday. Through two games, Missouri has averaged 3.8 yards per carry. That number needs to hover around that mark for the Tigers to have a shot.

Klieman’s defense, per usual, will be extremely disciplined and physical this weekend. The unit allowed SEMO to run for a meager 0.2 yards per carry and Troy managed just 2.5. The Tiger offensive line has to hold serve against K-State’s front seven, or else too much will be put on the shoulders of Cook and the passing game yet again.

Hold on to the ball

It’s a simple fix on paper; a much more difficult one in practice.

Against the Wildcats in 2022, Missouri turned the ball over four times, with each of them proving to be costly. Cook and Jack Abraham each tossed two interceptions, and K-State took advantage each time. The Tiger defense is great, but they can only have their backs to the wall so many times before it becomes overwhelming. The offense needs to help out the defense with sustained drives that, at the minimum, can keep the field position battle in Mizzou’s favor throughout a “points at a premium” game.

The Tigers have turnover the ball over once this season and have yet to force a turnover. Kansas State is even (2-for-2) in turnover margin right now, but the Wildcats are fresh off of forcing two against Troy.

K-State knows turnovers were a difference last season, and it will try to replicate that in ‘23 with an opportunistic defense. It’s up to Cook and the ball carriers to ensure that doesn’t happen.

Improved kick coverage

Phillip Brooks’ 76-yard punt return touchdown in the middle of the second quarter last season put a figurative dagger in the hearts of every person associated with the Missouri program. The tackling and angles were poor from the Tigers, and that one play changed the entire outlook of the game.

The Wildcats have made a habit out of fielding explosive return men in the past decade or so (see Tyler Lockett, Malik Knowles, Morgan Burns, etc.), and Mr. Brooks is still in town returning kicks. He already ripped off a 33-yard return against SEMO and followed that up with a 29-yard scamper against Troy.

In a game that may not feature a ton of points, one special teams score could be the difference. It’s safe to assume that the coaching staff is keyed in on Brooks, and the special teams unit will be more than excited to put him on the ground after what happened in ‘22.

Prevent Will Howard from finding success on the ground

Martinez generally struggled through the air against Mizzou, completing 9-of-20 passes for 101 yards. But, he was one of the stars of the game because of the amount of times he burned the Tiger defense with his scrambling ability, finishing with 52 yards and a touchdown. His ability to compliment Vaughn on the ground became too much for Mizzou to handle at times.

Howard, while a fairly different player, is cut from the same dual-threat cloth as the former Nebraska transfer. Albeit not as fast as Martinez, Howard is a strong 6-foot-5, 242 lb. runner who does not shy away from contact in the open field. He’s an able scrambler, but Howard is truly a threat in the red zone where he can use his frame to his benefit. He already has 38 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on the season, with all of those scores coming from inside the 5-yard line.

Baker’s defenses are known for being aggressive, but that burned them at times in this game last season. The DC will certainly have a contingency plan to contain Howard’s legs this weekend, because the last thing Mizzou needs is him to pick up chunk yards in a low-scoring game.

Play more “free”

A simple statement, and there are not many Xs and Os associated with this. Instead, I look at this from a mental perspective.

In last season’s outing, nearly every Tiger player looked tight, nervous and a step slow on the field in comparison to K-State. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the intimidating environment, or maybe the team just was not ready to play against a team of that caliber. Regardless, it allowed the Wildcats to dominate the game, as they just exhibited more confidence and poise throughout.

At home, with a more experienced roster, that should change for Mizzou. But, Howard is a quarterback who has played a lot of football, and Klieman has coached an even greater amount of football. Case in point: The Wildcats won’t be fazed on the road. Mizzou needs to match their poised demeanor while playing with a bit more fire and passion than they did last time around.