We wanted it and we got it: SEC football starts this Saturday and you might have heard that the first opponent is a team that’s been in every College Football Playoff except one and won a National Championship five times in eleven years.
Coach Drinkwitz has said that he came to Missouri so he could coach against the best of the best in the SEC. I’m not sure he wanted to get his wish granted in game one of season one, but here we are.
Not a whole lot has changed (football-wise) since I previewed the Crimson Tide on August 18th so I’ll link to it here. And since we haven’t seen any games featuring Mizzou or Alabama, I’ll be relying heavily on what they did in 2019.
Missouri’s Key Stats against Alabama’s Offense
Make Mac (or Bryce) Inaccurate
Mac Jones had four starts in the 11 games that he played in 2019, taking over full time once Tua Tagovailoa went down with injury against Mississippi State. Jones finished the season 97-141 with 1,503 yards and 14 touchdowns to 3 interceptions. Projected that out to a 13-game season would have him go 315-458 with 4,884 yards, 45 touchdowns, 9 interceptions; for comparison, Baker Mayfield’s Heisman season in 2017 went 285-404 with 4,627 yards, 43 touchdowns, and 6 interceptions. Now, the Alabama offense has enough talent to do anything they want but they like to use a quick passing game to single their athletic receivers out wide and have them take the short stuff for a long way (3rd in passing explosiveness last year). That doesn’t mean they don’t also go up top as well but their bread and butter is the short, easy stuff. If the Tiger corners can jam their timing and keep Jones’ completion percentage below 60% I’d say the Tigers have a chance - however small - to limit some of the pain that the Tide can inflict.
Make the Ground Game Grind
Alabama’s ground attack was just as good as the passing attack last year so trying to limit it in anyway might be futile. The Tide offensive line was 6th in the nation in opening up running lanes for at least four yards, and the running game ranked 2nd in success rate and 5th in efficiency. What were they not good at? Breaking big runs. Alabama was surprisingly 97th in explosiveness on the ground, relying on Najee Harris to systematically grind for the short stuff but rarely breaking a big one, averaging only four yards after the line got him the first four. If Harris is suddenly breaking 20+ gains then the Tigers will be toast but making any offense consistently matriculate down the field, 12-14 plays at a time, is tough, especially with college players. If the ‘Bama run game - or, hell, the entire offense - has less than 4 explosive plays then the Tigers have a better chance at forcing a mistake.
Missouri’s Key Stats against Alabama’s Defense
Pick on the Freshmen
In 2019 the Crimson Tide defense was dynamite against the pass - 6th against the pass, 8th in passing downs - but was surprisingly vulnerable against the run. The Tide lost four of their top five defensive backs and have underclassmen backups filling in for 2020. They’re all blue-chips, yes, but they are young and are starting their first game on the road, after an incredibly tumultuous offseason. Missouri brought in graduate transfers Damon Hazelton and Keke Chism for this exact reason: seasoned talent to overtake any inexperienced secondary. It’s important that they win their matchups with veteran savvy as well as athleticism, and this is the roster that they can do that against. If Hazelton and Chism are both playing and average more than 12 yards per target with, say, a 55% or better success rate, you’ll know that the passing game is blowing holes in the Tide secondary.
Keep Shawn (or Connor) Upright
Along the lines of the passing game, no aerial attack is going to succeed if the quarterback keeps getting pressured or sacked. The Alabama defensive line was super young and inconsistent at the pass rush last year, ranking 37th in overall sack rate. Part of that will fix itself, since those freshmen on the line are now a year older and more experienced, but if it’s a talent or scheme issue then the Tigers need to make sure to take advantage. Missouri’s offensive line will probably be pretty bad but Shawn Robinson is decent at avoiding sacks; if the Tigers can keep the sack rate to less than 2% then the passing game will have a chance.
Enjoy the fact that Missouri is playing! Alabama has a few issues that they need to hope are fixed but, plainly stated, Alabama’s roster is much more talented - and deeper - than Missouri’s and that was before the Tigers were down 12 players. There is a chance that the irregular offseason and COVID limitations make Alabama more vulnerable, particularly in the defensive secondary, but 9.9 times out of 10 Alabama wins this game. Watch to see what kind of schemes Missouri runs on offense and how competent the Tigers defense looks against an elite offense.