This is it. One of the two biggest games on Missouri’s schedule in 2023. Not only does this give us a clue as to Missouri’s potential in ‘23, but it also tells us a lot about how far this program has come under Eli Drinkwitz.
Win, and the potential for a magical season is on the board. Lose, and...well...
Here’s the preview I wrote back in May. This team is exactly who you think they are. They do what they do, they’re quiet about it, and extremely competent. This game will be rough. Let’s get to it.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Kansas State is doing what Bill Snyder and Gary Pinkel used to do: find a bunch of overlooked two stars and walk-ons, plug them into a scheme to maximize what they do, and win football games. The Wildcat defense will start a single blue chipper and three walk-ons and will most likely strangle the life out of Missouri’s offense (one that fields multiple 5-star receivers, mind you). Unlike Middle Tennessee which finds the most creative ways to blitz and bring pressure, Kansas State is content to let their three down lineman and one of the linebackers create pressure then drop back in their 3-3-5 shell and dare you to find the opening. It’s effective and punishing...but it also allows Missouri to play the style of offense that they love. Here are the keys:
Ground and Pound
Kansas State’s run defense is stout as hell but it’s the one place where offenses can find consistent yards. The Wildcats will give their opponents the short, easy stuff all day so runs and screens will be there when attempted. The Drinkwitz/Moore offense is predicated on successfully matriculating down the field with the run game and - glitches against Middle aside - this offensive line needs to show it can do that. It seems like a tall ask but the Tigers will need at least a 45% success rate on the ground in this game.
Convert Third Downs
Eli Drinkwitz has made it perfectly clear that his offenses have three downs to cross the 1st-down marker or else its time to punt, no matter what. So...convert those 3rd-downs! The Tigers were 6-10 against South Dakota and 7-13 against Middle; I’d say a 60% conversion rate will be needed to save us from Drink’s absolute worse habit of scared punting.
Usually this third spot is for “FINISH YOUR DANG DRIVES” which, yes, is still true. But even more than that, Missouri can not afford to turn the ball over. Even though it’s not technically a turnover the safety against MTSU kept the Raiders in the game much longer than they should have been. Kansas State is a likely contender for the Big XII crown and a Top 15 team. It can’t happen. Zero turnovers is the necessity.
When Kansas State Has the Ball
More of the same here re: roster building. K-State’s quarterback was an overlooked 3-star from Pennsylvania, their most dynamic offensive player is an unranked, undersized kid from Lee’s Summit, and the offensive linemen were all undersized recruits from the most barren parts of Kansas, Texas, and Colorado. And they’re awesome. Chris Klieman is a football god.
Win On Third Down
Heading into this game it feels like so much depends on what happens on 3rd-down. Missouri needs to convert because, otherwise, their coach will give it back to the other team. Kansas State needs to convert because they thrive on ball control and wearing defenses out. Blake Baker needs to get super creative and hold the Wildcats below a 45% 3rd-down conversion rate.
Turn Them Over!
Please? For at least once before we get through a quarter of the schedule? Missouri has forced a fumble and swatted away six passes that has lead to zero turnovers; math and law of averages state that they should have at least one by now, given that production. This is the game to start cashing that luck in! The goal is at least two turnovers.
Kansas State has the program, tactics, players, and coaching staff in place to repeat as Big XII champions and are every bit the Top 20 team that they are currently rated at. Missouri should have something to prove (at least, that’s what they keep saying) and have the power to make an incredible statement on Saturday. Whether it’s a chesty affirmative “WE ARE HERE” or a meek “ah, more of the same” will be determined then, but this will be a tough game with potentially massive repercussions going forward. No pressure.