Remember last week when we said that the Kansas State game was one of two tent-pole games that would tell us a lot about your Missouri football Tigers in the year 2023?
We did learn a lot! And they won!
But when you go on a winning streak suddenly every game is the most important one. Why? Simple: you now have expectations! And your goals are still on the table! And whatever lofty thoughts each individual had about this team can stay valid and ever-closer to coming to fruition.
So, welcome to the next most important game of the year. Missouri finally leaves the cozy confines of Faurot Field to take on a regional G5 squad in a neutral site game in an abandoned NFL stadium that now plays hosts to developmental league football, monster truck races, and national sales meetings.
Here’s the preview I wrote back in May. Their starting lineup is littered with transfers who were playing at some other school last year but they’re elite at one thing on offense and surprisingly good on defense. Mizzou cannot afford to overlook this team; they might have played a terrible schedule and seem to be a patched-together unit but they can absolutely beat an uninterested P5 squad. Let’s look at the matchups.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Ok...before you get all gaga over the number of recruiting stars in Missouri’s column versus the lack of stars in Memphis’ column, let’s clear some things up.
First, most of the Memphis defenders are third-year players or older, and as Missouri fans have learned from Gary Pinkel’s days, once you get into year three or four in college its less about your high school ranking and more about what you’ve done.
Second, guys like Cincir Evans and DeAgo Brumfield were callups from FCS, while Simeon Blair was starting at Arkansas last year. So it’s not like Memphis is playing walk-ons.
Third, this defense is good. I know their sample sets are Bethune-Cookman, Arkansas State, and Navy, but they’re the third-best defense in the country in eliminating efficiency plays, sixth in points per scoring opportunity, fifth in allowing touchdowns, and third in pass defense. Again, its three games in and most teams have been playing junk schedules so this isn’t insignificant! Here’s how Mizzou can attack them.
Win On Standard Downs
Currently the Memphis defense ranks 9th in standard downs defense and 4th in passing downs defense. Do I actually think they’re that good? No, reader, I do not. But I’d still like to play to their weaknesses, and 9th is a better option than 4th! Missouri’s offensive line struggled against a top ten run defense last week but has asserted itself well against lesser defensive fronts. A success rate of at least 45% on standard downs should be enough to control the game on Missouri’s terms.
Connect on Explosive Plays
How do you attack a defense that plays everything close and gives you no room to move? Hit ‘em over the top! Memphis’ defense is 108th in stopping explosive plays on the ground and 43rd in stopping explosive plays through the air. Missouri just showed they can generate big plays through the air and need to do it again. The goal is at least nine (9) explosive plays.
Finish Your Dang Drives
Currently Memphis is only allowing 2.45 points per scoring opportunity. On the flip side, Missouri is averaging 4.94 points per scoring opportunity. If you want to avoid an upset against a feisty team you need to make the most of your opportunities, so lets say Missouri needs to generate 8 scoring opportunities and average 5 points per opportunity.
When Memphis Has the Ball
As opposed to the defensive side, Memphis has recruited some capital “D” dudes for their offense, including a few homegrown players. As I mentioned in my preview during the summer, they had to essentially import an entire receiving corps to account for losses and youth and, so far, it’s gone well. Roc Taylor is a terror out wide and Blake Watson is an explosion waiting to happen every time he totes the rock. Seth Henigan is a third-year junior quarterback who has gotten better over time has an old offensive line covering him. This is going to be a tricky test for Blake Baker’s boys.
Swarm on Standard Downs
Memphis’ offenses used the ground game and passing game as natural inverts of each other. What do I mean by that? Whereas you might think “passing=big plays” and “running=easy yardage”, Memphis uses a short passing game with one of the country’s lowest explosive rates to move the ball quickly and accurately, and then hands off a few times to the nation’s 10th best explosive rushing attack to rip off big chunks of yardage. The Bad Guy Tigers are ok in standard downs but come alive in passing downs situations; additionally, Memphis ranks 18th in converting 1st-downs in 1st and 2nd down but have one of the worst 3rd-down success rates in the country. They are a mysterious enigma but one thing is clear: holding them to a 40% success rate or worse on standard downs sets the defense up for a good chance of knocking them off the field consistently.
Turn Them Over
Quarterback Seth Henigan threw two interceptions against Bethune-Cookman and one against Navy. Despite his uber accuracy of over 70%, he tends to make a bad read or poor choice a few times per game. Nothing is more deflating for a upset-minded underdog to undermine themselves and give the favorite a free turn and that’s exactly what Missouri needs to do. The Good Guy Tigers finally notched their first turnover of the year last week and should aim for another two turnovers this week.
Memphis is a good football team, full stop. Their rankings might be inflated thanks to a small sample size but they’re still not going to be a pushover.
Missouri has the talent and (apparently!) multiple schemes that they can operate well with. As long as they treat this team as an actual threat and vow to put on a show for the valued STL crowd, they can win this one no sweat.
Or turn it into yet another one possession game. Which, lets be clear: Missouri only plays in one possession games so it will probably be that. Keep your Tums handy!