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Opponent Preview: Missouri Tigers

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All I wanna do is have some fun... I got a feeling I’m not the only one.

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Missouri-At-A-Glance

Location: Columbia, Missouri

2018 Overall Record: 8-5

2018 Conference Record: 4-4

Coach: Barry Odom (4th Season, 19-19, 10-14 in conference) — and he’s bringing a Dooley with him... the one that lost every game he’s coached involving the Georgia Bulldogs. Seems like a solid plan.

Notable Alumni: Sheryl Crow (as you might have gathered from the above), Don Draper (Jon Hamm), Champ Kind (David Koechner), most reporters that repeatedly bring up their credentials, and (this is legitimately cool) William F. Baker, head structural engineer of the Burj Khalifa. And yet, despite the world’s tallest building, I’m gonna have to say the most notable of that list is... well I’ll let him speak for himself:

Last Season: Riding the arm of Drew Lock, the Tigers won the games they should have and then proceeded to beat the pants jorts off Florida and the pants skidmarked overalls off Tennessee. They lost to Georgia and Alabama. plus lost heartbreakers against ranked Kentucky and South Carolina. The season ended with another close loss to Oklahoma State in the Liberty Bowl.

Last Time They Played the Dawgs: Georgia held Drew Lock in check (0 TD, 1 INT), but gave up far too much to the one-two punch of Mizzou’s running backs. The Georgia offense got off to a slow start, but the defense came up with some production to make up for it, including a blocked punt TD. Georgia’s offense picked up the pace in the second half leading to a 43-29 victory. Kirby was not pleased.


Offense

On offense, Mizzou went from worrying who would replace the departed Drew Lock to having Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant step in. It’s difficult to overstate how massive this is for the Tigers and their chance to take a step forward in the SEC East. Bryant isn’t as polished or experienced a downfield passer as lock was, but he’s much more of a threat on his feet. When combined with Missouri’s returning backfield of Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie (who gashed Georgia’s defense last season, ergo, grumpy Kirby), Derek Dooley has no excuse not to get creative with the running game.

In order to establish that running game and protect Bryant when he drops back, the Tigers will need to be able to hold the line. They should be aided in this by returning left tackle, Yasir Durant, right guard, Tre’vour Wallace-Simms, and center, Trystan Colon-Castillo. Wallace-Simms was All-SEC in 2018. Right tackle and left guard look to be taken over by two sizeable sophomores, Hyrin White and Larry Broom, respectively. Still no word on if there are any additional Larry’s on the offense. I have to imagine there are.

The wide receiver corps for the Tigers is going to miss Emanuel Hall (until recently a Chicago Bear and now a Tampa Bay Buccaneer), but Jalen Knox has a good bit of experience, they add grad transfer Jonathan Nance from Arkansas, and Johnathan Johnson can provide some senior leadership in the slot. The biggest receiving threat for Mizzou, though, is TE Albert Okwuegbunam. Dogged by injury a bit last season, Okwuegbunam has the potential to be one of the country’s best tight ends and a major weapon for the Missouri offense if he can stay healthy.

Defense

The defense has remained a work in progress over the early part of Odom’s tenure. And there were a handful of departures that may make things a little more difficult on that side of the ball. But let’s start with the good news (for the Tigers). The secondary looks to be the strength and anchor of the D, returning its starters and major contributors. All four safeties that saw major minutes (Joshuah Bledsoe, Jordan Ulmer, Ronnell Perkins, and Khalil Oliver) are back, as are starting corners Christian Holmes and DeMarkus Acy. Not much of a threat to get at the quarterback, they are solid in coverage.

The defensive line for the Tigers returns much of the production from 2018, with the exception of the departed Terry Beckner who is also, now, a Buccaneer (Author’s Note: We now have a Barry, 2 Larry’s, and a Terry, just sayin.). Jordan Elliott was one of Mizzou’s most productive tacklers last season and is joined on the interior by Chris Daniels and Kobie Whiteside. On the edge, the Tigers have returners Chris Turner and Akail Byers. Both are formidable run stoppers, but Missouri doesn’t currently have a go-to edge rusher (which I have to imagine will change by the time they reach this game).

The real problem area for Mizzou in 2019, however, looks to be the linebacking corps. Cale Garrett is the only starter the Tigers have in the middle of the defense and they are lucky he came back for his senior season. Otherwise, the entire position group would’ve been in the throes of a rebuild. Underclassmen like Nick Bolton and Jamal Brooks (among others), will have to step up and grow up very quickly to keep this from becoming a liability for the Tigers.

Special Teams

Senior Tucker McCann, who has had some clutch kicks and also a few mind-boggling PAT misses is probably going to also be assuming punting duties with four year starter Corey Fatony gone. It’ll be a bit before we really have any notion of what impact, if any, this change has on the Tigers. What Mizzou is going to have to change is their coverage and return game. The Tigers netted a 129th national ranking in return yardage last season. On the other side, the kickoff and punt coverage teams weren’t much better (see: the previously mentioned 2018 UGA touchdown). This should be an area of focus for a team that is much better off on the offensive and defensive side than they had the potential to be.


Outlook:

Most outlets and writers are pegging Missouri as somewhere between the 2nd and 4th best team in the SEC. Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, that’s a fair assessment. I don’t believe they are ready to challenge for the division, but the bottom isn’t going to fall out either. During the later years of the Richt era, when people used to ask me what I thought about the upcoming season, I would say “We’re going to have a Mark Richt year.” What I meant by that, of course, is that the safe bet was that we would win around 10 games, maybe play for the SEC championship, probably lose it if we played for it, and then we’d go beat a Big 10 also ran in Orlando or Tampa or whatever. There were deviations here and there, but most of the time that felt pretty accurate. Well, I feel like Missouri is going to have a “Barry Odom year.” There’s obviously less data, but it’s looking an awful lot like 8 or 9 wins, .500 in conference, lose a mid-tier bowl game is the safe bet with Barry (but not that last bit this year, huh? Yikes). I’d be delighted to be wrong about this. I’d love nothing more than for Mizzou to settle in above Florida and Tennessee in the SEC East pecking order and stay there in perpetuity. We can’t always get what we want. I can find 8, 9, (if I squint real hard) even 10 wins on that schedule, but Georgia won’t be one of them. When Missouri comes to Sanford, I expect the Tigers to be outmatched by the Dawgs and it won’t be particularly close. Yet, Kirby still will not be pleased.

Prediction: Georgia 45 - Mizzou 27