Missouri football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Tigers, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Missouri Offense
After years of having some of the most dynamic offenses in college football, Missouri was a total disaster offensively finishing second-to-last in the nation averaging just 13.6 points per game and failing to score more than eight points in five of the last seven games.
New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel – the former Oklahoma national title-winning quarterback – will try to speed things up a bit with a faster-paced offense that gets the ball out of the quarterbacks’ hands in a hurry. Drew Lock is that quarterback, and he’s built for the job. But he needs the weapons around him to work.
Mizzou always recruited to a type at running back with smallish, quick options, but they need more production from a group that didn’t have any room to move. The Tigers ran for just 1,385 yards and five touchdowns just two seasons after tearing off 3,330 yards and 35 scores.
The receiving corps isn’t a sure-thing, either, with the top two returning producers combining for just 56 catches for 676 yards and seven scores – that’s just not good enough. There’s experience coming back, but someone has to step up and become a No. 1 star.
Over the years, the Tiger line was a given as one of the best and most efficient machines, and it didn’t happen last year even with five senior starters. It’s a young front five back with no seniors and underclassmen playing big roles. Quickness will be valued a bit more than power now.
Biggest Key To The Missouri Offense
Score points. Yeah, duh, you’re almost never going to win when you score fewer than 14 points per game, so how do the Tigers change all of that? First and foremost, Missouri has to start moving the chains. They didn’t have any pop or explosion, and they almost never, ever seemed able to go on any long, sustained drives. They finished 125th in the nation in first downs and only converted 30% of their third down chances. Hold on to the ball offensively by going on drives, and then score when the shots are there. The Tigers were awful in the red zone, too.
What You Need To Know About The Missouri Defense
Mizzou offense – bad. Mizzou defense – amazing. Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross takes over head coach Barry Odom’s old gig, and now the former big-hitting Tiger defensive back will try keeping the production rolling.
Leading tackler Kentrell Brothers is gone, but the next five leading tacklers are back and the pass rushers should be phenomenal again.
Charles Harris is one of the nation’s most productive ends on one side, and Walter Brady is a dominator on the other coming off a seven-sack first season. These two are going to be killers in the backfield, while the tackle situation should keep a run defense that allowed just 133 yards per game just as strong.
Michael Scherer is a top tackler in the middle of a good linebacking corps that should once again swarm. The loss of Brothers and his 152 tackles is big, but this is still a strong, talented group.
Last year the Tigers finished fifth in the nation in pass defense, and they should be every bit as good with Anthony Sherrils at one safety spot and Aarion Penton back manning one of the corner gigs.
Biggest Key To The Missouri Defense
The Tigers have to force more turnovers. Enough of the top pieces are back to make this one of the SEC’s best defenses again, but there have to be more forced errors to help out an offense that might not be quite back up to snuff. Last year Mizzou came up with 16 takeaways going the first seven games with just two fumble recoveries, and the last seven with just two picks. For as much as the D was able to do, considering the 25 takeaways it generated in 2014 and the 32 in 2013, it still needs to come up with more.
Missouri Will Be Far Better If …
The return game returns. Yeah, of course the offense being back up to snuff is all that matters, but if that doesn’t happen quite yet then all the other parts have to work. Dominant at times returning kickoffs before last year – and solid in 2014 at returning punts averaging 10.4 yards per game – Mizzou’s return game was a disaster last season. For an offense that needed absolutely every yard it could be given – finishing dead last in the nation in kickoff returns averaging 15 yards per try – and averaging just 5.85 yards per punt return was a problem.
Best Missouri Offensive Player
QB Drew Lock, Soph. – At least the hope is that he turns into a great offensive playmaker who takes over the attack and makes it rise up in the new style. He was awful in his freshman season, but he also didn’t get a whole bunch of help. With the tools and the talent to crank up the attack if he gets into a rhythm – again, that’s the plan – he could put up night-and-day better numbers as long as he gets the time to operate.
Best Missouri Defensive Player
DE Charles Harris, Jr. – Or it could be fellow end Walter Brady, or it could be LB Michael Scherer. Harris was outstanding last year as the next great Missouri pass rusher, coming up with 18.5 tackles for loss and being disruptive throughout the season. He’s got the right size, the right burst, and the right athleticism to come up with an even better year.
Key Player To A Successful Season
RB Alex Ross, Sr. – Along with the rise of QB Drew Lock, the Missouri offense needs a steady, productive back who can get five yards a crack to give the rest of the attack easier second and third down chances. The former Oklahoma Sooner got pushed out with the rise of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, but he’s a big, pounding runner who should put up big numbers as a runner and – again, a sore spot for the Tigers – a kick returner.
The Missouri Season Will Be A Success If …
Barry Odom gets the team back to a bowl game. Here’s the positive way to look at last season – as awful as things were, the Tigers were 5-7 and lost two games by a combined score of 19-9. It shouldn’t take that much to win just one extra game this season, especially with Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, Middle Tennessee, Kentucky – even though the Cats won last year – and Vanderbilt all at home bringing a likely five-game base. Come up with one more win – or two if there’s a biff among the easy five – and Odom pulls the Tigers up out of the nosedive.
Sept 17 vs. Georgia – The opener against West Virginia doesn’t really matter, and the Eastern Michigan layup is a nice tune-up for what’s coming next. Mizzou lost a 9-6 clunker to Georgia last season, and got housed at home in a 34-0 disaster in Columbia in 2014. With road dates at LSU and Florida coming up after the paycheck win over Delaware State, lose to UGA and it’s an 0-3 start in the SEC. Win, and all of a sudden the narrative for the season changes.
2015 Missouri Fun Stats
– Fourth Quarter Scoring: Missouri 35 – Opponents 22
– Rushing TDs: Opponents 11 – Missouri 5
– Scoring Per Game: Opponents 16.2 – Missouri 13.6