FROM THE SIDELINE: MY GAME WEEK VIEW OF MIZZOU VS WEST VIRGINIA
By Charlie Clarke
The Barry Odom era in Missouri football will officially kick off at 11:00 AM on September 3rd in Morgantown, West Virginia.
The expectations are pedestrian for the Tigers in 2016, but week one will set the tone for what looks to be a building block campaign in Missouri’s push to return to the SEC championship game.
One difference in the schedules of both West Virginia and Missouri from last is the first week, where the two power six teams trumped their non-power six opponents by a combined score of 78-3 in 2015. 2016 will mark an obvious step up in the level of competition each team starts with.
Whether they were playing a conference opponent or not, West Virginia took part in blowouts. Six of WVU’s eight wins in 2015 were by 18 points or more. And three of their five losses were by 20 or more.
Mizzou couldn’t have been more different from the Mountaineers in that regard. The Tigers played in just two games decided by 20 or more points. While it didn’t seem like Missouri stood a chance in some of their games, they appeared to be within a possession or two at all times.
Something has to give, let’s take a look at how Mizzou can win.
How Mizzou can win
Time of Possession: Points are necessary for any team, but the Mizzou offense needs to stay on the field. Missouri placed 116th out of 127 FBS teams last year in time of possession, and it wasn’t because they scored quickly. When the defense is on the field for 38 minutes a game, it consequently becomes tired and less effective. If Mizzou can hold West Virginia to 35 minutes of possession or under, I think they’ll be in good shape.
Open up the playbook: The Mountaineers are an aggressive defense that lost to teams who had big play ability (See Baylor, OU, TCU). SB Nation writer Bill Connelly mentioned in his West Virginia season preview “If you didn’t have big-play ability, you had no chance of moving the ball against WVU.” If Josh Huepel becomes too one dimensional with the run or the pass against the Mountaineers, West Virginia is aggressive enough to sell out in those respective departments, possibly leading to another single digit outing for the Tigers.
Keep it close: As mentioned, West Virginia took part in some blowouts last year. I think Missouri’s defense is good enough to protect from a landslide loss in week one, but they must not let the game get out of hand, because WVU will run away with it. If the Tigers can keep the game within one possession come the fourth quarter, I like their chances to steal a victory
Questions I have
Will Drew Lock live up to the hype? The sophomore quarterback has received vast amounts of hype ever since he committed to Mizzou. The coaching staff and Drew’s teammates say he has matured this offseason, but how much so? The talented but not too deep West Virginia defense will prove as a good first test of 2016. Last year’s Drew Lock would be torn apart by an aggressive defense, will this year’s Lock be any different?
Can Missouri’s secondary counter the deep ball? The Mountaineers ranked 20th in passing yards per completion last season. Mizzou ranked 5th in pass defense in 2015. The secondary returns Anthony Sherrils and Aarion Penton but lose safety Ian Simon and cornerback Kenya Dennis. How much will that hurt them against an experienced passing attack?
I think we end up seeing more maturity and flashes of excellence from Drew Lock, but not enough. I see West Virginia turning Lock over a couple of times, putting Mizzou’s defense into savior mode. They’ll help keep this game close, and it could easily come down to a key Missouri drive to test the strides of Lock. If he can somehow propel the Tigers over WVU, the hype train will take off. Instead, I think the Mountaineers will pull out a 20-14 victory against an improved, but still stagnant Mizzou offense in Morgantown.