By Jake Trotter
I spoke with Dave Matter, the Missouri football beat writer for the Columbia Daily Tribune, to get his thoughts on the Tigers leading up to the Big 12 Championship.
Here’s what he had to say:
1. Why has Missouri struggled at times this year?
Turnovers have been a big reason. A year ago, when MU led the Big 12 in total defense during conference plays, takeaways played a huge role in changing momentum and bailing the Tigers out of drives. After forcing 33 turnovers in 14 games last year, they’ve forced only 21 in 12 games this year. The defense just can’t get off the field, no thanks to an offense that ranks last in the country in time of possession, mostly because it scores so fast. And even though the defense returned 10 starters, only a few of those players are having better seasons than they did a year ago. The pass rush has been spotty and the downfield coverage has had some horrendous breakdowns in a a few games.
Offensively, again, too many untimely turnovers. Chase Daniel has been a notch below the South Division quarterbacks mostly because of interceptions. At times, he gets too reckless when the Tigers could use a safer throw.
2. Despite returning 10 starters, has this defense not gotten better?
Linebacker Sean Weatherspoon has put together a fine year. Defensive end Stryker Sulak has racked up sacks when he gets a favorable matchup. Cornerback Castine Brides was developing into MU’s best player at that position until injuring his knee against Kansas. Otherwise, I can’t say that a defensive starter is playing much better than they did a year ago. Free safety William Moore has just one interception after leading the country with eight last year. He’s been injured and teams haven’t been throwing his direction, but he hasn’t been nearly as productive with the game-changing plays he made a year ago. That’s sort of been the story of MU’s entire defense.
3. Seems like the Tigers were banged up coming out of Kansas. How’s the health of this team?
Chase Coffman is still battling a turf toe, but says he’s at 80 percent. He’s as good on nine toes as most are on 10. Jeremy Maclin bruised his hip at Kansas, but he’s good for a minor injury just about every game because he touches the ball so much and takes some shots. I think he’ll be OK. The big loss is Bridges, who’s done for the year with a torn meniscus. The average Missouri fan probably thinks he’s terrible because he got beat deep twice in the season opener, but he’s easily been their most reliable cornerback, a good playmaker against the run and pass.
4. Did the Kansas loss take the wind out of the sails of the Tigers? Will Missouri be ready to play?
The Kansas loss either stripped this team of its confidence or it’s going to have the opposite effect and make them mad as hell and out to prove they can do what nobody believes. A lot’s going to depend on their senior leadership and what went on during the course of the week and how they respond to the first sign of adversity on Saturday. A year ago, I think this team circles the wagons and embraces the underdog role and gives OU a good fight. This year, I haven’t seen enough to believe the same.
5. What needs to happen for Mizzou to pull off the upset?
The defense is going to have to get some turnovers, pick off a few Bradford passes, force the backs or receivers to fumble, anything to get OU’s offense off the field before it starts scoring at will. I doubt MU will get any pressure on Bradford, so the Tigers might as well play coverage and hope to step into a few passes. A defensive or special teams touchdown might be necessary.
On offense, Daniel has to balance the line between being judicious and aggressive. Missouri’s line can’t afford another first-quarter meltdown like it had against Texas. Penalties and missed assignments repeatedly put MU in second-and-long and third-and-long, letting UT’s D-line to tee off on Daniel. That can’t happen again. Missouri tends to abandon the run quickly when it falls behind. If that happens, even when OU’s up by a touchdown or two, the pass rush could really get after Daniel when he’s throwing every down.
Otherwise, the Tigers could always use a miracle.
Here’s a link to Dave’s blog: