Behind enemy lines: Missouri


Bosley Jarrett

Vanderbilt defeats Missouri 10-3 at Dudley Field on October 24, 2015.

Robbie Weinstein, Sports Editor

The Vanderbilt Hustler sports editor Robbie Weinstein and the Maneater sports editor Peter Baugh discuss the state of the Tigers ahead of Saturday’s football game.

Robbie Weinstein: With the drop-off on defense this year for Mizzou, has this come down to their rash of injuries, or are there other issues that have also been big contributors to its struggles?

Peter Baugh: The defense is really interesting because Mizzou last year was one of the best in the country, and I think you’ve got to look at probably three things that really have changed that. The coaching changes have been huge because with the new defensive coordinator in DeMontie Cross, there’s a new scheme that has not been as effective as last year’s. The defensive line coach from last year [Craig Kuligowski] has also left, and he’s now at Miami and has transformed Miami into one of the best defensive lines in the country. So I think you can look at the change in scheme as one of the main factors in the drop-off in production.

You have to look at graduation a little bit, though I don’t think that’s as big. They did lose Kentrell Brothers, who’s now in the NFL with Minnesota, and he was one of the nation’s leading tacklers last year. So that definitely contributes to the drop-off. And then there have been the injuries to key players like Michael Scherer and Terry Beckner, Jr. But I think, overall, the biggest reasons for the drop-off have been the change in scheme and some of the coaching changes.

RW: Coming into the year, national expectations and those across the SEC weren’t particularly high for Missouri. But what were the expectations like for the team, fans and local media?

PB: The expectations were mixed. Some people were a little more reserved with their expectations. I actually picked Mizzou to do pretty well this year, because I felt with their defense, most of the players were coming back, and I thought the offense was going to improve. Going into the year, expectations within the team definitely were pretty high, and most teams have pretty high expectations going into the year. But it clearly just didn’t exactly pan out the way the team wanted.

RW: The offense has been putting up a lot of yards, but in recent games against Florida, Kentucky and South Carolina it didn’t put a ton of points on the board. What’s been the issue in those recent games?

PB: The offense is interesting. I think a lot of the offensive numbers are skewed a little bit because of the huge gains they had against Eastern Michigan, Delaware State and Middle Tennessee State, who are all not as big programs and don’t have super high quality SEC defenses. So there has been quite a drop-off when playing SEC schools.

The Mizzou offense has done decently well against [a few teams]. They were fine against South Carolina, not great. They were pretty good against Georgia. But I think that when you get into the heart of the SEC and have to play these defenses like LSU and Florida on the road, it’s a whole different ballgame. And I don’t think Mizzou’s offense has been able to adjust to that. Drew Lock has shown flashes, but he still doesn’t look comfortable in the pocket all the time. While the receivers have been explosive at times, they’ve also been almost a liability on the field with fumbles and miscommunications. It’s hard to win in the SEC and when you’re not catching routine passes.

RW: Mizzou’s kicking stats haven’t been very good. How does this affect the coaches’ decision-making on the opposing defense’s half of the field?

PB: Yeah, kicking has been a huge problem; Coach [Barry] Odom talked about that at the last media day. There’s not a set kicker that the team trusts to kick field goals, and the team often will go for it on fourth down when they’re on, say, the 30- or 35-yard line. In an ideal situation, you’d have a kicker be able to make those field goals. It definitely puts more pressure on the offense because they feel in many ways, I’m sure, that they have to score a touchdown because they don’t necessarily have faith in a kicker to put a field goal in. So the placekicking has been pretty bad this year.

Mizzou’s punter, Corey Fatony, has been very, very good, probably one of the best in the country. He’s gotten a lot of practice punting between last year and this year, but he’s been pretty darn good. That aspect of the kicking game has been good, but definitely with field goals it’s been a rough go for the Tigers.

RW: How do you see this game playing out? If you have a specific score prediction, you’re welcome to give that, too.

PB: I’d put it around a 60 percent chance that Vanderbilt wins. I really could see the game going either way. Vanderbilt has a solid defense, so it’ll be interesting to see how Mizzou’s offense shows up. They’ve been better at home than they have on the road, but that’s also partially because they’ve played teams like Florida and LSU on the road. So if the Mizzou offense shows up, I think they’ve got a shot. The Mizzou defense, especially the defensive line, has been switching back more toward the old scheme that they ran last year that was very successful, so I could see Charles Harris and the defensive line starting to wreak some havoc again.

But if I had to guess, Vanderbilt will win a one-possession game. Maybe 21-17, I would say, and Mizzou’s SEC losing streak will continue.