Missouri Football Three Keys: Ole Miss

Three keys Missouri

Missouri faces Ole Miss on Saturday in Columbia, MO. Here are your three keys to a Missouri win over Ole Miss.

By Matt Zemek

The Missouri Tigers watched Kelly Bryant suffer what appeared to be a gruesome injury in their most recent game… and yet that’s not the injury they will carry into their next game against the Ole Miss Rebels. The Bryant injury gained national attention and looked awful on television, but all the while Missouri suffered another injury which will have just as big an impact on the team if not more.

Cale Garrett is an elite linebacker, one of the best in the SEC. A tackling machine who stepped into passing lanes and snagged interceptions, Garrett boosted the Missouri defense in every way. His impact wasn’t limited to run support or pass defense. Losing a complete player, someone whose presence rippled through the entire Mizzou defense and dramatically reduced the burden on his other linebackers and teammates, is a significant loss.

Kelly Bryant will play this Saturday – his injury was far less significant than first feared. That’s the good news. Not having Cale Garrett, however, leaves Missouri shorthanded just the same, albeit on the other side of the ball.

Let’s see what the Tigers can do without their best defensive player:

Key 1 – Cameron Wilkins gets his close-up

Cameron Wilkins will now start at middle linebacker in place of Cale Garrett. Chad Bailey will be his backup. Wilkins can’t be expected to do everything, certainly not as well as Garrett. Coach Barry Odom needs to find a way to ease Wilkins into his new workload and find a new linebacker rotation in which Bailey can get enough meaningful snaps to complement Wilkins, who is a sophomore.

When injuries occur to elite players, programs need to find ways to give younger players the training and work which will make them core performers for the following season.

Look at Wisconsin. The Badgers suffered a ton of injuries on defense last season. This year, their defense looks deeper and stronger and more consistent. Player development created by the injuries has enriched the team this season. Missouri needs to focus on that process here.

Key 2 – Fewer gambles on defense

There are times to be aggressive, and times to be cautious. Given the changes at linebacker, Mizzou’s defense isn’t in the best position to be supremely aggressive. As Wilkins adjusts to his starting role, the Tigers need to see what they can achieve from a base defense look.

Can the front four generate a pass rush without need of a blitz? Can the linebackers wrap up and make tackles? Can the defensive backs not allow Ole Miss receivers to get behind them? This is a game in which to reexamine basic competence among every member of the Missouri defense. More responsibilities can be added later in the season, but this needs to be a game in which Odom and his staff simplify the defense and see what everyone is capable of doing without Garrett in the mix.

Key 3 – Protect Bryant

The offensive line has to play well, but the play selection also needs to shield Bryant from hard hits and dangerous situations. Ole Miss might sense Bryant’s frailty, meaning that the Rebels will anticipate a lot of quick passes and three-step drops because they think Bryant will be extra conscious of the need to get rid of the ball. Bryant needs to juggle these tensions on Saturday.

Saturday‘s game kicks off at 6:00 PM CT (7:00 PM ET). Watch on the ESPN2 Network.

This Week’s SEC Football News and Analysis

GameFirst Looks3 Keys
HighlightsFinal Stats
South Carolina vs. GeorgiaUSC / UGAUSC / UGAPreviewUSC 20, UGA 17Stats
Arkansas vs. KentuckyArky / KentuckyArky / KentuckyPreviewUK 24, Arky 17Stats
Florida vs. LSUFlorida / LSULSU / FloridaPreviewLSU 42, Florida 28Stats
Ole Miss vs. MissouriOle Miss / MizzouOle Miss / MizzouPreviewMizzou 38, Ole Miss 27Stats
Mississippi State vs. TennesseeTennessee / MSUMSU / TennesseePreviewTennessee 20, MSU 10Stats
Alabama vs. Texas A&MBama / A&MA&M / BamaPreviewBama 47, A&M 28Stats
UNLV vs. VanderbiltUNLVVandyPreviewUNLV 34, Vandy 10Stats
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