The Missouri Tigers have overachieved this SEC season, but if they lose to Mississippi State, their achievements would be overshadowed to a degree.
By Matt Zemek
The Tigers need to avoid a late-season stumble and make sure they finish with a winning record, a reward for the hard work they have done. Let’s take a look at what Eli Drinkwitz’s team needs to do in order to finish the season in style.
1 – Big-play prevention
The Mississippi State offense hit big passing plays in its opening win over LSU, but ever since, the Bulldogs have been straitjacketed by opposing defenses. It’s not that hard on a conceptual level: SEC defenses watched LSU’s man-to-man coverages get torn apart by Mike Leach’s passing attack in Week 1 of the SEC season. Subsequent opponents have showed zone coverage against Mississippi State, and the Air Raid offense has not been able to figure things out. Mississippi State averages 17 points per game, including the 44-point outburst against LSU. That means the Bulldogs have been absolutely smothered in their games since the LSU joyride. Opponents simply aren’t allowing MSU to beat them deep in man coverage. As long as Missouri can execute its coverages well and shut down the deep ball, thereby forcing Mississippi State to be very patient and methodical, the Tigers should be in very good position to limit the Bulldogs’ offense and get out of Starkville with a victory.
2 – The basics with Bazelak
Missouri scored 50 against Arkansas and just 14 versus Georgia. What does that tell you? A reasonable answer is that Missouri takes care of bad defenses but struggles against better ones. Mississippi State’s defense thereby rates as ordinary – not atrocious, and not superb. Alabama didn’t hang 60 points on the Bulldogs, and MSU played Georgia relatively closely before falling short. Yet, it’s also true that Mississippi State hasn’t been able to completely lock down opponents, either. Vanderbilt made a late rally before losing in the fourth quarter to MSU. LSU was sloppy, but it moved the ball against the Bulldogs. This is neither a great nor terrible defense Missouri quarterback Connor Bazelak will meet on Saturday. If he makes the routine plays consistently, that standard of performance should be enough to get the job done. MSU is not an especially good team, particularly because of its offense. As long as Bazelak does what he is supposed to do – no frills, no bells and whistles, but solid plays for four quarters – it is highly unlikely that the Bulldogs’ offense will be able to keep up with Mizzou.
3 – Don’t be in a rush
Missouri allows 162 rushing yards per game. Mississippi State runs for only 23 yards per game. Missouri’s run defense, though not especially strong, should have the edge here. Maintaining discipline and doing a self-scout to make sure Mike Leach can’t exploit any weaknesses on Saturday would be highly advisable for the Mizzou crew.