Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Missouri-Mississippi State
The next month will decide if Missouri is going bowling for the 10th time under coach Gary Pinkel or if the Tigers will have their second losing season since joining the SEC in 2012.
Mizzou will have an opportunity for a season-changing win Thursday when No. 20 Mississippi State visits Columbia, Mo. A win not only snaps a three-game losing streak for the Tigers, but also puts Pinkel and company just a single victory away from bowl eligibility with three games to play.
Mississippi State will likely be the toughest test left for Mizzou, but the Tigers also face Tennessee and BYU in the final four games. The Bulldogs are still in the hunt for the SEC West title and have a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in quarterback Dak Prescott.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s game:
No. 20 Mississippi State (6-2, 2-2) at Missouri Tigers (4-4, 1-4)
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 5, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Weather: 64 degrees, 90% chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Mississippi State -7.5
By the numbers
3 – This will be just the third Thursday night game in program history for the Tigers and the other two, both against ranked teams, didn’t go so well. Mizzou lost to No. 6 Colorado, 6-0, in 1992 and 27-12 to No. 21 Nebraska in 2008. Both games were also played in rainy conditions, as will be the case against the Bulldogs.
5 – Freshman quarterback Drew Lock will be making his fifth start of the season and his previous three haven’t been so friendly. Mizzou has scored a total of 36 points in Lock’s four starts and he is just 1-3 since taking over for suspended junior Maty Mauk.
50 – That’s the number of points Mizzou gave up in four games during the month of October. Mississippi State nearly scored that many in its last game alone, a 42-16 win over Kentucky. The Tigers 12.5 points allowed per game leads the SEC and is third in the nation. Only Florida and Kentucky have scored at least 21 points against Mizzou.
Storylines to watch
Can Mizzou’s front seven continue to play elite football?
Mizzou’s defense, especially the front seven, has been the lone bright spot in a disappointing 2015 season. Kentrell Brothers wasn’t named as a Butkus Award semifinalist, but the senior linebacker is leading the nation in tackles (103) and has transformed himself into a second-day NFL draft pick at worst. Sophomore defensive end Charles Harris leads the SEC with 15.5 tackles for loss and freshman co-starter Walter Brady’s six sacks leads all freshmen nationally. Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen downplayed the effect that Harris and Brady would have on Heisman Trophy candidate Dak Prescott’s ability to run the read-option, saying Wednesday “They’re just excellent football players. But one thing in this league, you do get to face excellent football players all the time. So it doesn’t really affect you schematically at all.”
If the Tigers are to pull an upset they must prove Mullen wrong. Prescott has accounted for 21 touchdowns this year, and while he is doing more damage from the pocket, the Bulldogs are 8-2 over the last two seasons when he rushes for more than 75 yards. Containing Prescott is a must to slow down one of the highest scoring teams in the SEC and few defenses are more equipped to do that than Mizzou.
Can someone help Drew Lock?
Often times offensive struggles land on the quarterback, and Lock deserves his share of the blame, but he hasn’t gotten much help. The offensive line, which returned four starters from 2014, has struggled to keep Lock upright, senior running back Russell Hansbrough has looked like a shell of his 1,000-yard self from last year and the receiving corps was decimated by graduation. Mizzou has failed to have a 100-yard rusher or receiver in any game this season and that won’t change unless someone can help give Lock a break.
How will conditions impact the game?
Thursday games are already wacky enough, but playing in a thunderstorm could have some serious implications for both units. It certainly won’t help a struggling offense at all. Lock has completed less than 50% of his passes in each of his past three games. Rain and gusty winds could make the Tigers more vanilla offensively. That could lead to more third and long scenarios, which hasn’t been fruitful for Mizzou (3-for-41 on third downs in the past three games). But, Mississippi State will face the same conditions and Prescott has thrown 34 or more passes in six of the Bulldogs eight games. The uglier this game is, the better off Mizzou will be.
Will November become “Movember”?
Mizzou has been brilliant over the last two seasons in the month of November, boasting a perfect 8-0 record which helped cap back-to-back SEC East title runs. Clearly another division championship isn’t in the cards for the Tigers, but the season is far from lost because bowl eligibility is within reach. Former Navy Seal Marcus Luttrell gave the team a pep talk about perseverance and brotherhood during the team’s bye week. With four season-defining games remaining, it’ll be interesting to see how this team responds to what has been an adversity-filled season.
Prediction: Mississippi State 24, Missouri 10
Prescott and this explosive Mississippi State offense are coming off of a bye week and will be tough to stop. Couple that with an offense that will struggle to extend drives and the Tigers could be looking at another 75-snap game defensively. Mizzou just doesn’t have the playmakers to compete in the SEC right now, which has led to a wasted year for one of the best defenses in program history. The Tigers will show some signs of righting the ship offensively, ending the touchdown drought, but don’t have enough to upset a focused and motivated Mississippi State team.