The Missouri Tigers opened the season at home against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs in impressive fashion. Sure, this is a team the Tigers were supposed to beat, but like many, I was unsure of how the team would look after many changes in the offseason.
On the offensive and defensive side of the ball, this is a completely different team, so I did not know what to expect. One thing was clear, Missouri’s rush defense and QB pressure was improved. I did anticipate some jitters and mistakes early on. The Tigers forced a turnover on third down with just under twelve minutes left in the first quarter. One of the three interceptions thrown by Louisiana Tech Quarterback, Matthew Downing.
After being stopped on third down, Mizzou punted to dangerous return man, Smoke Harris. Harris was a shoulder-scratch tackle away from taking it to the house. This play was significant, because of Mizzou’s inability to score in the first quarter. The momentum would have shifted, and tremendous pressure would have fallen on the Tigers’ Quarterback, Brady Cook had Mizzou went down 7-0 at home. The Bulldogs did take advantage of the long punt return, scoring first on a 33-yard field goal. The third quarter ended with Louisiana Tech ahead, 3-0, and Missouri Tigers fans wondering if the offense would show up.
It did not take long for the Tigers to start the scoring in the second quarter and quickly turn the tide. D-II transfer Cody Schrader (Truman State) made the most of his opportunity, rushing for 70 yards on 17 carries and scoring early in the second quarter to get Mizzou on the board. Louisiana Tech’s next offensive possession resulted in an interception on another tipped pass. This one returned for a touchdown by Defensive Back, Joseph Charleston.
The pick-six underscored a theme for the Missouri Tigers’ defense in the first half – constant pressure on the Quarterback. The Tigers followed up on the next defensive drive with yet another interception. This one by Ty’Ron Hopper. Hopper added 6 tackles and a sack. The Florida Gators transfer validating Mizzou fans’ excitement about him joining the black and gold.
Elijah Young showed off the wheels on a jet sweep right that went for 17 yards, and then gave way to the man everyone came to see. On second and goal, Luther Burden caught a harmless pass around the nine-yard line, which turned into four broken tackles, and a Missouri touchdown. Burden finished the game with 43 total yards and 2 touchdowns. His advanced skill set and superstar ability on display for all.
Like Brady Cook’s previous start in last year’s Armed Forces Bowl, Cook was effective. He was not great, but he was good. Cook did not need to be great to beat this team. Brady Cook and the Tigers do not need to be perfect, or even great to beat Kansas State, but they will need to take some chances down field. Something that was not necessary against Louisiana Tech.
Missouri pulled away in the second half in what ended up being an easy game. The run defense is far improved, and the Tigers can get to the QB. If the secondary can tighten up, we are looking at a scary Mizzou team.
Keys to victory against Kansas State:
If The Tigers want to be a real contender in this league, they must beat non-conference teams. Kansas State is a big step up in competition compared to Louisiana Tech, but Mizzou is still the better team on paper. The Tigers have more skilled players on both sides of the ball, and despite this being a road game with early odds as a pick’em, Missouri should win the game. The following things need to happen to be victorious in Manhattan next Saturday:
– Brady Cook must continue to make decisions. He looked very much in control and was deliberate in his decision-making. Cook ran 20 yards for the touchdown in third quarter without hesitation. He made countless throws that were accurate and out of his hand in a hurry. After a shaky start, there was never a point where Brady looked nervous, unsure or not in control. If there was any doubt, he is your starting quarterback.
– The Missouri defense needs to clean up the soft spots in the middle of the field. Minus a long 64-yard TD in the fourth quarter, Louisiana Tech’s success was almost exclusively in the middle of the field, and on play action. The passes completed to the outside were a product of poor interior passing defense. The Mizzou secondary on their heels, recovering from the previous play over-compensating in the middle, thus leaving the sidelines thinly covered. The linebackers for Missouri will need to be more aware in the middle of the field. A victim of the early interception success, the Tigers defense was a tad overzealous when they were gashed for a 75-yard touchdown over the middle in the second quarter. The Tigers must be able to comfortably play man-to-man defense to win. Mizzou allowed 336 passing yards to Louisiana Tech. That will not work against Kansas State.
– Luther Burden needs to touch the ball, frequently. The Tigers did an excellent job of easing the first-year star into the offense. Short outs and Wildcat formation calls were perfect. More of this, plus finding any way to get Luther Burden one-on-one is key. If the Tigers can get him in the middle of the field, there is not a defensive player on the planet that can handle him in space.
– The Tigers running back committee of Cody Schrader, Elijah Young, BJ Harris and Nathanial Peat looks good. How much of that was Mizzou, and how much was a poor Louisiana Tech run defense is unclear. The offensive line did their part, and the Tigers exploited the Bulldogs for 323 rushing yards. If the Tigers can muster another game like that on the ground, it is going to be a good day.
– All Mizzou fans traveling to Manhattan must pay the Timmy Trumpet/Edwin Diaz song on their cellphone on third down. It is a requirement for admission. I don’t make the rules.