We’re nearing the midway point of the 2017 football season and Kentucky will end their three game homestand on Saturday night when they host Missouri at Kroger Field. The Tigers enter this one coming off of their bye week and have easily been the worst team in the SEC to start the year. Barry Odom is beginning to enter hot seat territory in Columbia as each team has the Tigers have given up over 30 points in each game to start the season.
Odom enters this contest with a 2-11 record against Power Five competition and a program that won 23 games in 2013 and 2014 has now become the laughingstock of the SEC in just two short seasons. If Mizzou has any fight left, it’ll have to be in this game as this may be their best shot at a conference victory as it’s the beginning of an eight game stretch against FBS competition.
It’s been a strange season in Columbia, but here is what you need to know about the Mizzou Tigers.
When Odom was named the head coach, one of the first hires he made was naming Josh Heupel the offensive coordinator. Heupel, of course, was the quarterback for Oklahoma’s last national championship team and was OU’s coordinator from 2011-2014. That was a rocky stint and Heupel would be let go and replaced by Lincoln Riley in 2015. After a rebound for one year at Utah State, Heupel landed the job with Odom.
Mizzou’s offensive scheme can be classified as a “Veer and Shoot” as it is based off of the offense Art Briles was extremely successful with at Baylor. The Tigers will consistently be in four wide sets that will have receivers lined up outside of the hashmarks. This will help create running room for backs by getting all defensive backs out of the box. This offense is designed to hit on multiple vertical routes so expect Mizzou to throw it deep very often.
Under Heupel, the Tigers have been very powerful against Group of Five/FCS opponents as they are averaging 64.3 points per game. But against big programs, Mizzou is averaging 18.5 points per game. That is quite a drop. The Tigers have only topped more than 30 points once against SEC foes and the way this team is being built, Mizzou is not going beat anyone when they cannot put points on the board.
Boom or bust against the run
When you look at the numbers, you would just assume that Mizzou has one of the worst rush defenses in the Power Five. Through four games in 2017, the Tigers are allowing 194.8 yards per game on the ground and opponents have already posted 14 rushing touchdowns. This coming off allowing 233 yards per game in 2016.
This run defense has shown some signs of progress in Odom’s second season. The Tigers have been performed well in forcing short runs and getting stops at or behind the line of scrimmage. In four games, Mizzou has 27 tackles for loss and the advanced metric opportunity rate (runs that are held under five yards) the Tigers currently rank 28th in the country. When the run defense is on, they’re pretty good.
Where Mizzou struggles is with giving up big plays as opponents have already posted 10 rushes of more than 20 yards. This group has been consistently giving up big plays on the ground and that is the biggest reason why their run defense hasn’t been as effective as you might think.
The best thing Mizzou does is run the football and sophomore Damarea Crockett is the biggest reason why. The true sophomore ran for over a thousand yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman and has been just as effective as a sophomore. The Arkansas native has 375 yards in four games and is averaging 6.4 yards per carry.
Crockett was the best recruiting win for this Odom staff to date as he has topped the 200 yard rushing mark twice in 14 career games. Goal number one for the UK defense will be to slow down the super sophomore.
It’s important to note that after rushing for 202 yards in the opener against Southwest Missouri State, Crockett only put up 173 yards in the next three games. After a week off, look for the coaching staff to attempt to get Crockett going early and often on Saturday.
Top Receiver Dismissed
Even in the bye week, Mizzou couldn’t stay away from bad news as the program announced on Saturday that sophomore wide receiver Dimetrios Mason has been dismissed from the team. Mason was a three-star prospect from Georgia who only had one Power Five offer coming out of high school. After recording 47 receptions for 587 yards as a freshman, Mason became a big part of the offense in 2017.
Mason led the team with 25 targets on the season as he was Lock’s top target in the the short and intermediate passing game. Mizzou likes to run Johnathan Johnson and J’Mon Moore on vertical routes, so Mason was used a lot in the quick game.
On Saturday, it is likely we see some receivers who will be making their first time college appearance. Experience will heavily favor UK when the Tigers have the football.
Strong Special Teams
The story of Lexington has been the play of the special teams, but Mizzou has been very good in the third phase to start 2017.
It all starts with punter Corey Fatony who is averaging 46.7 yards per attempt and has landed 10 kicks inside the 20. Tucker McCann has hit four of five field goals and has sent 14 of his 20 kickoffs into the endzone for touchbacks.
Losing Dimetrios Mason will hurt the kick return team and the Tigers have gotten nothing in the punt return to department. This is a unit led by its kicker and punter duo.
Third Down Struggles
It’s been no secret that UK has struggled on third down this season as they are currently only converting 37.7% of the time. Saturday may be the perfect time for a season changing performance.
Mizzou’s defense enters week five having allowed first downs on 49.2% of third down attempts. The Tigers have been consistent in each game as the lowest figure was when Auburn had a 46.7% conversion rate while South Carolina was the highest when the Gamecocks hit 53.3%.
Missouri has a tendency to give up big plays and not get off the field on third down. UK needs to capitalize on Saturday night.
Pitiful Road Performances
On November 22nd, 2014, Mizzou would go on the road and upset Tennessee in Knoxville. The next week the Tigers would knock off Arkansas at home to clinch the SEC East title for the second consecutive season.
Mizzou is still searching for their first SEC road win since that night on Rocky Top.
The Tigers began this slide in Gary Pinkel’s last season as they won at Arkansas State to extend their road winning streak to 10. But since then, the Tigers have lost nine straight on the road and eight of these contests have been against SEC foes. Barry Odom was 0-5 last season and Mizzou’s first road game in 2017 will occur on Saturday night.
During this run, Mizzou hasn’t come close to victories as they are 1-7 against the spread. UK started this streak when they beat Missouri in 2015 by a score of 21-13 as a three-point home underdog.