We sat down with Jack from Rock M Nation to help preview the upcoming matchup with Missouri.
1) Reeling on a four game losing streak, and with four SEC games left on the schedule, what are some tangible changes the Tigers can make right now to help right the ship?
For starters, they could invest all of their remaining stat points into their tackling ability. Barry Odom is still a fantastic defensive mind; what's done his unit in this season hasn't been scheme, it's been execution. If they can't fix that issue, I would suggest slowing things down on offense. I know Josh Heupel wants to move quickly, but right now it's more important to be effective than fast. You can still run the no-huddle, just give your young players a few more moments to collect themselves and I'm quite sure you'll see better results.
2) Other than recent break-out receiver Dimetrious Mason, who are some of the Tigers’ offensive playmakers the South Carolina defense needs to be keyed in on come Saturday afternoon?
With the regression of Drew Lock, the biggest name South Carolina fans should get familiar with is definitely Damera Crockett, Mizzou's true freshman starting running back. Since taking hold of the job, he's been arguably the brightest spot in the darkness that is Missouri's 2016 season. In October, he ranked third in the SEC in rushing and fourth in yards per game. The kid is good.
3) Kentucky exploded on the ground with 377 yards rushing last Saturday. What happened?! And, what quick fixes can we expect this Saturday?
Short answer: Mizzou is bad. Longer answer: Mizzou is bad because the new scheme hasn't gelled yet and the defense has been absolutely gutted by both injury and player departure. After two talented defensive lineman left the team prior to the season, Missouri lost its leading tackler and another immensely talented defensive lineman to injury against Middle Tennessee. The other issue is tackling, which I talked about earlier. It's gotten bad enough that Odom is nearly calling out his players for a lack of effort. Basically, the Tigers got dealt a crap hand and haven't been able to salvage it, which has lowered morale and shattered the unit's confidence
4) The Missouri offense couldn’t get going last weekend until it was too late, unable to pick up a first down until they were down 21-0. What does the offense need to do to get things rolling a little faster this week?
Like I said earlier, I think for Mizzou to get things rolling faster they actually need to slow down. Heupel wants his offense to move at break-neck speeds, and that's fine. That strategy can be quite effective when it works. The issue for Missouri is that the strategy isn't working, and when it doesn't work it makes things a lot harder for your team. If you slow things down, you give your players a chance to catch their breath and collect themselves. That would allow them to calm down and get set, which would help them make the best of the next play. In theory, of course.
5) Sophomore QB Drew Lock, made his first career start in a win over South Carolina last year. How has he progressed from then and where are we today? Is he still considered the QB of the future for Mizzou?
You'll get a lot of different answers to that question depending on what Missouri fan you ask. The facts of the matter look like this: Drew did what he could with what he had last season, looked incredible at the beginning of this season, and has since regressed as the quality of the defenses he faced improved. Anything you hear beyond those facts is personal opinion. In mine, Drew is still the answer for Mizzou at QB. He may not look like the gunslinger we were seeing in August and September, but he is still the best player at the position. (I would like to see more packages that utilize Marvin Zanders' athleticism, but that's another issue) Drew fits the offense that Heupel wants to run like a glove. Once things get rolling, he should return to form. Hopefully that happens sooner than later.
6) Barry Odom was kind of thrown into a tough situation replacing long time head coach Gary Pinkel. Is he a long term solution at head coach? Or, do you foresee a coaching search in the near future?
I was one of Odom's biggest supporters during the coaching search. He's a Mizzou alum, he possesses a fantastic defensive mind, and he's young enough to give the program a similar amount of stability that Pinkel provided. After things started going downhill for the Tigers, some fans started to call the hiring into question; and that's fine. These things will happen when the team under-performs expectations. I still think Odom will ultimately be the successful head coach I thought he would be when he was hired. He may have to replace a few assistants along the way - possibly even this offseason - but Odom is still the right man for the job.
7) And finally, what are your thoughts on how the game will play out Saturday?
I honestly haven't the slightest clue how this game will go. Maybe Mizzou figures out a way to get its act together, maybe they keep floundering as Will Muschamp's defense stymies any progress the offense attempts to make. I could be convinced of just about anything. That said, this is the internet and thus I'm required to put a prediction in writing for all to see. Let's say this thing ends up something like 17-14 Mizzou, because the Tigers beating South Carolina a week after they beat Tennessee would be extremely SEC East.