The Ed Orgeron era of LSU football will begin at home Saturday against an opponent LSU hasn’t faced since it joined the Southeastern Conference: Missouri.
To find out more about the northern-most team in the conference, we welcome back our Pick 6 series – a Q&A with a beat writer covering LSU’s (2-2, 1-1) opponent – for another week. Dave Matter, who covers Mizzou (2-2, 0-1) for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, kindly joined us to answer our questions about the fellow Tigers.
1.) From a team boycott to its coach retiring due to health issues, Mizzou had plenty of off-the-field distractions last season. How has the Missouri football program, now under Barry Odom, responded after last season’s turmoil?
New leadership has made a big difference. Odom quickly buried last year in the past by surrounding himself with a new staff and changing a lot of things within the program. He’s stressed toughness and accountability and worked hard to improve player-coach relationships.
He’s helped by having two experienced coordinators in Josh Heupel and DeMontie Cross, but they’re young enough to relate to kids coach with passion and energy. Odom hasn’t played any favorites with returning players and gave a handful of newcomers playing time they earned in preseason camp.
2.) Mizzou’s 28-27 loss to Georgia in Week 3 seemed to be brutal one, considering Mizzou is trying to reestablish itself in the SEC East after a down year in 2015. How big would win at LSU be for Mizzou’s confidence going forward?
This is a confident team, but it hasn’t produced the kind of tangible results that it expects. A win Saturday would change that. If Missouri can beat LSU at Tiger Stadium there’s not a game on the schedule it can’t also win, and more than anything, a win or promising performance will build confidence for MU’s next game, at Florida in two weeks.
Also, a win would earn Odom some credibility with the fan base and revive some excitement in the program. Attendance and season ticket sales are down at MU this year, but the bandwagon will pick up some stray fans with a win Saturday.
3.) Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock is first or second in five major passing categories. Lock has picked apart weaker competition, but he has also been productive against Power Five conference teams. Do you believe Lock can have success against the LSU defense?
If he gets protection from his offensive line and tight ends and MU can generate some semblance of a running game, Lock can move the chains with the up-tempo offense. He’s got a live arm and his accuracy has improved tremendously from last year, especially on deep balls. He can hit receivers in stride before they come open and he’s got plenty of weapons around him that can break open big plays.
This will be the most athletic secondary he’s faced, but Missouri does a good job of cutting the field in half for Lock to simplify his reads and find a favorable matchup downfield.
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4.) Mizzou, like LSU, seems to have been bitten by the injury bug lately, including injuries to two of its running backs. The injuries in the backfield opened the door Damarea Crockett in a 79-0 win against Delaware State. Can you see Crockett becoming a factor in an offense trying establish a ground game?
Crockett has the most upside of Missouri’s running backs, but he’s put the ball on the turf twice. The staff believes Ish Witter is the most trustworthy running back in terms of ball security and pass protection, but he’s not an explosive runner. The more Crockett plays and plays well, he’ll see his role expand because of his combination of size and speed. They’d like Alex Ross to become a factor but he’s had a nagging ankle injury for three weeks.
5.) Mizzou is known for producing quality defensive linemen. Defensive tackle Terry Beckner Jr., a Freshman All-American, appears to be creating problems for opposing offensive lines. How important is he to Mizzou’s success up front?
Missouri steadily rotates four D-tackles and Beckner is the most athletic of the bunch. He’s not as consistent as senior Rickey Hatley, who starts ahead of him, but the more Beckner develops and the more he distances himself from last year’s knee injury, the more complete a player he should become.He’s got a great burst off the snap and can chase down runners better than the other D-tackles
6.) SEC-leading receiver J’Mon Moore bounced back from a fumble against Georgia by tying a school record with four receiving touchdowns against Delaware State. Is the Moore’s chemistry with Lock the biggest key to Mizzou’s success on offense?
It’s vital. They spent the summer developing that chemistry and Lock clearly trusts Moore more than any receiver. He’s targeted him 51 times in four games — more than double any other receiver. Moore is really close to becoming a complete receiver, but he has some periodic lapses where he loses focus and drops a catchable pass or loses his grip on the ball. Once he cleans up those self-inflicted mistakes he’s got the talent to be one of the best wideouts in the country.