Position-by-position edge: Missouri vs. LSU
Who would have thought that when Missouri joined the SEC for the 2012 season, the Tigers would have two division championships in their first four years while LSU — fresh off a trip to the BCS National Championship Game in 2011, would have none over that time?
And who would have thought that by the time Mizzou and LSU finally met on the field in 2016 that neither Gary Pinkel, the man who orchestrated Missouri’s quick adjustment to SEC life, nor Les Miles, the man who took LSU to that title game, would still be around to coach it?
That’s exactly what we have on Saturday. It’s Barry Odom vs. Ed Orgeron. It’s a 2-2 Missouri team on the upswing vs. a 2-2 LSU team that just saw its head coach, Miles, get fired.
How do they match up? Let’s see.
When Missouri has the ball
Quarterback Drew Lock vs. LSU’s pass defense: Lock leads the SEC in passing yards (377 yards per game), touchdown passes (14) and is second among regular starters in pass efficiency to Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly.
Yet, it’s important to note that against two Power 5 conference opponents — West Virginia and Georgia — Lock has thrown for just 656 yards, 4 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. In two gimme games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, he has 852 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
So there has been some stat-padding against inferior foes, and LSU’s secondary is probably the best Lock has seen.
Yet, despite having talents like Tre’Davious White and Jamal Adams, LSU is just eighth in the SEC in pass defense, even while playing run-first teams like Wisconsin, Mississippi State and Auburn.
What will be interesting is seeing how well Lock gets the ball off against an LSU front led by Arden Key’s league-leading 6.5 sacks. Lock has been sacked just once this year.
Missouri running backs vs. LSU run defense: Missouri goes with the by-committee approach, and so far, starter Ish Witter (209 yards, 3.7 yards per carry) has been outperformed by reserve Damarea Crockett (210 yards, 6.2 yards per carry).
Altogether, Mizzou is a middle-of-the-pack running team, but LSU (116 yards per game allowed) is one of the league’s better run defenses.
The Tigers’ defensive line is good enough to prevent an up-front push, and LSU tackles leader Kendell Beckwith is one of the league’s better run defenders.
Missouri receivers vs. LSU secondary: White is one of the SEC’s better cover corners, and Mizzou’s J’Mon Moore (26 receptions, 434 yards, 6 TDs) is the league’s leading receiver. Here’s hoping they match up.
Dimetrios Mason and Emanuel Hall round out a solid starting three receivers for Mizzou.
LSU is eighth in the league in both passing yards allowed and pass efficiency. White’s an elite cover corner and Jamal Adams is a big-time safety, but the Tigers missed injured cornerback Kevin Toliver (neck injury) in last week’s loss to Auburn.
When LSU has the ball
LSU QB Danny Etling vs. Missouri pass defense: LSU is dead last in the SEC in passing, and to make matters worse for LSU, Missouri is the league’s best team at producing interceptions (7).
Sure, Missouri is producing those numbers against inferior foes, but Etling and the Tigers haven’t exactly been superior. Etling threw for just 118 yards last week against Auburn, and the Tigers’ receivers have had a hard time making plays with either Etling or former starter Brandon Harris in the game.
Missouri can produce a fair pass rush with Charles Harris (3.0 sacks) leading the way.
The bottom line is, it’s hard to predict LSU will get the better of anybody’s pass defense until it starts proving that it can. And Missouri — second in the SEC in pass efficiency defense — should not have problems against LSU’s pass offense.
LSU RBs vs. Missouri run defense: Normally, this would read LSU’s Leonard Fournette vs. Missouri’s run defense, but with Fournette ailing with an ankle injury (he’ll be a game-time decision), it’s looking more like a committee backfield for the Tigers.
But it is a talented committee. Backup Derrius Guice is averaging just under 60 yards per game, and his 8.2 yards per carry is actually better than Fournette’s (5.8).
Mizzou’s defense is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, but again, two easy non-conference wins helped pad those stats.
LSU WRs vs. Missouri pass defense: LSU has had a hard time getting receivers open, and when they get open they tend to drop the ball.
Yet, the talent that receiving leader Travin Dural (14 receptions, 142 yards) and the rest of the LSU receivers possess is impressive.
It’ll be interesting to see if LSU targets Aarion Penton (2 interceptions and 6 passes broken up), one of the best in the league in coverage.
Neither team has particularly distinguished itself on special teams.
LSU is last in kick return average. Missouri has missed five placement kicks (three field goals and two PATs).
LSU has struggled so much that after firing Miles, Orgeron took special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto out of his double-dip assignment with the LSU linebackers.
But Missouri isn’t much better. And LSU does lead the league in kickoff coverage. And with Peveto spending more quality time with the special teams, it should even things out.