Missouri overcame a 1-5 start last year to finish the regular season 7-5 before losing in the Texas Bowl to the Texas Longhorns. However, with some major changes this offseason, there are some major question marks heading into the 2018 season.
The Tigers will attempt to answer some of those questions Saturday, when they hold their annual spring game at Faurot Field.
The offense is in good hands with QB Drew Lock and other returning stars, but there are still some things fans are going to want to see on that side of the ball. Then there’s the defense, which needs to take a big step forward if the Tigers are going to improve on last year’s record.
Here’s a look at five things I will be watching for when Saturday’s game kicks off at 12 p.m. Central on SEC Network:
1. Derek Dooley’s offense
This is, by far, the biggest question mark the Tigers have this offseason. The offense is going from Josh Heupel, who left the Mizzou OC job to take over as UCF’s head coach, to Derek Dooley, the former Tennessee head coach who has never called plays.
The offense has plenty of talent, from potential first-round NFL Draft pick Drew Lock at quarterback to Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree at running back and Emanuel Hall and Johnathon Johnson at receiver. The Tigers also return key players along the offensive line, so Dooley would be wise to not tweak too much.
Heupel’s lightning-quick offense sometimes put the defense at a disadvantage, but Dooley shouldn’t completely revamp things. We’ll get our first look at his plan on Saturday, and if it looks totally different, it might be time for Mizzou fans to start panicking.
2. Damarea Crockett’s health
The Tigers managed to put together a great rushing attack last year even though Crockett wasn’t healthy for much of the season. That’s because freshman Larry Rountree III stepped up to become a great second option behind Ish Witter.
This spring, though, Crockett is back in action and could be one of the best running backs in the SEC if he stays healthy. Should he match the production of his freshman season, he’d be among the Damien Harris and Benny Snell-type runners.
While Mizzou would be wise to take it easy on Crockett on Saturday, it’ll be important for him to get some live action against the first-team defense.
3. Some new pass rushers
The Tigers lost Charles Harris after the 2016 season and will lose Marcell Frazier heading into the 2018 campaign, so some new elite pass rushers need to emerge.
Mizzou has become D-Line U in recent years, with a long line of talented pass rushers, including Shane Ray, Aldon Smith, Markus Golden, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Sheldon Richardson, Harris and others, and the next great Tiger is DT Terry Beckner Jr., who could be a first-round pick in 2019.
However, Beckner will command a lot of attention from opposing offensive lines this fall, so someone else is going to have to step up. Chris Turner, Nate Anderson and others will be relied on heavily to bring down the quarterback this fall, so seeing them get off to a good start on Saturday will be very important.
4. Big plays in the secondary
When you’re scrimmaging against an offense led by Drew Lock, you’re going to get burned a few times, at least. However, the Mizzou secondary needs to make a few big plays to inspire some hope this fall.
We know Lock will often throw at least one ill-advised pass early in a game, and defenses must take advantage of those mistakes to keep the score close. The Mizzou secondary lost Logan Cheadle and Anthony Sherrils this offseason, but there are still some intriguing pieces returning.
This is a great chance for DeMarkus Acy, Ronnell Perkins and other defensive backs to step up, and if they start on Saturday, it’ll be a fantastic sign for Odom’s squad.
5. Kicking accuracy
Tucker McCann’s sophomore season went much better than his freshman campaign, but he still missed two extra points and two field goals. The 15-for-17 field goal mark is good, but the Tigers didn’t exactly put him in long-distance situations.
Being able to trust him to hit longer field goals is going to be important for the Tigers in 2018, so Odom should create a couple of situations for him to attempt some long tries on Saturday.
If he converts, there will be reason for optimism. If not, perhaps the Tigers will need to go back to the drawing board at the kicker position.