Mizzou football: 10 biggest questions (and answers) entering fall camp
The Missouri Tigers return a lot of talent to the field in 2019, but they also have some new faces. Most notably, Clemson transfer QB Kelly Bryant will run OC Derek Dooley’s offense.
Elsewhere, the Tigers are replacing some talented players on defense, including LB Terez Hall and DT Terry Beckner Jr. This could be a big year in Columbia, but first, there are some important questions that need to be answered.
As Mizzou prepares to kick off fall camp, here are the 10 most pressing questions facing the Tigers this year:
1. Who steps up at punter?
We’ll start with a question that isn’t exactly the sexiest one, but somebody has to replace 4-year starter Corey Fatony, after all. Fatony’s yards-per-punt average improved every year, culminating with 44.4 yards per boot in 2018.
Right now, kicker Tucker McCann is listed as the starting punter, too. Will that stand all the way through fall camp and into Week 1? We’ll find out soon.
2. Can the Tigers tighten things up on punt coverage?
Another question about punting? We’ll move on after this, I promise. But it’s worth mentioning that the Tigers gave up 2 punt return touchdowns last year. The one against Kentucky was particularly devastating:
— Greg Brandt (@devywarehouse) October 27, 2018
That was tough to watch, but the Tigers should be seeing this at least once per practice to hammer home the importance of punt coverage. No other SEC team allowed 2 punt return touchdowns in 2018, so that’s a big area of concern.
3. How will Derek Dooley handle Kelly Bryant?
Kelly Bryant is no Drew Lock. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as they’re just different quarterbacks. Lock had a cannon for a right arm and had a knack for hitting receivers down the field.
Conversely, Bryant has a different completion chart. As you can see below, he’s connected on only 15-of51 career attempts of 20 or more yards:
Missouri's passing game will likely look a lot different with Kelly Bryant at QB. Unlike Drew Lock, throwing downfield has been a weakness for Bryant.
Here's his career passing chart at Clemson: pic.twitter.com/xPVwOcF3Y8
— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) December 5, 2018
The good news is that Bryant doesn’t make many mistakes. Of those 15 deep completions, 7 went for touchdowns. He also threw only 1 interception on those 51 attempts, so he keeps it away from the defense.
How will Dooley take advantage of Bryant’s different skill set? That’ll be one of the most interesting things to see in Columbia this fall. Expect the offense to look different that the one Lock ran in 2018.
4. What impact can 4-star S Jalani Williams make?
Williams, the top-rated player in the Tigers’ 2019 class, enrolled early and was in Columbia this spring. However, a foot injury forced him out of spring practices, so we didn’t get to see what he brings to the secondary.
If he can contribute right away, it’ll be a big benefit for DC Ryan Walters’ defense. He’s listed as the backup strong safety on the depth chart the Tigers released ahead of their appearance at SEC Media Days.
5. Who will step into the 2 open offensive line spots?
A lot of Missouri’s success on offense the past 2 seasons can be attributed to stellar play along the line. This fall, the Tigers need to replace Paul Adams at right tackle and Kevin Pendleton at left guard.
At the moment, sophomore Hyrin White is listed as the starter at right tackle, while sophomores Larry Borom and Case Cook are listed as co-starters at left guard. That left guard battle will be one to watch during fall camp.
6. Can the secondary stop anyone?
The Tigers had the worst pass defense in the SEC in 2018, allowing 262 yards per game. That was worse than even Ole Miss’ secondary.
Mizzou also gave up 24 passing touchdowns, which was 12th in the SEC (ahead of only Ole Miss and Texas A&M, which allowed 26 scores through the air). The Tigers also lost Cam Hilton from last year’s secondary, so they’ll need to find another impact player.
If those passing yards allowed per game don’t improve, it could be another long season for the Mizzou defense.
7. Can the Tigers enter the Georgia game undefeated?
Mizzou enters the 2019 season with a real opportunity, based on its schedule. At SEC Media Days, there was some chatter about whether the Tigers could enter the big game at Georgia 8-0.
The Tigers’ first 8 opponents are — Wyoming, West Virginia, Southeast Missouri, South Carolina, Troy, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Kentucky. Those are all winnable, so Mizzou could theoretically enter the Nov. 9 matchup at Georgia with an unblemished record.
Head coach Barry Odom said he welcomes that sort of pressure on his team, as it means his players have worked hard to be a threat to the first 8 teams on their schedule.
8. How good can Jordan Elliott be?
The former Texas defensive tackle showed flashes of brilliance in 2018, recording 24 tackles (8 for a loss) and 3 sacks. The Tigers need him to be even better in 2019, as Terry Beckner Jr. is off to the NFL.
I had Elliott ranked No. 3 on my list of top SEC defensive tackles following spring practices, and he has the talent to make that seem low. He is fast, strong and shifty, but he’ll need some help from Mizzou’s other defensive linemen to really allow him to thrive.
9. Who takes over as the top outside receiver?
The Tigers lost deep threat Emanuel Hall, so someone else needs to step up on the outside. With Bryant running the offense, the intermediate routes will be more important, which bodes well for slot receiver Johnathon Johnson and TE Albert Okwuegbunam.
However, if there’s not a vertical threat, secondaries will play closer to the line of scrimmage and make those intermediate routes harder. The best options to replace Hall are rising sophomores Jalen Knox and Kam Scott. Knox had better 2018 numbers, recording 27 catches for 419 yards and 3 touchdowns. Scott had 8 catches for 214 yards and 2 scores.
Scott had this incredible 70-yard touchdown catch last year, so he could be ready for a bigger role this fall:
10. Will the NCAA lift Mizzou’s 1-year bowl ban?
When it comes down to it, this is the only question that matters. Will the Tigers get the chance to have a special season, or will the NCAA uphold its ban? The ban has been derided by nearly everyone. SEC Network analysts Greg McElroy and Paul Finebaum were among the latest to rip the NCAA’s decision.
However, life as a Mizzou fan has been rough the past few decades. We’ve been conditioned to expect the worse. Therefore, don’t expect the NCAA to #MakeItRight. That way, you’ll be prepared for disappointment. Then, if the NCAA does overturn the ban, it’ll be a pleasant surprise.