Previews 2019: Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee and Vanderbilt

Jul 18, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Barry Odom speaks to the media from the main stage during SEC football media day at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 18, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Missouri Tigers head coach Barry Odom speaks to the media from the main stage during SEC football media day at the College Football Hall of Fame. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri Tigers

Projected record: 9-3 (UGA, WVU, UT); 6-2 and 2nd SEC East
Returning offensive starters: 7 (FL, WR, LT, C, RG, TE, RB)
Returning defensive starters: 6 (RDE, LDE, MLB, RCB, LCB, S)
Returning specialists: 1 (PK)

Unit ratings
QB: Av DL: Fr
RB: Vg LB: Av
WR: Vg DB: Fr
OL: Vg ST: Vg

Offense – what’s to like: This was going to be a really short paragraph until Kelly Bryant announced he would transfer from Clemson to Missouri, rather than to Auburn. With Bryant under center, Missouri won’t have quite the downfield threat it had with Drew Lock at quarterback, but Bryant’s mobility might fit the overall offense better. A veteran wide receiver unit, led by Johnathon Johnson at receiver and Albert Okwuegbunam at tight end, will be more than a lot of secondaries can handle.

The best part of the Tiger offense, though, may be the running game. Larry Rountree III was a breakout star as a sophomore in 2018, and he has a nice backup in Tyler Badie. The offensive line returns three starters from a group that finally put everything together and was as strong in the running game as it was in pass protection.

Offense – potential pitfalls: Should something happen to Bryant, Missouri is probably toast. Taylor Powell had 16 pass attempts as Lock’s backup in 2018 and isn’t considered to be on the same plane as Lock, or even close to it. If Bryant were to be lost for any length of time – and he’s beginning fall camp nursing a hamstring injury – the Tigers are going to have to run the ball more on early downs and rely on a defense that has its own issues.

The other concern, albeit minor, is to get better production out of the outside recievers, primarily Jalen Knox, Jonathan Nance and Alex Ofodile. All three have plenty of experience, but none of them touched the production of the now-departed Emanuel Hall. Johnathan Johnson is a slot receiver first and foremost. Knox has to improve on his 2018 production – 27 catches.

Defense/special teams – what’s to like: Missouri ranked 22nd in the country in rush defense last year, a testament to good play up front and in the linebacker corps. One of those difference-makers returns, MLB Cale Garrett, one of the best at his position in the country. He racked up 112 tackles in 2018, not bad for a player that was probably headed to a service academy to play his college ball at one time. The Tigers will be young on the weakside, but there is talent there.

Defensive ends Akial Byers and Chris Turner both return, and are both expected to do big things. In the special teams, Tucker McCann moves from just handling kicks to probably handling both kicks and punts. Early results are promising. There’s plenty of talent to make a good return unit, as well.

Defense/special teams – potential pitfalls: The problem in the secondary is that no one knows exactly what Missouri has. On paper, DeMarkus Acy and Christian Holmes both have the size you want in a modern cornerback, but Mizzou was flat-out awful against the pass last year. The safety trio has a lot of experience, but when results varied as much as they did for the Tigers in 2018, one has to wonder whether having the same players back is a plus or a minus.

The bigger problem may be the middle of the defensive line. Missouri is expected to struggle at tackle. Jordan Elliott and Kobie Whiteside led the depth chart coming out of spring, but Whiteside is a bit under-height and lacks the quickness desired for a true 4-2-5 scheme. Missouri will probably play a lot of players until it finds the right mix. The other concern is at punter, where if McCann can’t handle it, there aren’t many other options.

Final analysis: As usual, Missouri has a lot of talent in some places and not nearly enough in others. It’s been that way ever since the Tigers joined the SEC, and until Missouri can begin to do a better job of reaching outside its region for top athletes, the problem is going to continue. Of greater concern right now is the postseason ban put in place by the NCAA for an academic violation that didn’t seem to rise to the level of postseason ineligibility for an entire program. Missouri is appealing, but the NCAA isn’t known for its grasp of logic. If the ban sticks, it’s going to be difficult to play for anything other than pride. This team has enough talent to challenge for second in the SEC East.

READ MORE:  South Carolina


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