Only two quarterbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision attempt more passes per game than Middle Tennessee sophomore Brent Stockstill.
Missouri coach Barry Odom, whose team has the unenviable job of stopping the Blue Raiders’ potent attack at 3 p.m. Saturday, is quite familiar with Stockstill.
During a three-year stint at Memphis, he recruited Stockstill, who is the son of Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill.
“I really recruited the mom,” Odom joked Monday during his weekly availability. “I tried to get a divide in there.”
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Of course, the Blue Raiders’ passing attack is no laughing matter.
Stockstill throws 46 passes per game. He’s completed 179 of 276 attempts — a 64.9-percent clip — for 2,091 yards with 18 touchdowns and only five interceptions.
“He’s an unbelievable talent who’s got such a quick release,” Odom said. “He’s just a great competitor, and you don’t see many incomplete passes. He makes a lot of right decisions.”
Fortunately, that plays into the strength of Mizzou’s defense, which is eager to help snap a two-game skid for the homecoming crowd.
The Tigers only rank 73rd nationally, allowing 232.7 passing yards per game, but it’s a misleading figure.
Only 10 teams have faced more than the 38.8 passes per game fired at Mizzou’s secondary — which has allowed 6.0 yards per attempt, tied for 18th in the country.
The Tigers’ pass defense ranks 10th nationally with a 102.04 opponent passer rating and 10 interceptions on the season.
Furthermore, Mizzou, 2-4, is tied for second overall with 44 passes defended — trailing only UCLA, which has 46 passes defended in seven games.
MU is tied with Memphis, averaging an FBS-best 7.33 passes defended per game, and is one of only 16 teams that hasn’t allowed a completion longer than 50 yards yet this season.
“They don’t run the ball as much,” senior cornerback Aarion Penton said, comparing the Blue Raiders to the Tigers’ recent run-heavy opponents, “and when they do it’s lateral — left and right, stretch plays. Other than that, they're Air Raid, trying to put the ball in the air and make something happen.”
The Tigers ought to be comfortable going against that style, considering the offense it worked against throughout spring practice and fall camp.
“As far as the spread and the tempo, I think there are some similarities that should carry over for us,” first-year defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said.
Obviously, it’s going to be a test for Mizzou’s secondary.
“They throw the ball a lot, a whole lot, more than anybody we’ve seen this season,” senior cornerback John Gibson said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge and, hopefully, we can get our hands on a few of them.”
Gibson deserves some credit for the secondary’s success. He’d played in 38 games during the last three seasons, but hadn’t been a starter since serving as an injury fill-in during the 2014 season.
This season, Gibson has started all six games and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions after picking off Florida’s Luke Del Rio twice last week. Gibson is also second on the Tigers with five pass breakups.
“There were times when we didn’t know if he wanted to play (and) he didn’t know if he wanted to play,” Cross said of Gibson. “What a surprise — just a great boost in our secondary for that young man to be make the plays he’s made consistently this year. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
More than ever before.
“My confidence is through the roof right now,” Gibson said. “It’s as high as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Mizzou. I’m just playing lights out right now and, hopefully, I can continue it Saturday.”
Cross also expects Middle Tennessee to attack Mizzou’s defense with routes in the middle of the field underneath the coverage.
That puts a premium on the expected return of junior Logan Cheadle, who is one of the Tigers’ best options in the slot.
Cheadle, a Lee’s Summit West graduate, has been sidelined since spraining his ankle against Georgia last month.
“I don’t think he’s going to have the ability to be an every-down guy … but he looks significantly better than he did last week,” Odom said.