Seated inside a Hyatt ballroom in Birmingham, Ala., Missouri senior linebacker Michael Scherer admitted at SEC Media Days in July that he’d been thinking about a matchup with LSU star running back Leonard Fournette since the schedule was announced last fall.
Finally, his day on the field with Fournette draws near as LSU hosts Mizzou at 6:30 p.m. Saturday in Baton Rouge, La.
“Pretty much when I got taken out of the game today, I started to think about it (the LSU game),” Scherer said Saturday. “I’ve been thinking about it all week, because that’s — no offense to (Delaware State) — but when you play a team like this, you’ve got to have something that gets you up and going and ready to practice to get better every day.”
He continued, “We’ve got LSU in the back of our mind. That’s what motivated us to practice hard this week, knowing that we have to use this week to get better for next week.”
First-year Tigers coach Barry Odom said Saturday, after a 79-0 rout against Delaware State, that he’d been thinking about — though not necessarily focusing on — LSU for quite some time.
“During the offseason, you pick a number of teams that you want to do a pre-study on and our next opponent was one of those,” Odom said.
LSU football, of course, was thrust into chaos Sunday as longtime coach Les Miles was fired in the wake of an 18-13 loss at Auburn, when a game-winning touchdown was overturned by replay review.
The clock had reached 0:00 on LSU — and Miles’ career on the bayou — before the snap on the final play.
But first, let’s go through some takeaways from Saturday’s win:
1. Missouri’s offense is legit
Delaware State isn’t a good team, but sophomore quarterback Drew Lock and company delivered a performance worthy of Mizzou’s point-scoring bonanza heyday under Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert.
The Tigers easily could have scored 100-plus points and racked up more than 1,000 yards if it wanted. Massachusetts had managed 703 yards in its first three games on offense, a sum Mizzou managed — well, almost with 698 yards — in basically three quarters and without really trying in the second half.
It’s unfair to pick on the Hornets, who were simply overmatched in every conceivable way. But consider this, the Tigers have scored 178 points in four games this season. That’s more points that Mizzou scored in the entire 2015 season (163).
Lock is 96 of 162 for 1,508 yards with 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. His 162.3 efficiency rating is 79.2 percent higher than last season — not quite double, but not far off either. He’s approaching a completion percentage of 60 percent after only completing 49 percent of his passes a year ago and already established a new career high for passing yards (1,332 in 2015).
Junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore has 26 catches for 434 yards with six touchdowns. He only had 26 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Mizzou’s offense has generated at least 462 yards in every game this season. The Tigers didn’t manage more than 434 yards in any game last season and only had one game (Nov. 14 vs. BYU) with more than 338 yards against FBS competition last season.
MU is converting at a 49-percent clip on third down this season, a mark the Tigers matched or exceeded in only two games last season (56.3 percent vs. South Carolina, 65 percent vs. BYU). Most of the time, Mizzou was atrocious on third down last season — 1 of 14 versus Florida, 2 of 13 at Georgia, 0 of 14 at Vanderbilt, 2 of 15 versus Tennessee and 1 of 13 at Arkansas.
2. The defense (probably) has improved significantly
It’s hard to make definitive declarations after playing a Delaware State, but Mizzou only allowed 133 yards in the first half.
The Hornets, who trailed 58-0 at halftime and agreed to play 10-minute third and fourth quarters, put up even less of a fight in the second half, totaling seven yards — seven! — and minus-3 yards rushing on seven carries.
That performance doesn’t portend greatness, by any stretch, but the fact that such dominance came on the heels of a terrific second half against Georgia, I think we can extrapolate good things.
The Tigers allowed the Bulldogs to rack up 250 yards on 47 plays — a fairly healthy 5.32-yard average — during the first half and trailing 21-20.
During the second half, Georgia’s offense only generated 159 yards on 46 plays, a minuscule 3.46 yards per play.
Were it not for four second-half turnovers and seven second-half penalties, Missouri would have won the game. We’ll find out how much better the Tigers’ defense is Saturday at LSU, but it’s gotten better since the West Virginia and Eastern Michigan games.
3. Marvin Zanders remains valuable
Marvin Zanders, a redshirt sophomore quarterback, played nine snaps against West Virginia, including a few series at crucial times. He was relegated to mop-up duty (Eastern Michigan) or a spectator’s role (Georgia) for the next two games. He remained in a mop-up role Saturday against Delaware State, checking in with Mizzou ahead 58-0 and leading three second-half scoring drives.
Zanders finished with seven carries for 83 yards, including touchdown runs of 11 and 14 yards, and also went 2 of 2 passing for 17 yards with a 2-yard touchdown to senior Eric Laurent.
Zanders actually has a better passer rating than Lock this season. Granted, his 188.1 rating — on 6 of 7 passing for 46 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions — isn’t as impressive as Lock’s stat line given the usual warnings about small sample size combined with the game situations he’s been in, but he’s proven he can make some plays, Most importantly, he’s been a team guy about it.
“It’s never hard to swallow, because it’s a team sport at the end of the day,” Zanders said of lack of playing time against Eastern Michigan and Georgia. “I’m all about the team. I just wasn’t in the gameplan those weeks, but each week I have a different role. I was right there the whole time engaged and seeing what Drew saw, helping him out with his reads and just waiting for my opportunity. If coach called name, I was ready. He didn’t, but that’s OK.”