Missouri State at Missouri
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium in Columbia
TV: SEC Network
Radio: KMBZ (98.1 FM)
Line: Not available
The lowdown: It’s been 94 years since Missouri played Missouri State in football. The Tigers won the only previous meeting 10-0 on Oct. 6, 1923, in Columbia. Expect a few more points to be scored in the rematch as junior quarterback Drew Lock and the offense gear up to flex some newfound muscle after a record-setting 2016 performance. Second-year coach Barry Odom won’t be looking to embarrass the Bears, who are coached by former Mizzou defensive coordinator and Odom mentor Dave Steckel, but the Tigers will want to make a statement in the opener after back-to-back years without a bowl game.
Missouri keys to success: As excited as the Tigers’ offense is expected to be, all eyes will be on the defense after last season’s disaster. Mizzou was among the nation’s best defenses in 2015, when Odom returned from Memphis to serve as coordinator during Gary Pinkel’s final season. Trying to adjust the scheme, the Tigers instead fell apart and had one of the SEC’s worst units last season. Missouri will revert to 2015’s principles, unleashing D-Line Zou to wreak havoc again and counting on players like senior safety Anthony Sherrils to return to form.
Missouri State keys to success: Steckel is a defensive guy, but the Bears have to replace All-American linebacker Dylan Cole. It’s no easy task. Defensive end Colby Isbell inherits the leadership mantle, but Missouri State faces a very tough task against Mizzou’s up-tempo, speedy attack. Getting pressure on Lock will be critical but challenging, considering the Tigers only allowed 14 sacks last season. Establishing a ground game in an effort to shorten the game and give the defense some rest would behoove the Bears, but might be easier said than done.
Missouri State player to watch: Senior wide receiver Deion Holliman from Camden, Ark., is diminutive — 5 feet 9, 192 pounds — but he’s lightning quick and will be a handful in space for Missouri. He’s also a threat in the return game.
Key matchup: Missouri’s defensive line vs. Missouri State’s offensive line — Rumors of D-Line Zou’s demise circulated when Charles Harris left early for the NFL. Now two years removed architect Craig Kuligowski overseeing the vaunted unit, there’s better depth compared to 2016 and big things are expected with Brick Haley in charge. Haley put together some strong defensive line units at LSU and Texas and hopes Marcell Frazier can build off last season’s strong finishing kick, while Terry Beckner Jr. and Markell Utsey rebound from ACL injuries to be a force in the middle.
Prediction: Missouri 45-7