Idaho at Missouri
When: 11 a.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Columbia
TV: SEC Network
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Line: Missouri by 14 1/2
The lowdown: Missouri is 1-5 for the first time since 1992, when it finished 3-8. Losing to Idaho, 2-4 in its final season as an FBS team before moving to FCS, would probably make Mizzou athletic director Jim Sterk’s decision about whether to fire coach Barry Odom a bit easier. Idaho has hopes of becoming bowl eligible in consecutive years for the first time in program history, and a year ago, the Vandals were 3-3 before they won five of their final six regular season games. In road games, Idaho has averaged 409 yards of total offense, compared to its season average of 358.2.
Missouri’s key to success: Find ways to make at least a few stops. Missouri’s defense is 124th in the country in total defense, giving up an average of 498.7 yards per game. Last week, the Tigers gave up 696 yards to Georgia, the most the Bulldogs recorded since a 2012 game against Florida Atlantic. Mizzou is tied for next to last in turnover margin (minus-10) among all FBS teams. It will need to reverse that trend to build a cushion against Idaho. Missouri’s offense has figured out how to score these past two weeks, but it has yet to score enough to cover up this defense’s issues.
Idaho’s key to success: Stop the long ball. Mizzou’s offensive output the past two games, against Georgia and Kentucky, has been impressive, but the numbers have been partially inflated because of a few big pass plays. In the Tigers’ two most recent games, Drew Lock has completed passes of 48, 58, 63 and 63 yards to Emanuel Hall. Three of those were touchdowns. Those yards count just as much as short, steady completions or solid runs, but Georgia also made an adjustment after Hall’s second touchdown — the Bulldogs sagged off him at the line of scrimmage — and Mizzou scored just once after that. If Idaho can prevent Mizzou from stretching the field, the Vandals will make this a tougher game for the Tigers.
Key matchup: Missouri’s defensive line vs. Idaho’s pass protection. Mizzou’s pass defense has been terrible this season. Part of that is on the secondary. But blame also falls on a defensive line that has failed to pressure quarterbacks. The Tigers have just seven total sacks in their five losses this season. If they can get a few sacks, that will increase the likelihood of forcing Idaho to punt, something offenses have rarely done against this Missouri defense this season.
Idaho player to watch: Quarterback Matt Linehan. Linehan, a four-year starter, has posted better passing stats each season. He threw for 19 touchdowns and more than 3,000 yards a year ago. He also has played plenty of Power Five teams on the road before, including at Auburn and at Florida, so he won’t be intimidated. Especially not playing inside a less-than-full Memorial Stadium for an early game against a Missouri team that is disappointing its fans.
Aaron Reiss’ prediction: Missouri 45, Idaho 35. Missouri’s defense will do just enough for the Tigers to win, but first the Vandals will cause Mizzou fans to think about last season’s homecoming loss to Middle Tennessee.