For Missouri, the Texas Bowl against the Texas Longhorns on Wednesday feels like a chance at a triumphant ending to what was once a bleak season. The Tigers’ opponent, though, seems to simply be hobbling toward the end of a disappointing first year on the field for new head coach Tom Herman.
When the two teams take the field at NRG Stadium, Texas will be without at least seven — and likely eight — players, including a few key ones.
Here’s a rundown:
Earlier this week, the team announced that freshman running back Toneil Carter, junior tight end Garrett Gray and sophomore receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey would not play because of a team rules violation. The Longhorns also announced that defensive tackle Chris Nelson, who made seven starts this season, will miss the game because of an elbow injury. This all came after three of the Longhorns’ best players — offensive tackle Connor Williams, safety DeShon Elliott and cornerback Holton Hill — announced that they would declare for the NFL Draft and not play in the game.
And it could get worse for Texas. Linebacker Malik Jefferson, the co-Big 12 defensive player of the year, is considered doubtful to play because of a turf toe injury that has reportedly kept him from fully participating in practice for weeks.
So how does this affect Missouri?
Missouri’s defense — especially its secondary — has been its weak point this season, and not having to face Humphrey eases the pressure on the Tigers. Humphrey, a sophomore, has been one of the Longhorns’ best receivers. He is second on the team with 37 receptions and has recorded 431 receiving yards.
“Really disappointed, but when you break rules there’s consequences,” Herman said of the suspended players during a news conference in Houston on Friday. “It stinks that they won’t be able to enjoy this experience with their teammates, but we all know the consequences of our actions before we do them. This is the price you pay.”
Even before the suspension, the Longhorns didn’t present too much of a threat through the air. They have received inconsistent quarterback play all season while switching between sophomore Shane Buechele and freshman Sam Ehlinger. Herman said Buechele — who has completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,350 yards, six touchdowns and four interceptions this season — should start in the bowl game, though that doesn’t mean Ehlinger won’t play.
The other two suspended players, Carter and Gray, aren’t as important of contributors to the Texas offense. Carter ran 53 times for 252 yards this season, and Gray has caught just four passes. Gray’s suspension does mean Texas will have just one scholarship tight end for this game, though.
Williams is considered one of the best offensive tackles in this draft class, so his absence will hurt — especially against a Mizzou team that is first in the SEC in tackles for loss with 92.
Texas has the No. 2 pass defense in the Big 12, based on completion percentage (57.9). The Longhorns are also the No. 3 scoring defense in the conference (21.7 points per game).
But with Elliott out for the game, Missouri quarterback Drew Lock figures to continue his strong statistical outings. He has thrown at least 3 touchdowns in each of Missouri’s past 8 games.
Elliott, who had 6 interceptions this season, was a finalist for the Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back.
Hill’s absence will hurt the Longhorns less. They’re used to being without him. He has been suspended since Nov. 11 after scoring three non-offensive touchdowns in Texas’ first two games this season.
Mizzou is still looking to replace offensive coordinator Josh Heupel, who went to Central Florida to become a head coach, but on the field, the Tigers have far fewer problems than Texas does.
Wide receiver Emanuel Hall, who suffered a hamstring injury in the last regular season game against Arkansas, expects to play. And running back Damarea Crockett, who left the team’s Oct. 14 loss at Georgia with a shoulder injury, has participated in bowl practices — although not completely.
Running backs coach Cornell Ford said the team is still evaluating whether Crockett, who rushed for over 1,000 yards as a true freshman, will be able to play. Odom, who is generally an optimist regarding injuries, seems more confident.
“He’s a great competitor,” Odom said of Crockett. “He understands he’s so valuable to this team. I plan on him having a big game and an active role down in Texas.”