Campus Corner

Ask Tod: ‘Touchdown Drew,’ Border War musings and expectations for the season

Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock
Missouri Tigers quarterback Drew Lock along@kcstar.com

If LSU junior running back Leonard Fournette can’t suit up Saturday against Missouri, which appears to be the case, senior linebacker Michael Scherer will be crushed.

He’s had Mizzou’s trip to Death Valley and a matchup against Fournette circled on the calendar since it was announced last fall.

“I’m looking forward to it, and I think our whole defense is,” Scherer said in July at SEC Media Days. “If you want to be the best and prove that you’re the best, you’ve got to play the best and you’ve got to beat the best. … You hear all these people say, ‘Oh, you’ve got to play Leonard Fournette.’ Well, yeah, but Leonard Fournette has to play against us too, and we’re not that bad.”

Mizzou’s defense did an exceptional job Sept. 17 against Georgia, bottling up junior running back Nick Chubb and limiting him to 63 yards on 19 carries.

Mizzou succeeded in tamping down Chubb’s yards after contact, which will be key again versus Fournette — or sophomore running back Derrius Guice, if an ankle injury keeps Fournette from playing.

Now, on to your questions:

It’s going to be a terrific test for the rebuilt offensive line. Coach Glen Elarbee’s starting five — (left to right) junior Tyler Howell, sophomore Kevin Pendleton, sophomore Samson Bailey, junior Alec Abeln and sophomore Paul Adams — have been masterful in pass protection, allowing only one sack so far despite a pass-heavy scheme. Junior running back Ish Witter and the tight ends have helped as has sophomore quarterback Drew Lock’s quick reads and decisive play.

That said, nobody Missouri has faced has near the firepower on the defensive line that LSU has, especially with junior defensive end Davon Godchaux reinstated from an early-week suspension. Godchaux’s 3-4 bookend, fellow junior defensive end Arden Key, leads the nation with 6 1/2 sacks this season.

Mizzou has struggled to establish the run. This would be a good week to remedy that, because LSU’s athleticism and experience in the secondary will make it harder to muster big plays in the passing game. Lock was victimized for three second-half interceptions by Georgia’s seasoned secondary. If offensive coordinator Josh Heupel can work in some tendency breakers and Lock learned from that experience, Mizzou can shred any defense a few times in any game. Enough to pace a victory? That remains to be seen.

But Lock’s a confident kid and this could be a coming out party nationally if he rips apart LSU, given the attention the game will receive after Les Miles’ firing last weekend.

“I can’t worry about Drew,” Adams said. “He’s a cool kid from Lee’s Summit. He’s totally fine. I know he is. He’s a confident kid. I think we are all just fine. We’re going to do more soaking in of the experience we’re about to have this weekend and just know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime (thing).”

We can only hope, right? Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock has a long way to go to supplant Chase Daniel, Brad Smith, Blaine Gabbert, Phil Bradley and James Franklin, but he’s played heavenly so far in 2016.

Entering Friday, Lock ranks third nationally in passing yards (1,508), is tied for third with 14 touchdowns passes and checks in fourth in passing yards per game (377.0).

I haven’t noticed the same thing as an obvious pattern (at least since targeting junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore 23 times in the opener at West Virginia), but Lock is going through his progressions and getting the ball out quickly. He’d have been sacked a lot more one time if he was “staring down” anybody.

Lock has a lot of trust in Moore, and for good reason. Moore tied the Mizzou record with four receiving touchdowns — all in the first half — against Delaware State and has three 100-yard games already for the 2-2 Tigers. He leads the SEC with six touchdowns, 434 receiving yards and 26 receptions (?). Last season, Moore only had 29 catches for 350 yards and three touchdowns in 12 games.

If Lock stays with Moore longer as his first read, it’s probably because he’s waiting for a designated window he’s supposed to wait for to throw the pass. Sometimes, that’s created by a route combination that draws another defender away from where Moore’s route takes him. Considering that 18 players have caught passes this season, including six with 100-yard receiving games already, I’d say lots of guys are getting open and Lock’s doing a good job spreading the ball around and finding them.

Most years, no. But this season with Missouri’s offensive explosion on the gridiron and what should be an improved men’s basketball team in the third year under Kim Anderson? Probably. The key would be playing basketball first, so the Tigers’ offense would know how cruel it had to be and could plan accordingly.

If you’re unsure what Derek is talking about, this should help clear things up:

Absolutely, I thought this was a 7-5 football team before the season and see no reason to trade down those expectations. If anything, Mizzou might be even better. There isn’t a team on the Tigers’ remaining slate that is unbeatable. Obviously, some games — at LSU, at Florida and at Tennessee, most notably — are exceedingly tough games in which Mizzou, rightfully so, will be the underdog.

That said, each of those teams is flawed and the Tigers — if the offense and defense are both executing well, DeMontie Cross’ unit is avoiding penalties and not missing tackles while Josh Heupel’s unit doesn’t turn the ball over and keep the chains moving — conceivably could win.

At the other end of the spectrum, Mizzou isn’t such a powerhouse that it can pencil in any game as a victory. Middle Tennessee State averages nearly 40 points per game, though the Blue Raiders were easily handled by Vanderbilt. It’s never easy to play at Williams-Brice Stadium, so the Tigers can’t take South Carolina for granted. It’s tempting to say coach Barry Odom’s crew should overwhelm Vanderbilt and Kentucky at home, but stranger things have happened in SEC football before.

Arkansas is widely regarded as a top-20 team nationally and always seems to play well in November — sweeping two games from LSU and Mississippi during the last two seasons — but one of the Razorbacks’ three losses in the final month of the season during the last two years came at Memorial Stadium in 2014.

Currently, here’s a rundown of the bowl projections for the Tigers that I’ve seen:

Jerry Palm, CBS Sports & College Football News: Independence Bowl vs. North Carolina State, Dec. 26

USA Today: Texas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 28

Brett McMurphy, ESPN: Birmingham Bowl vs. Tulsa, Dec. 29

Mark Schlabach, ESPN: Liberty Bowl vs. TCU, Dec. 30

SB Nation: TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Georgia Tech, Dec. 31

Well, according to an SEC Network graphic based on ESPN’s Football Power Index projections, about 3 percent.

The loss to Georgia will be tough to recover from in terms of challenging for an SEC East title, because I don’t see Mizzou running the table like it did in 2014. The LSU game is a must-win for any realistic title shot, but only game into the conference slate it’s way too early to judge. Before the season, I picked MU fourth in the SEC — behind Tennessee, Florida and Georgia — and I think that’s probably still about right. I’ll admit that I thought there was a significant gap between those three teams and the Tigers, but I also thought there was a pretty good gap between coach Barry Odom’s crew and the division’s bottom three teams — Kentucky, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

As mentioned above, Missouri can beat any team on its remaining schedule given the right circumstances, but I don’t think they will beat every remaining team. The Tigers are probably looking at a 4-4 conference finish, but the margin is thin enough that 3-5 or 5-3 isn’t unthinkable. That’s still not good enough, in all likelihood, to win the SEC East.

The depth chart says junior Ish Witter and senior Alex Ross, a graduate-student transfer from Oklahoma. Witter is the most complete player in terms of durability, blocking, running and pass catching. A healthy Ross is probably more explosive with his ability to run over and away from defenders, but he hasn’t been healthy for three of four games.

Freshman Damarea Crockett leads the team in rushing — by one yard over Witter despite 23 fewer carries. He’s got the brightest future and eventually will be the best of that bunch, I suspect, if he stays healthy and keeps improving. That might even be the case before October’s finished. Sophomore Nate Strong gets an incomplete grade right now, but he’s got undeniable talent.

“Juggernaut” Augusta isn’t deaf. Of course, there’s a sound.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer

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