Missouri steps outside of conference play to host Middle Tennessee on Saturday in a game that will feature two potentially explosive offenses. Both teams have elite performers at quarterback. Also, both have plenty to prove. The Tigers are trying to find consistency on offense to compete in the SEC East, while the Blue Raiders will be fighting for a big non-conference win.
Missouri is 2-4 on the season and currently near the bottom of the SEC East. That’s despite somewhat better offensive production. On the flip side, the defense that many thought would be one of the conference’s best coming into the season has underperformed. The Tigers have given up more than 40 points in each of the last two games against LSU and Florida.
At 4-2 and currently third in Conference USA’s Eastern Division, Middle Tennessee has a pretty strong football team. The Blue Raiders had won three straight — knocking off Bowling Green, Louisiana Tech and North Texas — before falling to Western Kentucky at home last week in a 44-43 shootout. MTSU has already played one SEC opponent this year. It lost to Vanderbilt 47-24 on the road in week two.
These teams have only met one time, back in 2003 in Columbia. Mizzou won that shootout 41-40 in overtime. With two great quarterbacks and two not-so-great defenses on the field, this game has the potential to play out similarly.
Middle Tennessee at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Missouri -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Missouri Quarterback Drew Lock
Sometimes it just has to be all about the quarterback. And this game is one of those scenarios. The Tigers have a capable gunslinger in Lock. This is a guy that has two five-touchdown performances just halfway through the season — albeit those came against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. But Lock also performed well in losses to West Virginia and Georgia. So his numbers haven’t been great over the last two weeks against real defenses... so what? Lock could have a big day against the Blue Raiders. They aren’t exactly known for wreaking havoc on the defensive side.
2. Middle Tennessee Quarterback Brent Stockstill
The problem for Mizzou is that it is going up against one of the best quarterbacks in the country — and that’s no exaggeration. Sure, the Tigers’ quarterback has thrown for 1,700 yards this season but that’s nothing compared to what Stockstill has done. The son of Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill, Brent is sixth in the FBS, averaging close to 350 yards per game through the air. He’s thrown for more than 2,000 yards already and has 18 touchdown passes — paired with only five interceptions — and he’s only a sophomore. In his freshman season, Stockstill threw for more than 4,000 yards. The point is, the guy knows how to find receivers. He also has a clear favorite target in classmate Richie James, who happens to be a matchup nightmare for just about anybody.
3. Which Defense Will Make a Play?
This really does seem like it’s going to be a fun game to watch. It has all the makings of being a high-scoring affair. Part of the reason for that is the relative weakness in the secondary of these teams. Missouri, surprisingly, is No. 100 in the FBS in total defense and also ranks 73rd in pass defense. The Blue Raiders are 85th. Chances are there are going to be plenty of opportunities for these quarterbacks to make plays. But the difference in the game could ultimately come down to which defense makes a stand. The Tigers do have 10 interceptions this season. Can someone pick off Stockstill to seal the game? Or, could the Mizzou front seven finally show up and cause problems for the MTSU offensive line? We’ll see.
I picked Middle Tennessee to beat Vanderbilt earlier this year and ended up being wrong. It’s pretty simple in this one. Neither team is great at running the ball but both are averaging about 175 yards per game and are good enough to keep opposing defenses honest. Also, both teams give up around 26 points per game. This is a close matchup on paper. But it will come down to which team’s quarterback makes the most plays. If you look simply at the numbers, you would like Brent Stockstill’s chances most to do that. However, Drew Lock has been up against far better defenses. It’s a tough call, especially with Missouri being at home, but I’m picking the upset once again. The Blue Raiders will pull through against the SEC this time.