When the Missouri Tigers (2-2, 0-1 SEC) and LSU Tigers (2-2, 1-1) tee it up on Saturday in Baton Rouge, the game features a lot of off-the-field intrigue, thanks to LSU, with two teams on the gridiron still seeking to establish an identity this season.
LSU enters a new era on Saturday under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. After a heartbreaking loss last week to Auburn, initially believed to be a last-second win, LSU administrators gave Les Miles, one of college football’s best, his walking papers. All of the attention is focused on the Tigers' passing game, or lack thereof. Orgeron, former head coach at Ole Miss and interim head coach at USC, has promised to “spread the ball out,” “have a different passing game,” and “find ways to get the ball down the field.” LSU fans have heard this before.
Missouri is a team in flux, beating up on squads it was expected to whip but dropping two games against beatable competition in West Virginia (26-11) and Georgia (28-27). Quarterback Drew Lock is starting to look like the real deal in coordinator Josh Heupel’s offense. The surprising problem has been the dip in Mizzou’s defensive play, especially with eight starters back from last year’s team.
Missouri at LSU
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Line: LSU -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Who is LSU interim OC Steve Ensminger and what impact will he bring?
Ensminger, who has been a coordinator at McNeese State, Louisiana Tech, Georgia, Texas A&M and Clemson, moves over from coaching tight ends to running the Tigers' offense. A former LSU quarterback (1976-79), Ensminger last ran an offense with Clemson during the 1998 season. He’s been with LSU since 2010, so he knows the offensive talent well, but how sharp will his play-calling be with a week to prepare for Missouri?
If starting quarterback Danny Etling felt pressure before under former head coach Les Miles, the tension has to be mounting because all LSU fans want to see the pigskin fly downfield. The good news is he has great talent on the outside ready to make plays for him if the offense opens up. Can Ensminger be a difference-maker?
2. How will LSU as a team respond to Ed Orgeron?
It seems like the entire LSU squad would have run through a brick wall for Miles. Does Orgeron engender that same dedication? If LSU buys into Orgeron’s game plan and vision going forward, the Tigers can still be dangerous. If not, there is a lot of intriguing, NFL draft-eligible talent in Baton Rouge that may start playing for themselves or play to not get hurt instead of focusing on team goals.
3. Can Missouri take advantage of a potentially distracted LSU team?
The assumption is LSU will take the field with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. The alternative is a lethargic team unsure about its future. If Missouri head coach Barry Odom can tighten his run defense, which is allowing 131 yards per game, that would force Etling to be a playmaker as a passer, and increase Mizzou’s chances of sneaking out of Death Valley with a signature win.
LSU’s pass defense has not improved from a year ago under new coordinator Dave Aranda, still allowing around 225 yards per game. It also is worth noting that LSU has not played a true passing quarterback yet. Drew Lock could pick LSU apart if given time. The sophomore blistered Georgia for 376 yards and three scores, but he also had three interceptions. LSU beware.
LSU could come out with its pants on fire looking to prove a point, but if Les Miles did not develop his quarterbacks, how much difference will a new play-caller on the sidelines make? With no sample size, flip a coin. Attempts will be made to open up the passing game but time will tell how potent the offense can become.
True freshman running back Damarea Crockett leads Missouri in rushing with 210 on 34 carries and a team-high three touchdowns. Is he emerging another playmaker to complement sophomore quarterback Drew Lock and fellow back Ish Witter?
Missouri has never made a trip to Death Valley. Will the other Tigers be shocked by the new surroundings? LSU rarely loses at home, no matter how tumultuous the season. Everyone has to remember this is still a very talented roster.
Prediction: LSU 24, Missouri 17
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.