Our question and answer subject this week is Dave Matter of the Columbia Tribune. His blog Behind the Stripes, while vile, always proves to be an excellent source of information. I'm not sure if he still stands behind this, but earlier in the year he actually stated that if he were to pick a QB to run the spread offense, he would pick Booger first, Tebow second and Todd third. Just food for thought. Anyway, in addition to his answers, you may find my retort in brackets following.
1. We'll get this out of the way first. We're adamantly opposed to the continuation of the series at Arrowhead, what are your thoughts?
It's a no-brainer financially for Missouri, and any chance the Tigers have to cut out a trip to Lawrence and keep the series within the state border makes sense for now. On one hand, some Columbia businesses might be unhappy with losing the KU home game locally, but then again, the student crowds tend to be sparse during Thanksgiving weekend. For Missouri, I think the plusses outweigh the negatives.
[This argument is just never going to make sense to me. Obviously you make more money this way as you rake in revenue every year as opposed to every other. But that is the only plus. Part of what makes college sports so much more enjoyable is the campus/student atmosphere. By playing one hour from one campus and nearly two from the other, that is lost. I could go for way too long on this, so I'll stop there, but I'd welcome your input.]
2. With Missouri having already clinched representing the north and Kansas basically locked into the Insight Bowl, which team would you say has more pressure Saturday?
I'd say Kansas. After visiting with both Missouri and KU players this week, it was plain to see the Tigers are much looser. They know they're playing with house money on Saturday. Lose and their best-case scenario doesn't change much, just some rivalry pride gets damaged. Kansas is staring at a .500 season if they lose, and I got the sense its players are feeling like last year's breakthrough seems more hollow with each loss this year.
[This makes sense to me. Though from an optimist's perspective, one could easily take this as KU is much more focused...]
3. Missouri's defense has NFL-caliber talent at each level, yet they really haven't played well against a good offense yet this year. Why do you think this is?
There have been some moments for this defense. The Tigers did a good job against Nebraska, the No. 3 offense in the Big 12 since the start of conference play. And the defense put MU in position to beat Oklahoma State, creating stops and takeaways in the second half. (The offense couldn't capitalize on the favorable field position the defense handed them several times in that game.) Against North teams, MU's starters on defense have given up just four touchdowns in four games. The real lapses came early against Illinois when the cornerbacks had no luck in single coverage situations on deep routes and against Texas when UT's offensive line and receivers did whatever they wanted against the Tigers. Other than that, the defense hasn't been as strong as I expected, but in conference play it ranks among the top four Big 12 teams in most categories.
[They did keep NU down and it was likely their best showing on the year, but they also gave up nearly 400 yards. And let's not forget that Nebraska's offense wasn't what it is now. Just two weeks before they were held to barely 300 yards by San Jose St. and were sitting with only 14 points a few minutes into the 4th quarter. Against OSU, they did force some turnovers, which shouldn't be minimized. But they also gave up over 400 yards and nearly 6 per play. I think we're actually on the same page here, but I wanted to highlight the other side of what he's mentioning.]
4. Keeping with their defense, what would you say is their primary strength? Weakness?
Strengths: The linebackers tackle well. Sean Weatherspoon has been virtually unblockable at the point of attack. They buckle down in the red zone. Their corners aren't particularly fast but they're physical tacklers. Free safety William Moore is starting to show some signs of the player who made some All-America lists last year.
Weaknesses: The pass rush is inconsistent, especially up the middle. Coverage breakdowns in the secondary have led to some long passes. They're vulnerable against quick, short passing games.
[Very much agree here. I think the biggest thing to be excited about here is the lack of inside pressure. If this holds true, our offense will reap the benefits.]
5. Obviously the biggest key to disrupting any spread is getting pressure on the quarterback and Missouri is no different. Assuming Kansas can't count on doing this consistently, what do you think they need to do to slow the Tiger offense?
If a defensive line can't get pressure on Chase Daniel, then you better hope he has an off day with his accuracy or his receivers struggle to make catches. The only defenses that have really given Daniel trouble over the last few years (Oklahoma, Texas and Oklahoma State to a degree) generated a potent pass rush without having to blitz linebackers and safeties. No pass rush, no chance against Daniel. He's too smart with his reads and too accurate when he has time.
6. On that same note, what one thing must Kansas do to win this game?
Force turnovers and put Missouri's offense into third-and-long situations. The Tigers have really only stopped themselves on offense this year with interceptions and the occasional fumble.
[Couldn't agree more. We have to force the issue here. Like most quarterbacks, Booger doesn't really flourish under pressure. But can we get any?]
7. And what one thing must Missouri do to win this game?
Cover receivers downfield. Reesing will buy time against the pass rush and keep plays alive with his feet. The Tigers' defensive line's best ally will be tight coverage downfield on KU's dangerous receivers.
[Again, I very much agree. No matter how well our D plays, their offense is too good not to get its share of points. But if their D isn't up to snuff, our offense will put up plenty as well.]
8. Finally, the score will be?
55-28, Missouri. The Tigers will forget about the Big 12 championship for a few hours and complete its second straight 5-0 season against the Big 12 North.
[Wow. This one surprised me. I'm not saying it can't happen. But MU has scored 55+ points exactly twice this year (Nevada (69) & Colorado (58)), so that seems a little high to me. And they've only given up less than twenty 4 times (SEMO (3), Nevada (17), Nebraska (17), CU (0)) so the 28 there seems a little low, especially if this is going to be a high scoring game as the 55 would suggest.]
Thanks to Dave for taking the time to answer our questions. Despite my need to interject my own opinion, his is greatly appreciated and likely well informed. Let's hope he's wrong, especially on that last one. Rock Chalk!