Mizzou Wednesday: Previewing UT Martin

Ladies and gentlemen, College Football Saturday is exactly one month away. The thought is crazy. It’s a love-hate time of year for me. I don’t want the warm weather to go away, but I want football. I can’t win. With that said, I can’t lose either.

I figured today, with Mizzou’s first game being exactly one month away, I’d go ahead and take a look at what’s ahead. Mizzou opens the season at home against UT Martin. While hearing UT Martin may not strike fear inside you, they were a very underrated FCS team last year. They’ll give the Tigers a very good test right from the word go.

Last year

UT Martin played much better than their 6-5 record last year. Those six wins included two against ranked FCS opponents and Jacksonville State, ranked #2 at the time, only beat them 14-7.

Strengths

UT Martin owned a terrific defense last year. Opponents only averaged 113.9 rushing yards (20th in FCS) and 159.9 passing yards (9th in FCS). That equates to an average total defense of 273.8 yards, which ranked 6th in the FCS. They gave up 45 points in a game against Ole Miss and 31 to Eastern Kentucky. Aside from that, the most points they gave up in a game was 16, including two shutouts.

Weaknesses

While the defense was outstanding, the offense is what lost them games. The offense only generated an average of 297.7 yards per game. That ranks 97th out of 123 FCS teams.

How does that add up to Mizzou?

This may read a little confusing. Mizzou was almost exactly the same as UT Martin last year, just the complete opposite.

While UT Martin’s defense was outstanding, Mizzou’s offense was outstanding. Drew Lock and company averaged 502.2 yards of total offense per game which ranked 8th in the country. Of course games against lesser teams (such as Missouri State, Idaho, UCONN) inflated those numbers a bit, but they also had a few bad offensive games (Purdue, South Carolina, Auburn)

While that may not completely even out the numbers, it certainly isn’t as lopsided as one may think.

UT Martin’s offense lost them games, Mizzou’s defense lost them games. Mizzou’s defense gave up an average of 414.1 yards per game last season, 82nd in the nation.

The game will provide a unique matchup of strength vs strength and weakness vs weakness.

UT Martin advantages

They return a three-headed monster in senior linebackers James Gilleylen, Kevin Prather, Jr., and Garrett Wall.

Gilleylen was the leader of that dominant defense last season collecting 88 total tackles, 2.0 sacks, one interception, and three forced fumbles. Prather had 77 tackles of his own, and Wall had 66.

UT Martin disadvantages

The secondary will be considerably weaker. Both interceptions leaders in Tae Martin (4) and Kahlid Hagens (3) graduated. The secondary will look younger and have less experience.

What should Mizzou’s game plan be? 

Drew Lock has a newfound confidence and swagger and wants to be the best quarterback in college football this year, let him show it in this game. Give the run game a chance, but with a weaker secondary and UT Martin’s linebacker corps, I’d run a pass-heavy offense. Secure the bag, Mr. Lock.

Early Prediction

No offense to Missouri State (or take offense, I don’t care) but this Week 1 matchup will be a much tougher one. I think with Drew Lock’s talent and UT Martin’s new-look secondary, Mizzou will pull it out, but I honestly expect it to be a dog fight. Don’t overlook teams just because they’re not in the FBS.

It could be a fun game, but a game the Tigers should pull out a W in.

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