AN OPPOSING VIEW
When it comes to Missouri football — and Mizzou athletics in general — there is no greater authority than Dave Matter. Dave attended school at Missouri and worked at the Columbia Daily Tribune covering the Tigers for 14 years before joining the St. Louis Post-Dispatch a couple of years ago.
I reached out to Dave to be this week’s guest on the “Opposing View,” a weekly feature where we ask a beat writer who covers the opposing team some questions about that Saturday’s contest. I sent Dave five specific questions about the game, and then asked him for a prediction. So here ya go …
Q: What was the deal with that Indiana game? I still haven’t seen any footage of the actual contest, but I think I’m like everybody else in that I just saw the final score and said, “What?!”
Matter: “Missouri looked unprepared and uninterested for that game. Maybe it’s because the Tigers had South Carolina coming up next. Maybe because they dominated the Hoosiers last year in Bloomington. The offensive line struggled all day. The defense looked like it had never seen an up-tempo offense before, which is inexcusable because they see one in practice all the time, not to mention last year’s games against Ole Miss, Auburn, Texas A&M and … Indiana! It was one of the most surprising outcomes I’ve seen from a Missouri team in my 15 years covering the team, especially because the Tigers were beaten on both lines of scrimmage. Penalties, bad snaps, dropped third downs. Trainwreck all around.”
Q: What would you say the general feeling is among the Mizzou fanbase about Georgia coming back to Columbia later after that rather inauspicious SEC debut two years ago? I’m assuming there’s a better vibe after last year’s successes, including that win between the hedges?
Matter: “For the most part, Missouri fans have a great respect for Georgia. If you polled MU fans on which SEC East program is the overall best — outside of their own — I suspect UGA would be the overwhelming favorite. That said, last year’s run in the SEC gave fans confidence that Mizzou can compete with everyone in the league. Last year’s win in Athens was significant for the program and for fans. MU walked away from that game believing it can compete against any team in the conference, and in some ways, it created a standard: Mizzou might not win every SEC game, but it won’t be overwhelmed like was the case through most of 2012, when injuries and depth issues depleted that team. MU has now beaten every team in the East at least once. I think reasonable fans understand that it will take time for Mizzou to be viewed as an annual contender in the East, but there’s a sense that the Tigers have proven they belong.”
Q: Georgia seems to be viewing this like the Game of the Century in terms of what it means for its season. Do the Tigers view it as similarly important and season-defining?
Matter: “(Gary) Pinkel pretty clearly told his players to ignore any media questions about the division stakes in this game, but it’s obvious to anyone who looks at the standings and the schedule that Mizzou gets essentially a three-game lead on Georgia with a win on Saturday. On the other hand, Pinkel has to understand that if his team is capable of losing at home to Indiana, then there’s no guaranteed wins the rest of the way, even if Mizzou wins on Saturday. If anything, Missouri’s defense has a chance to make a statement in this game with the challenge of facing Gurley.”
Q: What are the Tigers’ thoughts on Georgia’s Todd Gurley and their ability to stop him and/or the Bulldogs’ offense? Obviously having Gurley is considered an inherent advantage for UGA in this game. Where to you see clear match-up advantages for the Tigers?
Matter: “Missouri players and coaches took turns lavishing praise on Gurley earlier this week. They know he’s a beast and it’s going to take their best effort of the season to keep him from having one of his typical days. MU’s defense has given up some long runs to backs this year, especially against Toledo and Indiana. Gap assignment breakdowns have been a problem at times. Shoddy tackling in the secondary has created some long runs, too. Missouri’s best weapons on defense are edge rushers Shane Ray and Markus Golden, but for those guys to be effective, Missouri has to put Georgia in some third-down passing situations, which goes back to slowing down Gurley on first and second down. … As far as other matchup advantages, if Maty Mauk has healthy receivers—and he should—then he the ability to carve up Georgia’s secondary, as long as MU’s offensive line gives him time. Missouri’s offensive tackles against UGA’s pass rush will be crucial.”
Q: So does state of Missouri just grow great defensive ends or is D-coordinator Dave Steckel like the Dr. Frankenstein of edge rushers and manufactures them in a creepy lab out back?
Matter: “They’ve had a great run of producing players there. Missouri has a somewhat unconventional but proven blueprint for developing defensive linemen. They don’t care much about high school production or which schools are recruiting the players they target. They look for size and speed potential and believe they can mold raw athletes into effective pass rushers once they hand them over to defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski. Also, when they’ve had a stockpile of talented D-linemen on the team at the same time, that creates some competition within the group. Each up-and-coming defensive lineman wants to be better than the established defensive lineman and make it to the NFL, just like the last guy. I think that cranks up the way these guys prepare and they completely buy into Kuligowski’s coaching.”
Q: What are your expectations for Saturday’s game?
Matter: “I’ve got a hunch Missouri’s going to play its best game of the year defensively. The bye week gave the staff time to come up with a plan for Gurley, and maybe more important, gave the players time to refresh and recharge their batteries. If they hold Gurley to less than 150 yards, it’s a moral victory of sorts. But Georgia’s pass rush is going to give the Tigers some problems. Auk could exploit the UGA secondary, but I’m not sure he’ll have enough time to get that done. I see this being close in the fourth quarter — and Georgia winning by a field goal.”