There may not be a more Jekyll and Hyde football team in the SEC than Missouri. The Tigers are coming off of back-to-back SEC East Championships within their first three years in the league, but have hit their growing pains in 2015.
With the SEC's worst offense and coming off a loss to lowly Vanderbilt, it would appear that Mississippi State would be licking its chops going into Columbia at 8 p.m. Thursday.
The Bulldogs won't find an easy win ahead of them, however, as the Tiger defense is as good as they come in one of the toughest conferences in football.
"They play hard," MSU coach Dan Mullen said. "They have explosive pass rushers off the edge. They have really big, physical guys inside on the defensive line. They create havoc outside with athleticism and size inside. They can rush the passer and they can stop the run all with that defensive line. I think that's one of the things that make them a darn good defense, it's the talent they have on the defensive line."
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The defensive line alone is enough to cause concern for an opposing defense. The Bulldogs have pass protected well this season but will have their hands full on the edge, in the middle and creating running lanes might be even more difficult.
That's one of the main reasons Mullen needs his offensive line playing at the top of its game and never was that more apparent than in the last game against Kentucky. The unit played their best game of the year against the Wildcats, racking up over 500 yards and balancing the run and pass well enough.
Playing looser on the field contributed to that success.
"We tell all of our guys we want to have fun while we're out there," Mullen said. "Everybody wants to play hard and play their best. It's finding that balance, not just the O-linemen but every position, finding that balance in being comfortable in what you're doing on the field, in knowing your assignment, knowing your technique and being able to do it as hard as you possibly can.
"Within the program guys, to me, are invested in the program and they are very accountable to their teammates. When you have that, guys want to do the right thing not just for themselves but for their teammates."
While MSU has to worry about scoring points and moving the ball offensively, Mizzou is in the same boat. The Tigers haven't scored a touchdown in 12 quarters of football spanning three full ball games against Florida, Georgia and Vanderbilt.
While all three of those previous defenses have performed well all season, it's a cause for concern. Quarterback Matty Mauk was suspended earlier this season but reinstated last week. That reinstatement lasted only a few days as he was suspended again for the rest of the season.
That puts the ball in the hands of freshman Drew Lock, who has started most of the season to mixed results. Lock has 763 passing yards, completing just 51 percent of his passes and throwing three touchdowns and three interceptions. He's had to grow up in a hurry in Gary Pinkel's offense.
Mullen and defensive coordinator Manny Diaz prepared for either of the two quarterbacks earlier last week and said that nothing changes regardless of who is in the game.
"They're going to run their system," Mullen said. "They're going to do what they do. It's not like they've completely changed who they are at the quarterback position when they went to the young freshman."
A freshman matched up against MSU's senior Dak Prescott makes for an interesting dynamic to tonight's battle in Columbia. The two teams meet in, likely, rainy weather.