Last year was a season of surprises, but when Purdue absolutely demolished Missouri in Columbia it had to be at the top of the list. This year we get the second half of the home-and-home as the Tigers come to West Lafayette. That means I spoke with Pete Scantlebury of SB nation’s Rock M Nation about what the encore may bring.
1. Purdue’s win at Missouri was quite shocking last year in how it went down. From your perspective, what happened?
I think a couple of things happened, with the biggest one being that Missouri absolutely took Purdue lightly. Without a doubt, Missouri was not prepared for that game — I’m not saying that Missouri would have won even if it were ready, but that 35-3 scoreline is way more indicative of a lack of preparation than a lack of talent. On the field, Missouri’s defense was a disaster for the first half of the season, especially as the front seven failed to stay in their lanes and stick to their assignments. The defense was also not helped by the befuddling offensive playcalling of Josh Heupel, which resulted in short drives, punts, and putting the defense back on the field. None of this takes away from what Purdue did. It steamrolled Missouri at home in embarrassing fashion.
2. The Tigers have the makings of an excellent offense once again and they finished strong last year. Was it a product of bad teams or did Missouri turn a corner?
Yes, to both questions. Did Missouri play less-than-stellar teams during its turnaround? It did. But did Missouri also turn a corner? It did. The fact is, Missouri manhandled every team it played during the 6-0 regular-season finish (with the exception of Arkansas, but a lot of factors played into that one). For the first time under Barry Odom, Missouri consistently did what it was supposed to do to bad teams. It destroyed them. That includes Florida — and I know Florida had a rough year, but the Gators do not lack for talent. We also finally saw Missouri’s offense work in unison with its defense, slowing the game down at points to allow the defense to get some rest. Missouri has a tough schedule this year, but its also running a new pro-style offense. The hope there is that produces more harmony between both sides of the ball, instead of being so reliant on the offense.
3. There is definitey some shootout potential for this game because Purdue’s defense is in overhaul mode. How much does this help Missouri after they were shut down last season?
Anytime you play a team that’s retooling its defense, especially early in the season, it can be a benefit. But honestly, I don’t see that being a deciding factor. Missouri’s offense is going to look pretty different than it did last year — again, now going to a pro-style scheme under Dooley — and the Tigers will likely be working through some kinks early in the year. I can guarantee, however, that Missouri will not take this game lightly as it did a year ago. While Missouri doesn’t have a blueblood non-con opponent, it has a tough out-of-conference schedule and this Purdue game, on the road nonetheless, will be the toughest.
4. Missouri’s defense was a bit of a mess for much of last season. What has been fixed?
Good question. For one, Barry Odom fired DeMontie Cross as DC last year and took over playcalling duties; this year, he’s moved Ryan Walters to the coordinator position and given him more autonomy. Walters has been Odom’s understudy basically his whole career, from Odom’s year as the Memphis DC. Walters’ career path seems very familiar to that of Alex Grinch, who is now co-DC at Ohio State. But, there’s still some trepidation (at least by me) at Odom relinquishing control of the defense again.
The biggest areas that improved last season were in the front seven, especially at linebacker. Missouri returns all three starters at that group, led by Terez Hall and Cale Garrett. These two guys don’t get a ton of attention in the SEC, but they are quietly among the best returning defenders in the conference. With them, plus a deep-if-unproven front four (beyond potential All-American Terry Beckner, Jr.), there is a good amount of talent up front for the Tigers.
5. It is always tough playing a non-conference road game at a Power Five school. How good of a test is this before getting into SEC play.
Huge test. I’m not as familiar with the atmosphere at Purdue as you all are, obviously, but it seems like Jeff Brohm has substantial buy-in from the fan base. Missouri has gone 1-2 in road Power 5 non-conference games over the last ten years; the one win came against Indiana in 2013 (which Missouri subsequently lost to at home the following year). This isn’t going to get the attention of some other SEC non-conference games, but this is quietly a potentially entertaining, big game for Missouri and the conference itself.
6. Finally, how do you see this game going down?
Can I get back to you in a couple of weeks? No? Ok, well, it’s tough to answer that now. This is going to be a close game. Missouri’s offense should be more balanced this year; they have a duo of running backs in Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III who will take a lot of pressure off the passing game. Missouri also returns its entire starting offensive line, and has three more players with experience behind them. I think Missouri tries to slow the game down a bit on offense to wear down Purdue’s rebuilt defense and keep its own less-than-proven defense (especially the secondary) off the field. I see this one being close, and coming down to the end. Missouri has great specialists this year at both kicker and punter, so I think it comes down to that and Missouri wins, 27-24.
But, man, I don’t feel confident about saying that at this juncture.