This week Jack Peglow over at the Missouri SB Nation site Rock M Nation was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Thanks to Jack for taking the time to send in his thoughtful responses. Enjoy.
Missouri had an incredible run last season, but this season they seem down despite having a record of 6-2. Is this just a poorly-formed perception the public has of the 2014 Tigers, or is Mizzou actually lucky to be 6-2 and not 5-3 or 4-4 at the moment?
Mizzou fans should consider themselves quite lucky to be 6-2. It took a miraculous fourth quarter comeback to top South Carolina, and if the defense/special teams don't go Super Saiyan against Florida that could've easily been a loss as well. Compared to last year, this team has definitely taken several steps back. The difference - on offense, specifically - has been almost night and day.
Word on the street is Mizzou is planning a "Stripe Out"? This would make for quite the spectacle, but are you optimistic it can actually be pulled off?
They executed it pretty well last week for Homecoming. I was actually pretty much convinced that it would fail spectacularly. We're talking about fans that couldn't clap in unison to the "Missouri Waltz" even if it meant an undefeated season. I'm glad they proved me wrong, though. It looked super cool.
Missouri is known for its defense this season despite losing quality players like Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Andrew Wilson, and EJ Gaines. How was Mizzou seemingly capable of fielding another quality defense this season despite those losses, and which defensive players should UK fans be aware of heading into Saturday?
The "Next Man Up" mentality is super cliche, but it's definitely a real thing on Mizzou's defensive line. Coach Craig Kuligowski has been churning out NFL-quality D-linemen since he arrived on campus, and he doesn't look like he'll be stopping any time soon. Markus Golden and Shane Ray should both end up being high round draft picks after this season, so I would definitely suggest keeping an eye on them. The interior of the line ain't too shabby either. Lucas Vincent, Harold Brantley, and Matt Hoch have all been playing some real solid football.
As for the linebackers, Michael Scherer has stepped right into the role that Andrew Wilson starred in last season, and he's racking up tackles by the bushel. Kentrell Brothers, his linebacking counterpart, is the more athletic of the two, and it wouldn't surprise me if we see Brothers spying Towles most of the game.
The secondary is the weakest link on the defense. Safety Braylon Webb has been having a good year - he's recorded an interception in the last two games - but beyond him there's a bit of a drop off. Losing EJ Gaines was probably more harmful than losing Sam, Ealy, or Wilson, because the players behind him haven't come close to replicating his production. If Kentucky win's it will be because they extended runs to the second level and were effective in attacking this position group through the air.
Missouri also lost quite a bit of offensive production as well, especially at the receiver position. Unlike the defense, the offense seems to have taken at least a small step back compared to last season. If true, what factors would you chalk that up to?
Several things happened that really hindered the offense's capabilities. It lost its top three receivers from last year - all of whom were 6'4" or taller and some of the fastest players on the team - it lost its best offensive lineman to the draft and another to injury, and its quarterback lost a large amount of his confidence. If just one of those things happens, the offense probably could've made due, but all of them happening at once culminated in a slew of disastrously bad performances. They made some steps in the right direction last week, but I'm not sure how many of those were real, tangible steps and how much of that we can chalk up to the opponent. Guess we'll just cross our fingers and hope for the best!
UK's defense is pretty weak against the run, but pretty good against the pass. With that in mind, I suspect UK will load the box against Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy and force Maty Mauk to beat UK with his arm. What are the strength's and weaknesses with that approach from your perspective?
That's certainly what I would do if I were a defensive coordinator game-planning against Mizzou. Murphy and Hansbrough are both fantastic runners with styles that compliment each other extremely well, so taking them out of the game becomes priority number one. Loading up the box works to an extent, but Mizzou will find ways to get them the ball in the passing game too. Murphy has been splitting out wide all season, so if Kentucky decides to stuff the box I would assume Offensive Coordinator Josh Henson would try getting him the ball elsewhere.
Maty Mauk looked like he gained some of his confidence back last week after throwing two touchdowns and no interceptions, so his game may be on the upswing. His favorite receiver Bud Sasser isn't going to make any game-breaking plays, but he's incredibly reliable. Freshman WR Nate Brown got his first catch last week, and a lot of the coaches and players seem to think he may be in line for a breakout game. If he does have one, it could spell trouble for the Wildcats.
Predict the final score and what may be the key factor(s).
I think this game's result rides on how well Mizzou offense performs. Week in and week out, the defense has proven to us that they'll take care of their business, so it's going to fall upon the offense to put up enough points for a win. Specifically, we need another solid performance from the running game. If Murh Derrty and MANSBROUGH find success, I'm pretty confident in a Mizzou victory. If not, then Mizzou will need the passing game to step up, and I couldn't be less confident in that scenario.
I called a 24-18 Mizzou win on our podcast this week, so I'll stick to my guns. I'm not confident AT ALL in that prediction, though. If Towles is forced to pass the ball to win, the Tigers' defensive line will wreak havoc. If he finds room to run, Mizzou's in big, big trouble.
Regardless, it has all the makings of a close, entertaining game. I'm looking forward to watching it no matter the result.