Earlier this week, I exchanged emails with Jack Peglow, a manager at Rock M Nation. Jack is an insightful and funny writer who is also the co-founder of Rock M Radio. I highly recommend giving him a follow @JackPeglow. My answers came be found here.
Without further ado...
1. Halfway into Barry Odom's first season I'm sure there's quite a bit of frustration, but Mizzou has lost to an undefeated West Virginia, a revitalized LSU, a tough Florida team, and to Georgia by a single point. Can the season be salvaged by making a few tweaks, or does this team have wider systemic issues?
Tweaks aren't going to save Mizzou's season. The coaching staff has been tweaking things for a few weeks now, and the only thing that's changed is the opinions of many Tiger fans regarding the Odom hire. Personally, I don't think the results thus far warrant any firings. The problems aren't schematic, they lie instead with execution and personnel (or the lack thereof). Injuries, inexperience, poor recruiting classes, and a sudden development of a tackling allergy have all combined to cripple Mizzou this year. That said, the season is still salvageable. The more grounded fans expected the team to finish in the 6-6 range, so a 5-7 record would be seen as palatable by most. If luck starts to bounce Missouri's way a bit more than it has, I don't think that result is out of the question.
2. I'm specifically interested in the decline of a defense that is allowing about 15 more points per game this season over last. I understand two important defensive linemen were lost prior to the season, but what are other contributing factors?
Losing two of the line's better players before the season began certainly didn't help, but I wouldn't say their departure doomed the defense. Charles Harris and Terry Beckner Jr. were still on the roster, after all (though Beckner has been battling injury all year). The bigger loss was Kentrell Brothers, who graduated last season after leading the nation in tackles. He had an incredible knack for making plays that Mizzou just hasn't been able to replace this year. A lot of people thought Michael Scherer would be able to assume that roll; but even though he's played quite well, he hasn't been able to measure up to Brothers' impact. Also, I fully expect to receive word later this week that Scherer is done for the season with an injury, so things probably won't be getting better anytime soon. Were this defense completely healthy, it would probably be a slightly less productive unit than the 2015 squad. That isn't the case though, and the results have suffered dramatically.
3. I'm interested in your take on this Gridiron Now post that suggests Mizzou made the error of trying to recruit Georgia and Florida as opposed to Texas. Would you agree with its premise?
While I do think Mizzou's past few recruiting classes are part of the problem, I'm not sure things would be drastically different had the staff focused on players from a different region. The issue isn't where the current roster came from, it's their skill-set. Odom is changing things both offensively and defensively, which is forcing him to fit a few square pegs into round holes at the moment. Gary Pinkel was looking for players that fit his system, not Odom's. Shifting the regional focus west wouldn't have changed the type of players on Mizzou's roster, and that's the real issue.
4. Missouri's offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has brought a Big 12-style offense to the SEC in his first season in Columbia. Watching a bit of Missouri this season, I noticed really wide receiver splits similar to something Baylor liked to do under Art Briles. Would you agree with this, and if so, what are some of the basic characteristics of this Heupel offense?
Heupel definitely wants to run a fast, aggressive offense like those you'll find in the Big 12. The biggest tell is the speed. Mizzou currently ranks 11th in plays per game, which is good for first in the SEC. Ideally, Heupel would like to use that speed to disorient opposing defenses and tire them out. Early on, he'll throw a lot of screens and short passes in quick succession. Once the defense is good and tired, he'll turn that three-yard out into a wheel for a big gain. With the emergence of Freshman running back Damarea Crockett, I would also expect Mizzou to incorporate more plays that get the ball in his hands.
5. Name for UK fans Missouri's MVP so far this season on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
If you asked me three weeks ago, I would've told you the offensive MVP was [quarterback] Drew Lock and it wouldn't have been close. Things aren't so clear cut now, though. Lock's increasing inconsistencies have coincided with the recent success of Crockett, who I mentioned in the last answer. If that trend continues, Crockett would get my MVP vote. If Lock turns things around, the honor is his.
Defensively, things are a bit more clear cut. Harris may not have the gaudy sack numbers that he tallied last year, but his impact on the game is immense. The teams that have had success against Missouri did so using the "run the play to the side Harris isn't" strategy. It's a travesty that he doesn't have a comparable threat on the other side of the defensive line.
6. What's your prediction on the outcome, and please provide one or two of the biggest factors.
After all that doom and gloom, it probably seems strange that I think this is a game Missouri wins. It comes down to two things: leaning more on Crockett and the ground game, and limiting big plays from Kentucky's offense. If Mizzou can establish the running game - even at the breakneck pace Heupel wants to play at - they should be able to hold on to the ball more consistently than they have of late. That extra rest will be a boon for an injury-rattled defense, which should help them keep UK in check. A final score in the 35-21 range feels right.