COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It’s time for Missouri’s first test against a Power Five opponent.
The Tigers (2-0) will take on the Kansas State Wildcats (2-0) in front of a sold-out crowd at 11 a.m. today at Faurot Field (SEC Network).
Kansas State, the defending Big 12 Conference champion, is ranked No. 15 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
It will be the first time the teams have matched up in Columbia since 2010, with the Wildcats winning 40-12 last year in Manhattan. It was the teams’ first matchup since Missouri departed for the Southeastern Conference following the 2011 season.
“It’s a really good team coming to Faurot Field,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “It ought to be a great environment on Saturday. Great weather and two quality football teams battling it out with a lot of bragging rights on the line.”
Missouri enters the matchup coming off a 23-19 win against Middle Tennessee, where the Tigers struggled to move the ball consistently or handle defensive pressure.
Starting quarterback Brady Cook is 31-for-40 passing for 376 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions through matchups against Middle Tennessee and South Dakota.
Sophomore Luther Burden has made up nearly half the receiving offense, catching 15 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown, while the rest of the team has combined for 19 receptions and 217 yards.
Nathaniel Peat is the second-leading receiver with three catches for 83 yards, with the help of a 49-yard touchdown reception last week, while Theo Wease has the second-highest total in catches with five for 35 yards and a touchdown. Mekhi Miller has four catches for 59 yards.
Drinkwitz said the Tigers want to pass more and have more of a focus on explosive plays than they have shown in the first two weeks. Missouri threw only 19 passes against Middle Tennessee.
“Nineteen opportunities is not enough to create explosive plays,” Drinkwitz said.
Those opportunities will have to come against a Wildcat defense averaging 6.5 points and 256.5 yards allowed per game through two contests.
That defense is led by senior linebacker Austin Moore (6-foot-1, 219 pounds) with 12 total tackles and five tackles for loss, while sophomore cornerback Will Lee III (6-3, 185) has 11 tackles.
The Wildcat defense has forced one interception and recovered one fumble.
On the offensive end, Kansas State is averaging 43.5 points per game after its 42-13 win against Troy last week and a 45-0 win against Southeast Missouri in Week 1.
Senior quarterback Will Howard (6-5, 242) returns as the Kansas State signal-caller with a 39-for-58 passing line through two games with 547 yards and five touchdowns. Howard did not play in last season’s matchup, but passed for 1,633 yards and 15 touchdowns, playing in seven games and starting five in the second half of the season after taking over for Adrian Martinez.
The Wildcats had to replace running back Deuce Vaughn after he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and have done so with a combination of sophomore DJ Giddens (6-1, 212), who has rushed for 180 yards on 27 carries, and senior Treshaun Ward (5-10, 194), who has 114 yards on 27 attempts with a touchdown.
“They’ve done a really nice job of replacing the running back production with two transfers and I really think the guy who makes their football team go right now is Phillip Brooks,” Drinkwitz said.
Brooks, a senior wide receiver, has 13 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, three punt returns for 37 yards and three kickoff returns for 78 yards.
“We know (him) all too well from his special teams return for a touchdown against us,” Drinkwitz said. “He’s done an outstanding job for them at wide receiver, being their go-to guy.”
Sophomore wide receiver RJ Garcia II leads the team in receiving yards with 150 on eight catches with a score.
Through two games, the Missouri defense that will try to stop the Kansas State playmakers has been led by Darius Robinson with 10 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, while Daylan Carnell has nine tackles and two tackles for loss. Joseph Charleston and Chuck Hicks also have nine tackles, with Hicks adding 2.5 tackles for loss, while Johnny Walker Jr. has nine tackles -- two for a loss -- and a sack.
“We had four TFLs and four sacks, which were positives,” Drinkwitz said of the Tigers’ Week 2 performance. “I think that’s a trademark of what coach (Blake) Baker’s style defense do. The negative is they were 50 percent on third down against us and 2-for-3 on fourth down. So we gotta get them into third down, but we’ve got to get ourselves off the field and that’s got to be a point of emphasis this week.”
With Kansas State returning to Columbia for the first time in more than a decade in the final year before the new set of conference realignment next year, Drinkwitz said the regional portion college football is losing through that realignment will leave fans lacking.
“I don’t think there’s anything better than college football regional rivalries and fan bases that share a city that have bragging rights and high school coaches,” Drinkwitz said. “Phillip (Brooks) is from Lee’s Summit West, and last year the defensive end (Felix Anudike-Uzomah) was from the Kansas City area. So you’re talking about guys who grew up watching both teams and I think it means a lot. Obviously, there will be the watercooler conversation, there will be the people this summer flying their flags at the lakes and talking trash.
“I think that’s what makes college football so much fun. … I’m excited to see what a sold-out Faurot Field looks like. Eleven a.m. is a little early to be too excited, but we’ll make do.”
Notes: Today is the 99th all-time meeting between the Tigers and Wildcats, dating to 1909, with Missouri leading 60-33-5 overall and 30-17-3 in Columbia. Kansas State has won the past two games in the series, both played in Manhattan, Kan. … Cody Schrader enters the game as one of four players in the nation with more than 4,000 career rushing yards, sitting at 4,036. … Nyles Gaddy was named Southeastern Conference co-defensive lineman of the week Monday after a three-tackle, two-sack performance against Middle Tennessee. … The Tiger defense ranks 16th in the country in yards allowed per game at 239.5. It has not allowed a rushing touchdown and is giving up 58.5 rushing yards per game, good for seventh in the FBS. … Missouri is on a 15-game non-conference home winning streak, dating to Oct. 21, 2017. … Safety JC Carlies has been removed from the injury report after playing last week. Linebacker Chad Bailey remains listed as questionable and Drinkwitz said he might play a few series today. Wide receiver Mekhi Miller is listed as questionable after exiting last week’s game.