The Missouri Tigers showed they can win a big game, now its time to move on.
“We had to overcome a deficit four different times in the game and I’m really proud of them,” Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said. “But for us as an organization and as a team, it’s time to move on and focus on our next opponent.”
That next opponent the Tigers’ will take on are the Memphis Tigers, but it’s not a usual home game. Missouri and Memphis will kick off at 6:30 p.m. today at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis.
Drinkwitz said tor the 18 players on the Missouri roster from the St. Louis area, this game is a dream come true.
“There’s an excitement, obviously for the 18 student athletes that are on our team from St. Louis, just to go back and play,” Drinkwitz said. “Obviously they’re getting hit up about tickets and trying to beg, borrow and steal from their teammates to get their tickets if they’re not using them. So that’s always fun and unique. But I think when you’re a player that goes off to college, whenever that university comes home to play, it’s something to really be proud of.”
Those players come home with a 3-0 record after a 30-27 win against the then-No. 15 Kansas State Wildcats. The win gained the Tigers votes in the AP Top 25, but they were the second team out of the rankings after the Wildcats.
Now Missouri will face a 3-0 Memphis team coming in off a 28-24 win against Navy.
Memphis is led by an offense averaging 40.33 points per game on the strength of 182.7 rushing and 266.67 passing yards per contest.
Junior quarterback Seth Henigan (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) leads the passing attack with 791 yards on 71-of-100 passing with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
“Their quarterback is very efficient throwing the football, he moves well in the pocket,” Drinkwitz said. “He makes sound decisions throwing the ball vertically down the field. He can escape, that’s not obviously what he does every play, but he does have enough athleticism to keep you on your toes, similar to what happened to us last week and we got exposed on some quarterback run areas that have to get cleaned up. And he’s got a lot of experience, he’s played in a lot of football games.”
Junior receiver Roc Taylor (6-3, 215) has been the main target with 15 receptions for 154 yards and a touchdown, while graduate running back Blake Watson (5-9, 195) has 15 catches for 130 yards and redshirt junior receiver Demeer Blankumsee (5-10, 185) has eight catches for 130 yards and a score. Former Missouri receiver Tauskie Dove (6-2, 197 graduate) is Memphis’ final receiver past 100 yards this season with 124 and a score on four catches.
Watson, an Old Dominion transfer, is the team’s leading rusher with 295 yards on 40 carries with four rushing touchdowns. Henigan has three rushing touchdowns on 22 attempts, while sophomore Sutton Smith (5-9, 185) has 127 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries.
“Very dynamic, has game-changing, game-breaking speed,” Drinkwitz said of Watson. “He’s rushing the ball really well. I think that’s helped in their pass attack. Obviously when they’re running the ball that well, you have to commit a different style to stop it and creates one-on-one matchups.”
That offense will go against a Missouri defense allowing only 18.7 points per contest.
Joseph Charleston leads the defense with 18 tackles, while Ty’Ron Hopper, Ennis Rakestraw and Johnny Walker all have 14 and Daylan Carnell has 13.
Middle linebacker Chad Bailey returned to the field against Kansas State after missing the first two weeks due to injury, but Drinkwitz said he and Chuck Hicks will remain in a rotation because Bailey is not ready to return for a full game.
Missouri’s offense, which is averaging 29.3 points per game on 132.3 rushing and 262 passing yards per contest, will go against a Memphis defense allowing only 13.7 points, 138.3 rushing and 112.7 passing yards per game.
“They have an outstanding defense that is top-10 in most of the categories, specifically in takeaways, pass defense and points,” Drinkwitz said.
Memphis has two interceptions, six forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries as a team.
Junior signal caller Brady Cook is coming off the best game of his career, but was questionable after missing practice Tuesday because of the hyper extended knee he suffered in the second quarter against Kansas State.
Cook returned to practice Wednesday and is likely to play.
Even with the success Missouri’s offense had against the Wildcats, Drinkwitz said it isn’t necessarily what Tiger fans should expect each game going forward.
“Every gameplan is uniquely that gameplan, and we had plays off of plays, which is the design of most good offenses,” Drinkwitz said. “There were looks based off of film that kind of set those up. … Memphis presents its own unique challenges, they have a totally different structure of defense and style. I think coach (Matt) Barnes, their defensive coordinator, has done a really tremendous job. They are very efficient not only forcing turnvovers, but really good on third downs.”
Freshman tight end Brett Norfleet will miss the game with an injury suffered during practice after he made a highlight catch in Week 3. Sophomore Tyler Stephens will likely take the main snaps at tight end. Graduate offensive lineman Marcellus Johnson is also listed as out with an injury suffered during the game against Kansas State.
“I’m hopeful for an unbelievable crowd and a great atmosphere,” Drinkwitz said. “We gotta do our part by executing.”
Notes: Today is the fifth meeting in the all-time series, with Missouri leading 3-1. This is the first neutral-site game. … Harrison Mevis was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after a 3-of-4 day and the 61-yard game-winning field goal last week. … Brady Cook earned one of the Manning Award’s Stars of the Week as well as a spot on the Davey O’Brien Award’s Great 8 list. … Ty’Ron Hopper was named the Reese’s Senior Bowl Defensive Player of the Week for leading the Tigers with eight tackles and two pass breakups, two quarterback hurries and a tackle for loss.