COLUMBIA — In an effort to show a bit of Midwestern — and Southeastern Conference — hospitality to an LSU football program displaced by a hurricane, the video board at Faurot Field on Friday afternoon bore a message of welcome: "Geaux Tigers! We stand strong together."
In the latest twist of a season full of them, a season barely three weeks old, Faurot Field will host No. 17 LSU (1-1) for an 11 a.m. kickoff today, the first time ever the Missouri (0-2) takes the field as the visiting team in its own stadium.
The game will be available on the SEC Network Alternate channel, and will be re-aired on SEC Network starting at 3 p.m.
The landfall of Hurricane Delta along the Louisiana coast Friday afternoon brought a 7-foot storm surge, sustained winds of 50-plus miles per hour and a risk of flash flooding along with rain, which forced today's game to move north Wednesday.
Between the venue change, Missouri's seven known absences due to coronavirus protocols and every other strand of the unknown woven into this year of uncertainty, new challenges seem to continually rear up before first-year head coach Eli Drinkwitz.
Apart from the off-field issues shared between programs, Missouri has plenty of things to correct from its first two games against Alabama and Tennessee before it can claim a win. Drinkwitz has said several times effort has not been the issue, but execution, at every position and across all three phases, hasn't been up to standard.
"We're not executing at a level that's given us the ability to win a football game," Drinkwitz said Tuesday. "Part of that's detail and my fault for not coaching with enough detail in order to make sure that the plays are executed the right way and then there's other times where we just don't execute. There's a lot of reasons for it, but the reality of it is it's got to get corrected and that's what we're working hard to do."
That starts on offense. The Tigers' struggles to move the ball out of the gate have resulted in two-touchdown deficits early in both games, and is part of the reason Connor Bazelak was named the starter for today's game after playing most of the Tennessee game in relief. He can't do it alone though: dropped passes have been drive-killers, and this group of wide receivers needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball, whether it's Bazelak or Shawn Robinson throwing it.
"I thought I managed the game well, found a way to move the ball down the field to get some points, but there's a lot of missed opportunities that I should have had, and opportunities to put touchdowns on the board, so, gotta have those," Bazelak said Tuesday of his performance after completing 13-of-21 passes for 218 yards against Tennessee.
LSU's offense is not quite the same as last year's record-setting, touchdown-scoring speed machine that averaged 48.4 points per game en route to a 15-0 season and a national title, but Myles Brennan has had plenty of experience and time to grow into his starting role for this year. He's averaged 41.5 pass attempts and 341 yards passing so far through two games, and there are still talented receivers out wide the Tigers will have to contend with, including Terrance Marshall Jr. (who had a pair of receiving touchdowns against both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt), Jaray Jenkins and freshman tight end Arik Gilbert.
Missouri's defense didn't do much to make Alabama starting quarterback Mac Jones' life difficult in the first game, and the Tigers' run defense made things easy on the Volunteers' Jarrett Guarantano, who was able to hand the ball off knowing one of his backs would get at least four yards. Tennessee's 232 yards rushing and 4.55 yards-per-carry average a week ago were the most Missouri had allowed against the Vols since 2016, when Tennessee ran for 386 yards and five touchdowns on 8.58 YPC.
LSU was bottled up on the ground against Mississippi State, with 38 carries for 80 yards, but got back on track with 161 yards on 32 carries at Vanderbilt last week. The last time Missouri faced LSU, LSU handed the ball off for season-highs of 52 carries for 418 yards and six touchdowns in Ed Orgeron's first game as interim head coach.
This season was always going to be a rebuilding effort once Missouri made the decision to fire Barry Odom, even before the pandemic hamstrung Drinkwitz's spring practices and summer workouts and the new all-SEC schedule gave the Tigers three straight games to start the season in which they were two-touchdown underdogs.
Effort and will are there for the Tigers. Another challenge awaits today.
"A big message that we've had going on I would say is 'New week, new opportunity,'" safety Martez Manuel said Tuesday. "A perfect example: I had a pretty decent game, I would say, against Alabama. I had to let that go, because next week, it doesn't matter.
"Nothing is going to be handed to us," he added. "SEC ball, so if we want to go to win, we've gotta go perform. I feel like that's something I've been trying to stress to the team and stress to myself, just win by any means possible. Nobody cares if you're an All-American if you're 0-10. I just want to win, period."