ATHENS — In radio they say, “He’s a friend of the show.” Well, Dave Matter is a “friend of The View.” He has been handling our annual look at Missouri going on four years, ever since Missouri joined the SEC and Georgia traveled out there to demonstrate what “Old Man Football” is all about.
Nobody knows Missouri athletics better than Matter. He attended school at Missouri and has covered the Tigers since the 1990s, the last several with the paper of record in the state, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. You can read all his stories on his newspaper’s website, stltoday.com, and he’s a great follow on Twitter @Dave_Matter
Now, on to the questions. …
Q: I noticed your interview access appears to be getting adjusted. Is that being handled differently than under Gary Pinkel, and in what general ways would you say Barry Odom is different as a head coach?
A: Matter: “For one, he’s much more engaged in practice. Pinkel stood stoically and generally let his assistants coach; Odom is all over the place and personally handles a few special teams units. Players have said his office is more accessible during the day. He bought an Xbox and PlayStation for his office and players are welcome to come in and play at their leisure. He did cut back on the number of spring and preseason practices the media could watch, including all scrimmages, but the quality of access time with players and assistant coaches was better in the preseason compared to the last few years.”
Q: First, do they grow defensive ends on trees out there? Charles Harris is the latest all-star at that position, I guess, though it looks like the Tigers haven’t logged many sacks yet. So, is the defense decidedly different under new coordinator DeMontie Cross and do you expect them to get after Georgia’s QBs, whichever one happens to be in?
Matter: “Missouri has switched to more of a read scheme along the front where linemen have to diagnose formations and adjust their assignments accordingly. In the past, they were free to burst off the ball and rush up field. There’s been a learning curve so far, and linemen are still adjusting to their new assignments. This group still has loads of talent, starting with Harris, though he hasn’t had much of an impact the first two games. West Virginia and Eastern Michigan neutralized MU’s pass rush with quick passes. Both teams had mobile quarterbacks who had some success on designed runs. This might be a better matchup for the front four because they don’t have to worry about either QB scrambling or keeping the ball on options.”
Q: Speaking of QBs, could you describe the dynamics of that position for Missouri? Assuming Drew Lock is the man now after last week’s performance. Is that true, and to whom does he compare as far as Mizzou quarterbacks?
Matter: “Lock was at his best last week, albeit against an overmatched Eastern Michigan team. His deep-ball accuracy was really impressive. He looks as confident as ever. His touch on intermediate and deep throws was reminiscent of Chase Daniel, the best passing quarterback in team history. His patience in the pocket is much improved from last season. He’s not much of a runner, though he can occasionally keep the ball on a designed run or scramble and pick up a first down. Mizzou produced three straight quarterbacks who made the NFL — Brad Smith, as a receiver and return specialist, Daniel and Blaine Gabbert — and then had two productive college QBs in James Franklin and Maty Mauk. Lock’s raw skills might be as good, if not better, than any of them, but he’s still a relative newcomer to the sport. He was always a basketball player who dabbled in football, so this past winter was his first football offseason where he was devoted to the sport and learning the nuances of the position.”
Q: Do the Tigers believe they have the secret code for breaking a Kirby Smart defense in Josh Heupel? Can you explain their history for our readers?
Matter: “I’m not sure they believe they have the secret code, but at least five offensive players interviewed Monday mentioned the 2014 Sugar Bowl, when Heupel’s Oklahoma offense shredded Smart’s Alabama defense for 429 yards. The offense has been watching that film and it’s obvious we’ll see some elements from OU’s game plan show up on Saturday, possibly the heavy use of presnap shifts and motions the Sooners used.”
Q: Where do you see the obvious advantages for Missouri in Saturday’s matchup with Georgia and how is this game being viewed within the Tiger nation?
Matter: “Missouri’s fleet of receivers might have some downfield matchup advantages against UGA’s secondary. Between Johnathon Johnson and Ray Wingo, Mizzou has some speed in the slot that wasn’t on display last year. Maybe this is the game the defensive front breaks out and looks more like a Mizzou front four. If UGA had trouble blocking Nicholls State, it might be a challenge to keep Harris, Terry Beckner Jr. and Josh Augusta out of the backfield. Fans seem cautious about this game. Missouri’s offense showed some promise the last two weeks, but anyone who witnessed last year’s 1-7 conference season hasn’t forgotten how poorly the Tigers’ offense played just a season ago. The defense’s play has raised some red flags, especially against the run. If West Virginia’s backs and Eastern Michigan’s backup running back can find holes in MU’s defense, Nick Chubb figures to have a big day.”
Matter’s prediction: “I’ll need a few days to come up with a score, but I’ve got Georgia winning a close game in the low 30s. I just won’t be convinced Missouri can win a game like this until I see it happen.”