AN OPPOSING VIEW
Dave Matter is like a regular here. Ever since Missouri joined the league three years ago, he has provided the insight on the Tigers for The Opposing View blog.
And for good reason. Matter attended school at Missouri and has covered the Tigers since the 1990s, the last few years with 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. …
1. OK, what’s the deal with Maty Mauk? Any insight as to what got him suspended? And did his favorited tweets have anything to do with him not getting reinstated this week?
Matter: There are a lot of rumblings and unconfirmed speculation on what Mauk did to get suspended, but the team and his family have kept a tight lid on any details. It’s not a legal matter, but he’s clearly done enough to earn a lengthy stay away from the program. He and his family have been going through a difficult few months with his father’s diagnosis of stage 3 cancer. Between that situation and getting booed at home during the UConn game, it’s been a rough few months for Mauk, plus whatever led to his suspension. I don’t think the Twitter action had anything to do with his status for this week. He could rejoin the program at some point this season, but I’d be surprised if he starts another game.
2. What about Drew Lock? Do you agree with those who say the Tigers’ offense is better with him than Mauk? What are Lock’s strengths and weaknesses?
Matter: I think there’s more upside to the passing game with Lock. He’s more accurate, gets rid of the ball quicker and just seems to have a more polished delivery and mechanics. He doesn’t have Mauk’s speed or scrambling ability, but Mauk sometimes scrambled to his offense’s detriment, giving up on plays too quickly or scrambling into pressure instead of away from it. If Lock gets protection up front, he’s got the tools to lead a more functional downfield passing attack. He’s still getting acclimated to playing against college defenses and recognizing coverages. He misread a coverage against Florida that led to an interception. He’s a smart player, but everything that happens on the field is a new experience for him, so he’s still learning on the go.
3. Man, that Mizzou defense certainly looks good statistically and what little I’ve seen of them on TV. What can you share on that unit’s performance this season and are they salivating over the opportunity to play a Georgia team that’s terrible on third down and — for the third consecutive season — playing the Tigers without their best back available?
Matter: Lather, rinse, repeat for the Mizzou defensive line. They don’t really grow these guys on trees up here, but it probably seems that way. Once again, they’ve replaced superstar talent with superstar talent. Edge rushers Charles Harris and Walter Brady are first-year starters but have produced at a similar rate as past stars like Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Shane Ray and Markus Golden. The linebackers have been excellent: Kentrell Brothers is a sideline-to-sideline playmaker; Michael Scherer is a rugged tackler in the box; Donavin Newsom is becoming a versatile pass rusher and coverage defender. The secondary hasn’t been tested much but holds up well. This defense seems to get takeaways in bunches, and the team lives and dies by takeaways. Zero takeaways in the losses to Kentucky and Florida; three takeaways in the win over South Carolina. I think 34-0 might be too fresh in the minds of Missouri’s veteran players for them to salivate over this matchup. The Tigers actually played OK defense in last year’s game — they just couldn’t get off the field and allowed UGA to methodically control the game. I’m sure they’ll have some third-down pass-rush packages ready for Saturday, but they’ll come in with respect for Sony Michel. Missouri players learned last year they can’t let up when UGA’s starting tailback doesn’t play.
4. The Bulldogs say they consider Missouri a rival since it won the last two East titles. What’s the perception of Georgia from the Tigers’ perspective?
Matter: You can poll a dozen Mizzou players as to who they consider their rival and you’re bound to get four to five different answers. Some might say Georgia because it’s been the top contender in the East the last three years. Some might say South Carolina because those games had been competitive and dramatic the last couple years. Some will say Arkansas because of the relative proximity. The redshirt seniors might even say Kansas because they were in the program when MU was still in the Big 12. In general, though, I think there’s widespread respect for Georgia among MU players and coaches — respect for the talent, tradition, environment, etc. The seniors remember their inaugural SEC game against Georgia and how badly the Bulldogs beat them that night. Senior center Evan Boehm said this week that Sanford Stadium is the loudest place he’s ever played. At the same time, I don’t sense Missouri’s intimidated by this matchup, not after winning in Athens two years ago.
5. We don’t hear as much about Missouri way down here in Athens. What are some players or some aspects of this team that those of us who don’t follow them closely might not be familiar with?
Matter: Senior linebacker Kentrell Brothers has been one of the nation’s most productive linebackers in a season that appeared doomed a few weeks ago when he sprained his ankle in the second half at Kentucky. What looked like a possible season-ending injury wasn’t as serious. He’s rarely left the field the last two games. Offensively, Lock’s been the big story the last few weeks. He’s a third-generation Tiger— dad and grandfather both played for Mizzou — and he spurned late interest from Michigan, Texas and Notre Dame after a strong performance at the Elite 11 camp in 2014. Most figured he’d redshirt this year, play some as Mauk’s backup in 2016 then take over as the starter in 2017. But after a few preseason practices his elite talent became obvious. He was by far MU’s most accurate and efficient passer in the preseason scrimmages and shot up the depth chart to No. 2 by the opening game. He’s working with a really young receiver group — one senior and no juniors among the scholarship wideouts — and drops were a problem the first few weeks of the season. Nate Brown from Suwanee, Ga., has shown flashes of great potential as the top slot receiver, but he’s had bouts of inconsistent play.
Matter’s Prediction: Georgia 27, Missouri 13:
Mizzou has the defense to make every game on its schedule competitive — as long as the offense can put up a few points. Drew Lock won’t be facing the Florida defense this year, but expect some mistakes in his first road SEC start, under the lights no less.