The season is moving by quicker than I expected and we're already staring week 4 in the face. With week 4 the Hoosiers watch Missouri come to town to try and upset the small amount of momentum IU built last week in a blowout of Bowling Green. The question is, what are the Tigers going to do to try and pull of this feat?
Missouri is coming off basically the same season that Indiana had last year. They approached the season with a feeling of promise and optimism. A few injuries later and there was no chance in a power conference. Missouri finished outside bowl eligibility for the first time since 2004. As stated, injuries played into that equation a lot. The injuries caused a lack of depth, the lack of depth caused, inexperience, the inexperience caused Missouri to get trucked late in a lot of games. It is a pretty easy path to navigate to see that health did them no favors. But as Hoosier fans know injuries do not excuse a lack of quality talent on the depth chart. That is ultimately what bit Missouri. Their two deeps had quality players but beyond that there wasn't much to write home about.
This year Missouri is looking to remedy that. Head coach, Gary Pinkel is in his twelfth year with Missouri and has really been the guy to resurrect their program from the depths of mediocrity. He's taken Missouri to eight bowl games and won 10 games three times in a season. Formerly a man who made the Toledo Rockets relevant before coming to Missouri, Pinkel knows what the Big Ten has to offer, even if he's over a decade removed from it.
On offense the number one threat in Pinkel's spread offense is quarterback James Franklin. The senior dual threat QB currently leads the team in both pass attempts and rushes. So we know through two games that he's perfectly happy with using his feet to pick up yardage. In their most recent game against Toledo is when we saw Franklin take off and scramble for the majority of his carries. He led Missouri in that game with 17 attempts for 4.5 yards a play. He also threw for 212 yards on 25 attempts. So again, we're probably looking at more of a diverse running team than a passing one. Don't think for a second Missouri won't try and light you up from the air, but they're going to go to the ground first.
Outside of Franklin's legs you also need to keep an eye on Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough. The two backs have split carries through two games and will continue to do so. Josey in particular is a guy that everyone should be rooting for outside of the game on Saturday. He's been through a lot in three years. Once considered an elite back his knee was destroyed against Texas in 2011. ACL, MCL, PCL and any other CL you can think of, were torn. To start this season it looks like Josey is still working to get back his explosive form. He's coming in at 6.3 yards per carry, but nearly half of his 139 yards came on one carry of 68. Outside of that big run he's looking at a much more mundane 3.4 ypc.
Similar things can be said of Russell Hansbrough as well. He's running at a 7.5 ypc clip but take away his long of 51 and we're looking at a 4.9 ypc. Obviously much better than Josey and something that any team would love to have, but through two games we have to take these averages with a grain of salt. However, the sophomore back will still get his chances sporadically through the game. So far he's getting 9 carries a game and there's a chance that may go up as Missouri tries to victimize the Indiana run defense.
At wide out, IU has to be most concerned about the 6'6" 225 lbs sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham. The kid is a monster physical specimen. Likely a future draft pick with his size and 4.3 40 time DGB is going to test not just the corners but the safeties over top to keep him from blowing the top off the defense. IU's best move there is to hope that his mind boggling inconsistency continues into this season. For such a big guy a lot of people were calling his career dead after a freshman season of relative mediocrity. But through two games this year he's caught 9 passes for 134 yards. Sure that wasn't against the greatest of competition, but Toledo at least is only a notch or two below Bowling Green in talent.
Outside of DGB you have to keep an eye on Marcus Lucas. Though he's only caught 7 passes for 61 yards this season, he's the other receiver most likely to give us trouble. Like Cody Latimer his year has started slow, but look for Missouri to call his number a little more to try and get him started. If Lucas can get churning then we might see Missouri try to do more through the air. As things currently stand though, they're going to need to run to set up the pass unless Lucas finds himself early.
Lastly for Missouri's offense keep an eye on the line. They're young and talented, but just like IU they've had their issues. Whether it be injury or inexperience it isn't as together as they may like early in the season. Of course that will come in due time as they play together longer, but the history is there for IU to get a big play or two when they need it the most on this line.
Defensively, Missouri is having to replace 13th overall pick DT Sheldon Richardson. Obviously no easy task for any team. Luckily for Missouri they're bringing back the three guys that started alongside Richardson last season. Junior Kony Ealy and Senior Michael Sam benefited greatly from single coverage last year while Richardson drew the most of the line's attention. It's yet to be seen so far how they'll adjust. The competition through two just isn't enough to make a definitive statement. However, coupled with tackles Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch, Missouri's line was able to get a lot of pressure on Toledo's Terrance Owens where he threw three picks.
Which brings us to the Missouri secondary. I saw some discussion on a message board last night about Missouri's secondary compared to Bowling Green's. Some seem to think it's a push. Also an experienced crew, Missouri has three seniors getting the start as well. Randy Ponder and EJ Gaines will be tasked with stopping Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes while Matt White and junior FS Braylon Webb try and keep them from blowing the top off the defense as IU is apt to do. This should be the single most concerning position for Missouri. They aren't a bad unit by any means, but they're relatively undersized and this will be their first test against an elite passing team on the season. Heck, looking at their schedule only Johnny Football offers a tougher test (though Nate Sudfeld is matching him number for number at the moment).
In between the line and the secondary comes the linebacking corps that will be in charge of filling the gaps against Tevin Coleman and Stephen Houston while trying to stop Ted Bolser from running free. That task will be going to Seniors Donovan Bonner and Andrew Wilson with help from sophomore Kentrell Brothers. Wilson led Missouri in tackles last season but will be shifting to MLB in the 2013 iteration of Missouri. Bonner will be on the strong side and Brothers won the weak side spot out of camp. The biggest fear for Mizzou is that outside of those three it's all underclassmen. Under a passing assault the team will prone to buckling.
In the end, this appears to be a game that's going to come down to which defense can get the most stops. Missouri's offense has some weapons that could prove to be deadly. They're capable of the quick strike score and putting up points if they have to win a shootout. It also appears that Missouri is going to have to win some shootouts at times this year. The defense despite its age lacks in the experience points. Depth still remains an issue along the line and the linebackers especially. I think this game will prove to be quite a nail biter; as two teams in roughly the same spot in their program development meet.