If there was ever a time for the Missouri Tigers to win at Louisiana State, this is it.
LSU announced Sunday that it has terminated the contract of longtime head coach Les Miles. Miles, who won a BCS National Championship with the school in 2007, has been in charge in the bayou for the last 12 seasons. After sparing his job last season due to widespread fan outcry at his leaked firing, LSU decided Saturday's loss at Auburn was the last straw.
With LSU football in turmoil, many in Missouri are optimistic about Mizzou’s chances of picking up a win in Death Valley. Well, temper your expectations, Mizzou fans. It's not gonna happen.
Predicting LSU to win is less of an endorsement of LSU as it as in indictment of Missouri. The simple question is: Are we sure Mizzou is any good? When you really look at the season so far, Barry Odom’s team has been less than impressive.
Missouri started its season off with an uninspiring loss to West Virginia in its only road game of the season, a game they were never even competitive in. In the following three-game homestand, Mizzou picked up resounding wins over Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. While Mizzou flexed its offensive muscle in two blowout victories, neither game shows much because of the lowly competition.
And then there’s the heartbreaking loss to Georgia at home, a game that’s still at the forefront of every Mizzou fan’s mind. The story of the game was the inconsistent play of Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock, who dazzled with 376 yards passing and three touchdown passes but then also threw away the game with three inexcusable second-half interceptions. The offense as a whole was inconsistent, generating multiple big plays but also coughing up the ball five times. The Tigers were not able to establish a consistent running game.
On the surface, this performance seems impressive. Mizzou competed and almost beat the then-No. 16 team in the country. But after the 45-14 beatdown Georgia received from Ole Miss this week, there are many questions about how good Georgia really is.
Georgia struggled against Nicholls State at home, winning by just two points. The Bulldogs also looked unimpressive against North Carolina. The more you examine Georgia’s season, Mizzou’s close loss to the Bulldogs at home appears less and less reassuring.
So, in essence, the Tigers have lost to the only two decent teams they have faced this season. Not so impressive, is it?
While Mizzou hasn’t had an optimal start to the season, neither has LSU. LSU came into the season ranked No. 5 in the country. Obviously they have fallen short thus far, and the program’s rash decision to fire Miles highlights that. But unlike Missouri, a closer look provides more optimism for LSU.
Their two losses to Wisconsin at Lambeau Field and at Auburn are more forgivable. Lambeau Field was basically a home game for the Badgers, and Wisconsin has had a great start to the season, dominating in their win at No. 8 Michigan State over the weekend.
LSU came within one play of beating Auburn on Saturday; their game-winning touchdown as time expired was called off as they snapped the ball a second too late. Auburn has two losses, but losses to Clemson and Texas A&M don’t seem too bad at this point in the season. Both of LSU’s losses were one-possession games in hostile environments.
A night game in Death Valley should be a much different story; the atmosphere at Tiger Stadium creates arguably the best home field advantage in college football.
Following Miles’ departure, defensive line coach Ed Orgeron will serve as the team’s interim head coach. As an interim head coach at Southern California, Orgeron led the Trojans to a 6-2 record after Lane Kiffin was fired mid-season. His previous success as an interim coach — as well as former coaching experience in the Southeastern Conference at Ole Miss — should prevent LSU from experiencing a letdown after Miles’ firing.
LSU’s defense is the most elite Mizzou will have faced. If the Tigers struggled taking care of the ball against Georgia, LSU could wreak havoc on Mizzou’s offense. And while Mizzou did a good job shutting down Nick Chubb, Leonard Fournette is a once-in-a-generation back and could explode at home against Mizzou.
A good game from Drew Lock is Mizzou’s best chance to win in Baton Rouge, but Lock is highly unproven against quality SEC defenses. His first half against Georgia is the only good performance Lock has had against quality SEC teams.
LSU just has more talent than Mizzou on both sides of the football, and outside the quarterback position, Mizzou is outclassed. So far this season, the Mizzou offense has relied on big plays to score points, plays that will be hard to come by against LSU’s stingy defense.
While the narratives around Mizzou and LSU football are very different at the moment, don’t let the storylines fool you. In a low-scoring game in Death Valley, LSU will prove to be far superior to an inexperienced Missouri team and will get back on track with an important home victory.