COLUMBIA, Mo. – After watching Missouri's inconsistent inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference, new offensive coordinator Josh Henson wanted to tweak a few things.
One of those was the Tigers' passing game.
The team averaged 217.9 yards through the air last year, its worst output since 2004. That number has ballooned to 297 yards after three games this season, thanks in large part to four experienced receivers who are all at least 6-foot-4.
Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas both set career highs with 105 yards and 101 yards, respectively, in a 45-28 win at Indiana last week. Jimmie Hunt caught a personal-best six catches while L'Damian Washington tied his high mark of five receptions.
Missouri (3-0) gained 623 yards overall, including 343 passing yards.
"They can't just hone in on one guy," Lucas said. "They've got to cover the full field. It's great to have four, five downfield threats in at a time. I think that it's really helping our offense. I think that (quarterback) James (Franklin) is able to pick whoever he wants to."
Arkansas State (2-2) is tasked with keeping the Tigers in check after its own offense malfunctioned in a 31-7 loss at Memphis.
The Red Wolves only gained 255 yards after entering the game averaging 544.3. The team yielded seven sacks, limiting Utah State transfer Adam Kennedy to 166 passing yards and preventing him from making plays with his feet.
Kennedy likes to scramble, but first-year coach Bryan Harsin said his quarterback must be conscious of when to throw the ball out of bounds.
"He needs to play his game," Harsin said. "And he needs to have the ability to move around and make plays like that. Bottom line is we need to make plays down the field for him when he does do those things."
Missouri leads 2-0 in the all-times series between the schools after wins in 2004 and 2005. Here are five things to know about Saturday's game:
DAVID OKU: The Tennessee transfer ran for 1,061 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2012 for the Red Wolves, good enough to merit a first team all-Sun Belt Conference selection. A 5-foot-10, 202-pound senior, his numbers have dipped to 72.8 yards per game this season after gaining only 45 at Memphis. Don't sleep on him, though. Oku's speed helped him set a school-record 863 kickoff return yards while he was a freshman with the Volunteers, averaging 26.2 per attempt.
PRESSURE ON KENNEDY: Arkansas State's offense is focused on eliminating sacks, having given up 11 already in four games. Missouri recorded three in its opener, a 58-14 win against Murray State, but none since. The Red Wolves need to limit the Tigers' pressure and make sure that streak continues if they want to keep Kennedy on the field and avoid a repeat of last week.
THIRD DOWN: One reason for Missouri's offensive turnaround has been its success with staying on the field. The Tigers have converted 59.6 percent of third-down opportunities (28-of-47) and rank sixth nationally. That's a dramatic improvement over the team's 33.3 percent clip a year ago when it only converted 62 of 186 attempts. Arkansas State has excelled, too, converting 30 of its 62 chances.
BACK-TO-BACK LOSSES: After its loss at Memphis, the Red Wolves will try to avoid dropping consecutive games in the same season for the first time since 2010. The team has gone 10-3 in both of the past two years, first under Hugh Freeze in 2011 and then with Gus Malzahn in 2012.
PINKEL'S RECORD: Coach Gary Pinkel enters Saturday's contest with a 93-61 record at Missouri in 13 years, tying him with Dan Devine for the second-most wins in school history. One more against Arkansas State would pull him to within seven of Don Faurot.