LSU takes burgeoning pass attack to struggling Mizzou
Myles Brennan needed just two games to begin posting historically significant passing numbers at LSU, leaving little doubt about his ability to succeed Heisman Trophy winner Joe Burrow.
New Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz needed just two games to decide he better try a new quarterback.
And the Tigers will be without at least seven players because of one positive test for COVID-19. Drinkwitz said Thursday night on his radio show that six of the seven players will miss the game because they're considered close contacts to the positive case and must quarantine under Southeastern Conference protocols. He did not identify the players.
As No. 17 LSU (1-1, 1-1 SEC) visits Missouri (0-2, 0-2) on Saturday, the two programs' situations under center bear little resemblance.
Brennan is the first quarterback in LSU history to pass for more than 300 yards in each of his first two starts, totaling 682 yards and seven TDs.
"Pretty good start for Myles," LSU coach Ed Orgeron said, adding that Brennan improved considerably from Week 1 to Week 2 in terms of avoiding pressure by stepping up in the pocket and decisively unloading the ball instead of scrambling laterally.
"We worked very hard last week on him doing it," Orgeron said. "When (receivers) become open, let her rip. Throw it. Make a decision and let's go – and he did that. I thought he did that very well."
By contrast, Drinkwitz this week had to explain his decision to insert redshirt freshman Connor Bazelak as starter in place of TCU transfer Shawn Robinson.
Bazelak has seen action in both of Mizzou's games this season, but much more in a loss at Tennessee last weekend, coming in after Robinson had completed one of his first four passes for no yards.
Bazelak completed 13 of 21 passes for 218 yards. He was intercepted once and did not throw a touchdown pass.
"He got in, we moved the ball offensively. He moved the ball on third downs. He made good decisions in the pocket," Drinkwitz said. "There's been some things that he missed and some things that he's got to improve on, but I just felt like he handled the situation well and he gave us a chance, and we're going to stick with him."
Drinkwitz also noted that the change does not mean he's written Robinson off.
"There's going to be plays for Shawn," Drinkwitz said. "Shawn's a good football player. We're excited about him playing quarterback and contributing."
CHANGE OF VENUE
The game was originally slated for Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but the threat posed by Hurricane Delta to Louisiana's coast led the Southeastern Conference to move the game to Columbia, Missouri. This marks the first time LSU's Tigers have visited Mizzou's Faurot Field. The game time was also moved up from am 8 p.m. to 11 a.m. kickoff at LSU's request. Orgeron wanted his team home earlier because LSU is back on the road next week at Florida.
The performance of LSU's defensive secondary improved dramatically between the unit's first and second games, allowing 113 yards passing against Vanderbilt just a week after giving up 623 yards passing in a 44-34 loss to Mississippi State.
Orgeron said a lot of that had to do with the return of All-America cornerback Derek Stingley Jr.
Stingley missed the opener against Mississippi State with an illness but he was back at practice early the following week.
"Derek Stingley's presence helped everybody, including me, to be honest with you," Orgeron said. "It gave us a lot of confidence. He's one of the best players in America."
Missouri's offense will contend with Stingley two games after facing another elite cornerback in Alabama's Patrick Surtain.
"Stingley's one of the best corners in the country if not the best," Drinkwitz said. "He usually cancels out a receiver a game and we've got to make it where he can't. ... It's going to be a tremendous challenge."
If Missouri can have success passing, that could help create rushing lanes for senior running back Larry Rountree III. He rushed for 84 yards on 18 carries at Tennessee last week to push his career total to 2,899 yards, which ranks sixth in school history. Roundtree needs 299 yards to rush for more yards than any running back in Mizzou history, but will be hard pressed to reach the school career record of 4,289 yards rushing by former QB Brad Smith.
LSU has demonstrated an early penchant for creating turnovers with four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Freshman cornerback Eli Ricks has an interception in each of his first two games. Linebacker Jabril Cox, a Raytown South High School graduate, had an interception for a touchdown in LSU's opener and safety Todd Harris had an interception last week. Safety Jacoby Stevens forced a fumble on a sack and recovered it against MSU.
Mizzou has yet to intercept an opposing QB and has recovered one fumble.
The kicking game looks strong on both teams.
Missouri freshman Harrison Mevis and LSU sophomore Cade York each have made all four of their field goals so far and both hit from 50 or more yards last week.
WHAT — No. 17 LSU (1-1, 1-1 SEC) at Missouri (0-2, 0-2)
WHEN/WHERE — Saturday, 11 a.m., Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.
TV/RADIO — SEC-Alternate (Comccast Cable channel 259)/KMBZ (980 AM).
LINE — LSU by 14.
SERIES RECORD — Tied 1-1.
WHAT'S AT STAKE? — LSU is trying to build on a dominant victory at Vanderbilt last week and continue its climb back up the rankings and SEC standings. Missouri seeks its first victory under new coach Eliah Drinkwitz.
KEY MATCHUP — LSU's youthful and inexperienced defense, which was mistake-prone in a season-opening loss before improving markedly last week, against Missouri freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak, who takes over for his maiden start in place of TCU transfer Shawn Robinson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH — LSU: WR Terrace Marshall Jr. has 10 receptions for 189 yards and four TDs in two games this season. Missouri: Senior running back Larry Rountree III needs 55 yards to move into fourth place on Mizzou's career rushing list. His 27 career TDs are tied for seventh at Mizzou.
COVID-19 UPDATE — The Tigers will be without at least seven players because of one positive test for for COVID-19. Drinkwitz said Thursday night on his radio show that six of the seven players will miss the game because they're considered close contacts to the positive case and must quarantine under Southeastern Conference protocols. He did not identity the players.
FACTS & FIGURES — The game was originally scheduled for LSU's Tiger Stadium but moved to Missouri because of the threat of severe weather posed by Hurricane Delta, which was expected to make landfall in Louisiana on Friday. ... This marks the first time LSU has had to unexpectedly move a home game to a road venue since winning 35-31 at Arizona State in 2005 because of Hurricane Katrina. ... Missouri and LSU were not on one another's original 2020 schedule. The game was one of two added to each team's slate when the SEC decided to cancel all non-conference games because of the coronavirus pandemic and move to a 10-game league-only schedule. ... QB Myles Brennan has passed for 682 yards and seven TDs in LSU's first two games without 2019 Heisman Trophy winning QB Joe Burrow, passing game coordinator Joe Brady, or 2019 leading receivers Ja'Marr Chase and Justin Jefferson. ... Mizzou's lone victory over LSU came in the 1978 Liberty Bowl. ... These team's only matchup as SEC teams came in 2016 in Baton Rouge, with LSU winning 42-7. ... This marks the first time LSU is to play in Missouri's Faurot Field.