West Virginia Missouri Football

The Missouri football team takes the field before the start of an NCAA college football game against West Virginia Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, in Columbia, Mo. (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

1. Can Bryant factor into the running game?

Kelly Bryant showed off his fancy footwork last week in the pocket, turning a handful of plays that were nearly dead in the backfield into completions downfield. What the transfer quarterback hasn’t done through two weeks is become a lethal weapon in the running game. He finished with a net 20 rushing yards at Wyoming and zero in the win over West Virginia. Bryant took a couple shots to the head last week on designed runs and headed into the locker room early in the fourth quarter. He wasn’t diagnosed with a concussion, but the Tigers might be cautious in calling running plays for him Saturday. He’s been better than expected throwing the ball, completing nearly 66 percent of his passes for 573 yards, second-most in the SEC.

2. Will the Tigers maintain control of the trenches?

Missouri controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball last week, thus controlled West Virginia. The Tigers should do the same against an overmatched FCS opponent in Southeast Missouri. Can the Tigers’ defense continue to create havoc in the backfield? Last week Mizzou erupted for 13 tackles for loss, MU’s most since the 2015 defense set the school’s single-game record with 15 at Arkansas State. On offense, the offensive line and tight ends paved the way for a productive running game. The tailbacks averaged nearly 6 yards a carry. The Tigers could use another strong game in the trenches to carry into next week’s SEC East showdown against South Carolina.

3. Which freshmen can flourish?

Other than a visit from Troy in three weeks, this figures to be Mizzou’s last chance to give ample playing time to freshmen, both true freshmen and redshirt freshmen who could benefit from the audition with bigger roles the rest of the season. St. Louis freshmen Niko Hea (CBC) and Maurice Massey (Kirkwood) had strong preseason camps and could both take advantage of a lopsided score and see their most extensive snaps in the second half. If the Tigers want to give freshman quarterback Connor Bazelak, No. 3 on the depth chart, a taste of playing experience, this game is likely the best opportunity. Taylor Powell played the entire fourth quarter last week, but depending on how soon the Tigers pull Bryant, there might be enough time left to give Bazelak his first college series.

4. Does SEMO pose a threat?

Two years ago Missouri State gave the Tigers a scare with an explosive offense that nobody saw coming — and nobody saw again that year during a rough 3-8 season. But on opening day, the Bears blistered Mizzou for 492 yards of offense in a game that wasn’t comfortable for the home team until late in the third quarter, a 72-43 shootout. Any chance SEMO can put the same kind of scare into the Tigers? The Redhawks have a veteran quarterback in Daniel Santacaterina, an FBS transfer from Northern Illinois, a touted receiver in Kristian Wilkerson (10 touchdowns last season) and the FCS’s top defensive player in linebacker Zach Hall. SEMO has lost 18 straight games to FBS opponents, but this is one of the better FCS programs to visit Mizzou, led by a respected head coach in Tom Matukewicz. The Tigers are favored by 34 points, but a competitive game through three quarters wouldn’t be shocking.

5. Can Mizzou come close to capacity?

Attendance is going to be worth monitoring all season as the Tigers adjust to their cozier confinements and the new south end zone seating sections. Under a scorching sun, last week’s 11 a.m. kickoff against a Power Five opponent drew an announced crowd of 51,215, more than 10,000 short of capacity. After the win over West Virginia, Barry Odom challenged the fans to sell out Saturday’s game. With more forgiving conditions expected for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff but a less compelling opponent, can the Tigers push closer to 60,000? Mizzou hasn’t come close to that mark against an FCS foe since SEMO’s last visit, when 64,670 were on hand for the 2015 season opener. A lot has changed at Mizzou since that game, both good and bad. On the plus side, MU grossed $157,000 in revenue from the debut of alcohol sales last week.

Prediction: Missouri 48, SEMO 10

— Dave Matter

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