1. Can Tigers rediscover the run?
After a promising start, Missouri’s running game got stuffed by a smaller, less experienced defensive front at Wyoming and by game’s end averaged just 2.7 yards per carry. An offensive line that features three third-year starters struggled to give the Tigers a physical presence at the point of attack and the backs rarely found open lanes for explosive runs. As well as Kelly Bryant threw the ball at Wyoming, Mizzou won’t win many games with a one-dimensional offense — or with Larry Rountree stuck on the bench. Rountree’s fumble on the goal line and poor pass-blocking cost him playing time in the second half while the staff relied heavily on backup Tyler Badie as a runner and receiver. The Tigers need more from both backs Saturday — and could devise some more creative ways to get Bryant involved in the running game.
2. New QB, new challenges for MU?
After playing a run-first, rarely-throw quarterback last week, the Tigers face just the opposite Saturday. West Virginia’s Austin Kendall is a 6-2 pocket passer with a strong arm that suits Neal Brown’s attacking passing game. A former backup to Heisman Trophy winners Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray at Oklahoma, Kendall transferred within the Big 12 in January and made his first career start last week, a mixed performance against James Madison. He threw two touchdowns but struggled to connect on some intermediate and deep throws. He’ll test the Tigers’ secondary Saturday and should be a prime target for a defensive line that rarely got to rush the passer last week.
3. Can the home crowd push capacity?
Other than the final score, the attendance figure will be the most interesting number Saturday. Mizzou will christen the new $98 million south end zone facility, which features new premium seating areas, including a field-level section called the Bunker Club. Plus, for the first time ever, beer and wine will be sold in the general seating areas. Mizzou hopes the changes will help boost attendance figures that have declined each of the last four years. The renovations have reduced Memorial Stadium’s capacity to 62,621 — a figure Mizzou hasn’t hit for a home game since 2015.
4. Redemption in the trenches?
Wyoming’s running game gashed the Missouri defense last week. West Virginia’s ground game was nonexistent against James Madison. Something’s got to give. The Tigers blamed their problems on poor tackling. WVU cited poor communication along the offensive line. Unlike Wyoming, the Mountaineers use a more conventional running attack with carries to the running backs out of shotgun formations, which include the occasional two-back look to create confusion for the defense. WVU coach Neal Brown said his team’s play-calling needs to be more creative after a vanilla approach in the opener. Look for the Mountaineers to use more pre-snap shifts and motions to get the Tigers out of their gaps against the run.
5. Who can play keep-away best?
The Tigers struggled to hold onto the ball at Wyoming, committing three turnovers — a number that could have easily been five had a couple more drops been ruled fumbles. Bryant was his own worst enemy on two plays in an otherwise impressive debut, but Wyoming turned his second-quarter fumble into a defensive touchdown and the Tigers squandered a red-zone visit with his interception in the end zone. Mizzou also failed to generate a takeaway for the 10th time in 39 games under Barry Odom’s watch. In his four seasons as head coach, the Tigers are 2-14 when they lose the turnover margin. West Virginia, meanwhile, flirted with a Week 1 loss to FCS James Madison but was fortunate to win the turnover margin 3-0.
Prediction: Missouri 28, West Virginia 24