The first season of the Tom Herman era at Texas provided us with some glimpses of what the Longhorns might one day consistently become. While the offense has been less than steady, Texas still showed overall team improvement from a season ago. The Horns usually held their own against top ranked opponents, but ended the regular season with a disappointing loss at home against Texas Tech. For Texas and Herman, a good showing against former conference-mate, Missouri, in the Texas Bowl would provide a good springboard for 2018. But can the Horns get it done without some of their most talented players in this game?
DATE & TIME: Wednesday, Dec. 27, 2017
LOCATION: NRG Stadium (Houston, TX)
FORECAST: Mid 40s, PM Showers (NRG Stadium roof closed)
BETTING LINE: Mizzou -2.5
The Missouri Tigers had a very disappointing beginning to the 2017 season, staring at a 1-3 record after their first four games. After dropping their third game to Auburn by the score of 51-14, Head Coach Barry Odom would provide an impassioned speech about his Missouri Tigers. Odom gave notice that the Tigers would turn around the fortunes of their program and that he was the man to lead the charge. After impressively finishing the season with a six game winning streak to finish at 7-5, Odom’s words appear to be quite prophetic.
The shining star of this Tigers team is without a doubt quarterback Drew Lock. Lock has 43 passing touchdowns on the season and led the Mizzou offense to a number one ranking in the SEC. Wide receivers J’Mon Moore and Emanuel Hall highlight a receiving corps which has five receivers with 10 or more catches on the season. Running backs Ish Witter, Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett provide a formidable rushing game to supplement the dangerous aerial attack.
Statistically, Missouri appears to provide a less than formidable defensive unit. However, one would make a mistake to sell this unit short. The Tigers fired their defensive coordinator after their first loss of the season against South Carolina and the defensive staff has been running the squad as a collaborative unit since then. The Tigers defense responded with increased production and a steep rise in sack numbers, finishing with 31 sacks on the season.
In kind, the Longhorns offense provides a less than formidable unit. The Texas offense has been lackluster in 2017, with no real standout players and plenty of inconsistency at quarterback. Much of the lack of production on offense can be attributed to a patchwork offensive line without its best player, Connor Williams, for most of the season. With Connor Williams leaving the Longhorns for the NFL and not participating in the Texas Bowl, the Horns will be hard pressed to fill that void.
As of now, it appears that Tom Herman has chosen sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele to lead the Longhorns against the Tigers. Buechele only played in eight games during 2017 as he’s been hampered with injuries throughout the season, and his stats are less than impressive. One would expect to see Sam Ehlinger get some snaps as well, but how many and in what situations remains to be seen. Ehlinger provides more athleticism than Buechele at the position, but he also has penchant for making very costly mistakes while trying to force plays.
After a disappointing season opening loss to Maryland, the Texas defense has been the saving grace of this team. Saddled with an anemic offense, the Horns defense allowed the team to remain in games where it otherwise might not have been afforded that opportunity. In narrow losses, Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando’s unit limited the Sooners and Cowboys to their lowest scoring totals of the season. In this matchup, the already difficult task of stopping the Missouri offense becomes even more daunting with the absence of playmakers like DeShon Elliot, Holton Hill, Chris Nelson, and Malik Jefferson.
TEXAS KEYS TO THE GAME
Own The Clock – Missouri’s offense has been compared to the likes of Texas Tech and Oklahoma State due to its own explosive capability. Defensively, this offense won’t be anything that Texas hasn’t already seen multiple times this season. The Longhorns cannot afford to get into a shootout with the Tiger offense as they simply do not possess the type of offense to keep up. Texas must be efficient on offense and will need to gain plenty of yards on the ground in order to keep Mizzou’s offense on the sidelines for longer periods of time.
Own Third Down – The Missouri defense, to put it nicely, is subpar on third down. The Tigers shockingly allow almost half of all third down plays to be converted on the season. The Horns must take advantage, convert, and keep the ball moving down the field in order to create long scoring drives and keep Mizzou’s Drew Lock on the sidelines a bit longer.
Limit Mistakes – This is plain and simple. The last thing you want to do if you’re Texas is provide a strong offense with more opportunities to score. Protecting the ball must be an absolute priority for the Longhorns. Also, Texas has too often established impressive offensive drives throughout the season only to watch those opportunities go up in smoke due to costly penalties. They must play smart and be efficient in all facets of the game.
At first glance, Missouri had an impressive ending by turning around what seemed like a lost season after starting out at 1-5. But in doing so, the Tigers beat teams that finished with a record of 29-47. Take into consideration that every team that defeated the Tigers this season is going bowling. In those five losses, the Tigers lost by a combined 116 points. Ouch.
The Las Vegas betting line has the Tigers favored over the Longhorns by 2.5 points. Considering that the Longhorns will be without a host of players in this game, especially on the defensive side of the ball, I’d expect for the point spread to be a bit higher. Perhaps the fact that Texas is playing within its own borders is the deciding factor here.
Let’s be honest, Missouri hasn’t beaten anyone with a pulse. The Longhorns have been in many battles against superior competition this season, keeping many of those games very close. But that was due to defensive stars that won’t be on the field on this evening. In a game where momentum is all important, I expect Missouri to continue their winning ways with a very close win over the shorthanded Longhorns.