No. 15 Auburn at Missouri
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium in Columbia
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Radio: KMBZ (98.1 FM)
Line: Auburn by 17 1/2
The lowdown: Missouri is trending in the wrong direction over the past two weeks — it was outscored 66-16 in back-to-back home losses against South Carolina and Purdue. The latter prompted a players-only meeting Monday, in which freshman linebacker Aubrey Miller and others vented frustration with a perceived lack of energy and lack of effort. It also necessitated a response from athletic director Jim Sterk on the state of the program. He called the Purdue loss “really bad,” but offered words of encouragement for second-year coach Barry Odom, who stressed multiple times that there are nine games remaining in 2017. The first is a challenge against a ranked opponent, which senior Logan Cheadle called a welcome opportunity to turn things around.
Missouri keys to success: A quick start seems vital for a team that just needs something — anything — to feel optimistic about. Missouri players have talked all week about improving the competition during practice, but if Auburn puts MU in a double-digit deficit early, as Purdue did last week, things could snowball.
Auburn keys to success: There aren’t many defenses, if any, playing better than the Auburn Tigers. They lead the country in allowing just 3.2 yards per play. That puts the pressure on the offense, which is supposed to be head coach Gus Malzahn’s specialty. But it hasn’t worked out that way. A major hindrance? Turnovers. Auburn will need to protect the football better than it has in the initial three weeks. It has fumbled the ball 10 times, losing six of those. It has also thrown a pair of interceptions. That’s a total of eight turnovers.
Auburn players to watch: Tre’ Williams is the leader of that aforementioned defense. The edge rusher has 2 1/2 sacks this season, but he’s not a one-trick pony. He’s a factor in the run game and makes plays in coverage, too. He leads the team with 25 tackles this year.
Key matchup: Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway against Missouri’s defensive line. While Auburn uses the spread formation, it still that bases the offense around establishing the run. Pettway has been off to a relatively slow start in 2017, rushing for 202 yards in 56 carries, just 3.6 yards per carry. But if Missouri allows him to get it going, it could make for a long day.
Prediction: Auburn 31, Missouri 10. There’s little reason to peg Missouri as the favorite Saturday, even inside its home stadium. The combination of Auburn’s top-ranked defense and Missouri’s struggling offense makes Auburn the pick.