Mizzou defense will have its hands full with high-powered Boilermakers

The Mizzou defense needs to do lots of this Saturday.
Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Since Barry Odom took over as coach before the 2016 season, Missouri’s defense has shed its swarming reputation of recent history.

The Tigers (1-1) ranked 118th nationally in total defense last season and opened 2017 by allowing 43 points to Missouri State before playing a little better in a 31-13 loss to South Carolina last week. Last Sunday, a day after the loss to the Gamecocks, Odom fired defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross, citing “philosophical differences.”

On Saturday, Missouri’s defense faces an improved Purdue team led by offensive-minded coach Jeff Brohm.

“I’ve followed his career for a while, and I know they’ve always been very explosive and really well-coached,” Odom said. “Quarterback play is obviously really, really important to how they execute on offense, and it’s no difference this year.”

Purdue (1-1) opened the season running a two-quarterback system with junior David Blough and sophomore Elijah Sindelar. Blough led the nation with 21 interceptions in 2016, but he’s led a substantially more effective offense in Brohm’s first two games at the helm.

Last week, Blough threw for 235 yards and three touchdowns on 11-of-13 passing against Ohio. Running back Tario Fuller ran for 142 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries.

“We have to make sure we’re efficient at what we’re doing,” Brohm said. “I was more consistent at calling running plays. Then we were efficient in the passing game.”

Cross’ departure isn’t likely to have a major impact on the Tigers, as Odom stripped him of play-calling duties midway through last season and the head coach continues to call the defense. Regardless, Purdue’s balanced attack will likely provide challenges for Missouri’s defense.

“They’re a good offense. They come out with different personnel,” MU linebacker Terez Hall said. “Whatever they come out with, we’ll prepare for, that’s the main thing. The expectation is a shutout.”

Some things to watch as the Tigers and Boilermakers clash in Columbia:

DROPPING THE BALL: Missouri receivers dropped five passes against South Carolina last week, contributing to quarterback Drew Lock completing just 14 of 32 passes. “It was very surprising to me because that’s just not normal for us,” Lock said. “You could tell that when that started happening, we weren’t on our game.”

BEND, DON’T BREAK: Purdue’s defense has stifled opponents on its side of the field this season. The Boilermakers posted two goal-line stands against Louisville and held Ohio scoreless on three trips into Purdue territory last week. Meanwhile, Missouri capitalized on just one of three red-zone opportunities against South Carolina.

SAFETY VALVES: Missouri and Purdue have relied on their tight ends. Purdue’s Cole Herdman and Brycen Hopkins have combined for 13 catches, 265 yards and three touchdowns. Missouri’s trio of Jason Reese, Albert Okwuegbunam and Kendall Blanton has accumulated seven catches, 191 yards and three scores.

TUCK IT UP: Purdue has recovered an FBS-leading five fumbles and scored 17 points from those takeaways through two games. Missouri lost fumbles against Missouri State and South Carolina.

SOMETHING NEW: The last time Purdue played a current SEC team in the regular season was in 1967, when the Boilermakers faced Texas A&M at the Cotton Bowl. Purdue hasn’t beaten a non-conference opponent on the road since 2007, when it defeated Toledo.