The Tigers will travel to East Lansing, Michigan this week to take on the Spartans of Michigan State. This game was originally scheduled for September 15, but was canceled because of the September 11th tragedy.
The Spartans are 5-5 coming off a 42-37 loss to Penn State. The Penn State loss was especially frustrating to the Spartans because they had the lead and control of the game for most of the time. The Spartans jumped up on Penn State early and were leading at one point 24-7. Penn State then outscored the Spartans 35-13. Quarterback Jeff Smoker had a very good game throwing the ball. He threw the ball 36 times completing on 24 passes for 356-yards and three scores. Michigan State running back T.J. Duckett ran the ball 22 times for 126-yards. Smoker's top receiver Charles Rogers also caught eight balls for 191-yards and scored twice.
Michigan State won last year's contest in Columbia 13-10. In that game, the Tigers jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the first quarter. After Brad Hammerich connected on a 25 yard field goal, and Zack Abron scored on the next possession, the Tigers were unable to break through the Spartan defense after those two scores. The Spartans got on the board with 2:47 left in the first half on a field goal by kicker David Schafer. Then with 5:21 left in the third quarter T.J. Duckett scored on a 7-yard touchdown run. Then with 10:48 left in the fourth quarter Schafer again connected on a field goal that sealed the win for the Spartans.
It was in this game that former coach Larry Smith decided to punt with 2:47 to play in the game, instead of going for a first down on 4th and two from around the Tigers 40 yard line. It became a defining moment in Smith's final year as coach of the Tigers because Michigan State was able to run out the clock and Missouri didn't get another chance to score on offense.
The leaders on Michigan State are having a very good year. Quarterback Jeff Smoker has completed 61% of his passes and has thrown for 1,910-yards including 16 touchdown passes. He is averaging 212 passing yards per game. Smoker's top target, Charles Rogers, has caught 50 passes for 1,032-yards and 10 touchdowns. Running back T.J. Duckett was a pre-season Heisman Trophy candidate and has rushed for 1,129 yards and seven touchdowns.
One obvious deficiency for the Spartans this year has been their offensive line's inability to protect their quarterback this year. Through ten games they have given up 42 sacks. The Tigers defensive line will need to take advantage of this and get pressure on Smoker and bring him down to win this game.
The Spartans are running a new spread offense this year. The Spartans are running everything from two receiver, two running back sets, to five wide receivers and an empty backfield. This will really test the Tigers' secondary.
The keys for a Missouri victory include the following:
- Stop T.J. Duckett
Duckett is a load to bring down and will try and wear the Tiger defenders down. Duckett, who weighs 240 lbs. Would like to run all over the Tigers if they give him room to run and don't control the line of scrimmage. After shutting Duckett down for most of the game last year in Columbia, he got loose in the second half and compiled 131 yards and one touchdown. While Duckett is a formidable running back, the Tigers' defense gets good practice every week tackling their own freight train Zack Abron every week.
- Continue to rely on Justin Gage
While Justin Gage had his worst game of the season last week, the Tigers have to rely on their all-conference wide receiver to apply pressure to Michigan State's defense. Gage has had four games with over 100 receiving yards, and incidentally, three out of those four games were wins. The Tigers also need to get Gage involved in other facets of their offense using him on end arounds, receiver passes and other trick play
Since Michigan State's offensive line has shown itself to be vulnerable to giving up sacks, Tiger defenders like Antwaun Bynum and Keith Wright have to find ways to get to Smoker early and often. Smoker is also a decent scrambler, so the Tiger defense will have to contain him, or make him pay dearly if he breaks containment (see: Sean Doyle vs. El Roberson last week…ouch!)
- Field position
Since Michigan State would like to get Duckett rolling with the power game, it would behoove the Tigers to win the battle for field position and make the Spartans drive long fields all day. That will require excellent punting, kicking and coverage. Since both punters had last week off, they should both be well rested for the finale. It is also imperative that Missouri establish Zack Abron early in this contest to control the clock as well as field position.
- Playing on the road…Intangibles
Mizzou is 2-2 on the road and will play in front of over 70,000 people this Saturday. The Tigers need to take the fans out of it early and keep them from getting into the game. Michigan State has to win this game to become bowl eligible, whereas Missouri is playing for pride and a .500 record for the first time in three years. The Tigers would also like to win the game to even the all-time series with Michigan State 4-4.
It's the last game of the season for Gary Pinkel's Tigers, and this is essentially Missouri's bowl game. The Tigers have no reason not to leave everything on the field and finish on a high note.