As we enter into the 2020 football season, the University of Alabama and the University of Missouri are both heading in the right direction. Nick Saban is looking to win his sixth national championship while at Alabama, and the Tigers might have one of the premier up and coming coaches in the nation in Eli Drinkwitz.
The bad news for the Tigers is that they will be breaking in a new offensive system against one of the top defenses in the nation. Making things more difficult, Mizzou will be without seven players. At the time of this article, Coach Drinkwitz is keeping their names out of the media but it appears that they will only have 67 scholarship players for the game against the Tide.
No spring…no warmup game…it could be a long game for the Tigers.
Tide Offense vs Tigers Defense
The Crimson Tide did lose a ton of offensive players last season. Four of the first 15 picks of the NFL draft including QB Tua Tagovailoa, OT Jedrick Wills Jr., WR Henry Ruggs III, and WR Jerry Jeudy. Don’t weep for the Crimson Tide though, because they might have just as many or more next season. What other program in the nation could lose two first-round wide receivers and still have the top WR duo in college football? That is what the Tide has with DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle? Since 2018, the dynamic duo ranks first and second in the nation in percentage of targets that resulted in a 15+ yard play (Waddle 33%, Smith 32.9%).
With those weapons, it only makes sense that all eyes are on Alabama quarterback Mac Jones in this game. Many are waiting for 5-star phenom Bryce Young to take the reins. My advice to them – don’t hold your breath because Jones isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. No Jones in not Tua, but no one in Alabama history has been. However, he was impressive when given a shot last season.
Passer Efficiency Rating 2019
1. Tua 206.9
2. Burrow 202.0
3. Jalen Hurts 191.1
4. Mac Jones 186.8
5. Justin Fields 181.4
In his four starts last season, Mac Jones threw for 1,172 yards, 13 touchdowns, and only two interceptions. In his only opportunity to start in back-to-back games, he threw for 662 yards and seven touchdowns against Auburn and Michigan on the road.
Another great advantage for Jones is the return of the “Nightmare” Najee Harris, who will be NY bound this season. Last year finally being the premier back, he racked up 1500 total yards and 20 touchdowns. Najee surprised many by returning for his senior year he did so with a huge chip on his shoulder after getting a lower than expected NFL Draft grade.
The Mizzou defense finished No. 14 in the nation in total defense and No. 16 in scoring defense (19.4 PPG) last season and could be even better this season. They will be led by Nick Bolton, who was second in the SEC in tackles. He was also second among NCAA linebackers for making plays on the ball in pass coverage (10).
Despite senior defensive lineman Chris Turner opting out, the Mizzou defensive line will still be very good. They will be led by Kobie Whiteside whose 6.5 sacks last season ties him with the most of any returning player in the SEC.
The Tigers had the second-best pass defense in the SEC last season with 179.3 passing yards per game but will have to replace both their starting corners. Expectations are still high, however, with the return of safeties Tyree Gillespie and Joshuah Bledsoe.
Mizzou Offense vs Bama Defense
Coach Drinkwitz has gained the reputation of being a coach who fits his play-calling to his personnel. In 2018, at NC State, he threw the ball over 500 times. Fast forward to 2019 at Appalachian State where they ran the ball 43 times a game. With the QB position still up for grabs between Connor Bazelak and Shawn Robinson (TCU Transfer), it is likely they will go the Appalachian State route.
The good news is that they have one of the best running back units in the SEC with Larry Rountree III and Tyler Badie. The bad news is that three starters on the offensive linemen are now in the NFL. There is some young talent there, but once again, facing Alabama their first game is not ideal.
There is also the concern if Roundtree III will be a good fit in this system. He loves to run the ball between the tackles, and the bulk of Drinkwitz play calls are outside zone runs.
In the passing game, the Tigers don’t have much depth at wide receiver, but they do have some capable playmakers. The duo of Jalen Knox (16.2 YPC) and Virginia Tech junior transfer Damon Hazelton could be very special. Hazelton has 20 career touchdowns, including 11 TDs from vertical routes, which is 10th best in FBS.
It is going to be a steep learning curve for the Tigers, but they should have a pretty good offense by the end of the season.
In regards to Alabama’s defense, they are older…they are healthier…and they will be much improved this season. Alabama has had up and down play in the secondary, but we saw the front seven struggle like we had not seen in the Nick Saban era. That, however, should be a blessing in disguise as they will have added depth and experience this season.
Having their quarterback of the defense, Dylan Moses back will be huge, as will having Patrick Surtain II directing traffic in the secondary. Surtain has only allowed 0.73 per coverage snap since 2018. In my opinion, the final piece could be Christian Barmore, who is banged up but expected to play. He led all FBS interior defenders (Min. 150 snaps) in pass rush percentage by winning 20.8% of his 168 pass rushes. If he can continue that pressure with more snaps, the Tide could be an elite defense once again.
All eyes will be on the kicking game for both teams. The difference, Mizzou is short players, and Alabama has the SEC Special Teams Player of the Year Jaylen Waddle that led the nation with a 24.4-yard average on punt returns.
The Missouri Tigers will get better each week but drew a nightmare matchup for their first game. They will likely go run-heavy in this game but will find little success. Their defense is one of the best in the SEC, but you will not know it this game. The offense will leave them on the field too long, and they will break in the second half.
Score Prediction: Alabama 38 Mizzou 7 (SU Confidence 10, Spread 6)
Stat Prediction: Jones 300+ yards and three touchdowns.