After rebounding from its loss at Kentucky by thumping SEMO 59-28, Missouri will go back on the road Saturday to face Boston College. The Eagles have started the season 3-0 under second-year coach Jeff Hafley. This will mark the first ever matchup between the two programs.
While Boston College has dominated its first three opponents, outscoring them 124-31, questions remain about the Eagles. Their three wins have come against teams that have combined to record just one win this year. Plus, the Eagles will be without starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec, who injured his hand against Massachusetts on Sept. 11.
But regardless of who is starting behind center, Eli Drinkwitz said Missouri will have its hands full with Boston College — particularly stopping the run against the Eagles’ experienced offensive line. He expects Boston College to copy some of the concepts that gave the Tiger defense fits at Kentucky, which ran for 341 yards against Missouri.
“I mean, we struggled with it, so I would anticipate that they’re going to copy exactly what Kentucky did against this and see if we’ve fixed it,” Drinkwitz said. “I know that’s what I would do.”
Whether Missouri has improved its defense over the past two weeks will likely go a long way toward determining if the Tigers can return to Columbia with a record of 3-1. Here is everything you need to know to get set for the matchup.
Time: 11 a.m.
Location: Alumni Stadium; Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts
TV: ESPN 2 (Clay Matvick, Rocky Boiman, Tiffany Blacmon)
Radio: Tiger Radio Network (Mike Kelly, Howard Richards, Chris Gervino)
Spread: Missouri -1.5
Series history: First meeting
By the Numbers
2021 Offensive Statistics
2021 Defensive Statistics
Mizzou Injury Report
CB Ennis Rakestraw
OL Case Cook
WR Jay Maclin
DL Darius Robinson
DL Cannon York
Inside the Matchups
When Missouri has the ball:
Boston College’s defense looks excellent on paper through three games. The Eagles haven’t allowed a first-half point and rank No. 14 nationally in total defense. But they also haven’t yet faced an offense with near the firepower of Missouri. Connor Bazelak is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt through three games. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes — more than all of last season — and just one interception. Tailback Tyler Badie continues to look like one of the most explosive players in the country. His 345 yards from scrimmage rank fourth nationally, and he ranks seventh with 15 gains of 10 or more yards. Plus, Bazelak, Badie and the rest of the Missouri’s starters should be fresh after only playing two quarters against SEMO last week.
We would expect Missouri to be able to move the ball. Key for the Tigers will be maximizing possessions by avoiding turnovers and converting red zone trips into touchdowns. Boston College has five takeaways through three games and has allowed just three touchdowns on seven opponent red zone trips. The Tigers have been solid in both areas so far this season, with just one turnover and nine touchdowns in 10 red zone opportunities.
When Boston College has the ball:
Priority numbers one, two and three for the Missouri defense will be finding some way to stop the run. That will be much easier said than done against a talented and experienced Boston College offensive line. All five Eagle starters up front started every game last season, and the group has combined for 128 starts. The group is a major reason why nearly half of Boston College’s yardage this season has come on the ground. Missouri is going to need its front six to correct the issues that led to Kentucky running for XXX yards before contact just two weeks ago.
If Missouri is able to at least contain Boston College’s running game, it would put pressure on backup quarterback Dennis Grosel, who is replacing Jurkovec. Grosel has a fair amount of experience, and he has shown the ability to move the ball through the air, throwing for 520 yards and four touchdowns against Virginia last season. But he looked shaky against Temple last week, completing just five of 13 passes for 34 yards. The Tigers will certainly want to make sure to account for him as a runner, however. Grosel rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown on five attempts last week, while Missouri had some issues containing SEMO quarterback CJ Ogbonna on the ground. When Grosel does drop back to pass, his top target should be Zay Flowers. A big play threat throughout his career, the junior has caught 10 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown this season. It will be important for Missouri’s defensive backs to remain alert for when Boston College inevitably tries to hit Flowers deep off play action.
ADVANTAGE: Boston College
Drinkwitz raved about Boston College’s special teams during his weekly press conference, saying the Eagles “might have the best special teams in the country right now.” And Boston College has indeed been dynamic in the return game. The Eagles lead the nation in kickoff return average thanks to Travis Levy, who returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown against UMASS and returned the opening kick 67 yards last week to put the Eagles in scoring position. Boston College punter Grant Carlson ranks 14th nationally, averaging 47.8 yards per boot. Place kicker Danny Longman hasn’t been asked to do much, but he’s made both of his field goal attempts. He has missed an extra point this season.
Missouri has been solid in special teams, as well. Fortunately for the Tigers, kickoff specialist Sean Koetting has only had two kicks returned so far this season, and the team has covered both well. Grant McKinniss has been solid once again at punter, averaging 42.3 yards per punt. And Harrison Mevis has continued to look like a true weapon at placekicker. Mevis has not missed a kick this season, drilling all 16 of his extra point attempts and all three field goals, including a 53-yarder. Mevis’ reliability could loom large in what is expected to be a close contest.
Missouri’s keys to the game
1. Slow down the ground game.
At this point, no one expects Missouri to stuff Boston College on every rushing attempt, or to hold the Eagles to 56 rushing yards in the first half like it did against SEMO. The Tiger defense just can’t let Boston College simply line up, hand the ball off every play and march downfield unimpeded. Missouri’s defensive front needs to create enough negative plays that Boston College falls behind the script and Grosel has to throw downfield. If the Tigers can do that often enough, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Steve Wilks throw some disguised blitzes and coverages at Grosel in an attempt to force a turnover.
2. Avoid a slow start.
Part of the problem for Missouri against Kentucky was the fact that the Tigers fell into an early 14-0 hole and spent the rest of the game trying to play from behind, while the Wildcats were able to play fairly conservative. If the same script unfolds at Boston College, it will likely be a death sentence. Boston College will want to slow this game down — to run the ball and bleed the clock on offense and make Missouri sustain drives with its defense. If the Eagles can grab an early lead, that becomes much easier to do. On the flip side, if Missouri is able to strike first, it could stun a Boston College team that hasn’t allowed a point in the first half all season.
3. Win the turnover battle.
In a matchup between two teams that appear fairly evenly matched from a talent standpoint, the turnover margin usually looms large. Both Missouri and Boston College have forced five takeaways through three games this season. The Tigers have only turned the ball over once while the Eagles have done so three times. If one team can create a short field or score off a turnover in this one, that could be difficult for the opponent to overcome. The same goes for big plays on special teams, such as a blocked kick or return touchdown.
Numbers to Know
1987: The last time Boston College hosted an SEC opponent. The Eagles upset No. 13 Tennessee 20-18 in that game.
4: Teams in the country to be ranked in the top 20 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense. Those teams are Boston College, Auburn, Baylor and Cincinnati.
1: Number of wins recorded by Boston College’s first three opponents (Colgate, UMASS and Temple) so far this season. Temple beat Akron for the lone victory.
5: Touchdowns of 45 yards or more scored by Missouri against SEMO.
39: Receiving yards needed for Badie to become the first Missouri player ever to amass 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in his college career.
Mitchell Forde: I still don’t have any idea how good Boston College actually is. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Eagles win or even win handily. But I think Missouri will take the field with a sense of urgency and play better than it did against Kentucky, when it still had a chance to win the game late. I think the Tiger offense will score enough points that it forces Dennis Grosel to move the ball through the air, and I don’t quite think he’ll be able to make as many plays as Bazelak and the Missouri offense. Give me the Tigers on a Harrison Mevis game winner. Missouri 34, Boston College 31.
Gabe DeArmond: I have no feel for this game. My head says pick Boston College. But I also know I said before the season I didn’t think Mizzou would lose both the Kentucky and BC games. Missouri’s defense hasn’t been good, but I don’t think BC’s offense is that good. A noon kick mitigates the home field advantage. Give me Mizzou’s offense doing enough and the defense getting a takeaway late in a 31-27 Mizzou win (and cover).