What to watch for: Missouri vs. South Dakota State

Missouri opens its 2014 campaign Saturday against the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. Here are five things to watch for in the matchup:

1. South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner vs. Mizzou’s linebackers

Don’t be surprised if South Dakota State senior running back Zach Zenner piles up over 100 yards in the opener. All you have to do is take a glance at his career numbers to see that he is an exceptional power back. The two-time consensus All-American became the second player in Football Championship Subdivision history to reach the 2,000-yard mark rushing in two separate seasons. Last year, Zenner exploded for 2,015 yards on the ground with 23 touchdowns. His top performance? Only a 295-yard game against North Dakota last season when he carried the ball 37 times. The kid is a bruiser and a workhorse and will be a significant challenge for Missouri’s linebackers to handle.

2. The play of South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner

Not only do the Jackrabbits have a potent running game, but they also display a solid aerial attack. Quarterback Austin Sumner holds school career records for completions (631), attempts (1,085), and yards (7,824) and is a proven winner. He has lead the Jackrabbits to consecutive FCS playoff berths and is always primed for a breakout game, having recorded eight career 300-yard performances. Sumner, a senior, is also the Jackrabbits’ captain, a position he has held since his sophomore season.

3. How will Maty Mauk perform?

We get it. We all know sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk is good. We just don’t know how good, exactly. While this game against an FCS opponent should not be used as a barometer for the entire season, it will be interesting to see how Mauk handles the pressure of being the true starting quarterback as opposed to his fill-in duty last season.

4. The use of Marcus Murphy

One of the main questions during camp was how Missouri coach Gary Pinkel plans to use self-proclaimed “playmaker” Marcus Murphy. In the first two scrimmages, Murphy, a senior, was restricted to either tailback or receiver, but that changed in the final scrimmage, when Pinkel situated Murphy in both spots. Murphy’s role throughout the season will likely be determined by the specific opponent and the game situation, but it will still be worth noting how much time he sees at each position.

5. Can Mizzou set the tone early?

Being that this will be Mizzou’s first season with Mauk as the regular starting quarterback, don’t be surprised to see Mizzou struggle to get going early on. The team is still adjusting to Mauk’s style of play and might not look all too efficient on offense in its first few drives.

Mauk was a combined 12-31 with his passes in Missouri’s last two scrimmages.

Expect a close game through much of the first half, but Mizzou should figure things out after halftime.

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