Tigers’ struggling offense set to face toughest test yet in Auburn

Six quarters of play have gone by since Missouri last scored a touchdown.

The offense Missouri fans saw explode for 72 points against Missouri State on Sept. 2 has been nowhere to be found since the Tigers’ 72-43 victory in week one.

After amassing a record-breaking 815 yards on the Bears’ defense, the Tigers have gained just 626 total yards combined in the two games since. The stagnant offense has made it across the goalline only once during that period, scoring just 16 total points.

Under center, the struggles junior quarterback Drew Lock experienced against Power Five defenses in 2016 have returned. Lock has made easy passes look difficult and has consistently thrown into double and triple coverage. The junior has thrown just one touchdown and completed just over 40 percent of his passes over the stretch, and his 133 yards thrown against Purdue was the fifth-worst passing performance of Lock’s career as a starter.

Damarea Crockett, the sophomore running back whose injury status seems to change by the minute., has yet to even approach his 202-yard week one performance, rushing for just 19 yards last week against Purdue. After rushing for 11.2 yards per carry against Missouri State, Crockett has averaged just 4.1 yards per carry since.

The poor throws and questionable judgement from Lock, the static running game Crockett’s uncertain status has brought on and the continuing issue of drops from Missouri’s wideouts all came to a head last weekend when the Tigers’ offense stalled completely. Two weeks after setting multiple school records on offense, Missouri couldn’t even generate a touchdown against the Boilermakers and gained just 203 yards in the 32-point loss.

The offense struggled so mightily that offensive coordinator Josh Heupel coached the second half of the Purdue game from the press box, a place he says he may once again find himself on Saturday.

Now, as the Tigers enter week four with a 1-2 record and an offense on the verge of complete mediocrity, Mizzou’s offense faces its toughest test yet: the Auburn Tigers.

Auburn comes to Columbia this weekend as the No. 15-ranked team in the nation, with the second-best defense in the country through three weeks. The Tigers (the ones from Auburn) have allowed just 201.7 yards per game and a total of 31 points so far this season. In week two, the team held the No. 2-ranked Clemson Tigers to 281 yards of total offense in a 14-6 loss to the reigning national champions.

During his weekly conference call, Missouri head coach Barry Odom discussed how dominant Auburn has been on the defensive side of the ball so far this season.

“They’ve been tremendous through three games in really about any statistical category you look at,” Odom said. “They’re top one or two or five in the country in everything. They’re so solid up front.”

“Solid” is an understatement. Auburn's explosive front four has 27 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks through three weeks and has wreaked havoc on opposing running backs, allowing the 12th fewest rushing yards per game with 88.7. Even with the loss of former 2015 No. 1 recruit Bryan Cowart to transfer earlier this week, Auburn’s defensive line remains one of the nation’s top units.

“On the line of scrimmage, they’re as good as there is in college football," Odom said on the call.

To go with the attack up front, Auburn features a secondary that has suffocated opponents in the early going, holding all three opponents to under 200 yards through the air.

It is against this defense that Missouri will attempt to turn things around offensively. Looking for answers as to how to right the ship, Heupel feels that the team must become less reliant on the passing game.

“For us, at the end of the day, we have to be able to run the football,” Heupel said. “We are an offense that needs and strives for balance. We can’t sit back and throw and catch it all day long. Running the football is going to have to be something we have to lean on.”

Heupel also gave credence to the idea that confidence — something Auburn has done nothing but take away from opponents’ offenses this year — may also play a role in the potency that the offense has lacked.

“Could confidence be an issue? Yeah, it can be,” Heupel said. “I don’t think it should be with this group. We can play at a high level. We can do it against quality opponents. We have to do it at a higher level. We have to compete at a higher level. We have to do the normal, everyday things at a higher level.”

If trends continue and the Tigers (the ones from Missouri) put up another weak offensive performance, that confidence may wane further. But Heupel believes his players will come out differently than they did a week ago and find offensive success.

“I think our kids will respond in a great way,” Heupel said. “We’re going to go out and compete this week and that’s what we’ll lean on.” Edited by Joe Noser | jnoser@themaneater.com

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