Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Q&A: Mizzou sports writer talks players to watch, importance of I’Tavius Mathers


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Photo by Gregory French / MTSU Sidelines

Middle Tennessee football heads to Columbia, Missouri to take on the Mizzou Tigers this Saturday at 3 p.m. Both teams are coming off tough, but different losses. The Blue Raiders fell last week a in double-overtime thriller to Western Kentucky while the Tigers got blown out against Florida in Gainesville 40-14.

With both teams seeking redeption, Sidelines Sports Editor Tyler Lamb spoke with Sports Writer Nick Kelly from The Maneater, Missouri’s student newspaper, about what to expect from the Tigers this week and what MT can do to win.

Sidelines: In spite of the fact that Middle Tennessee isn’t ranked and every team Missouri has lost to has been ranked, how are the players and coaching staff viewing this game?

Kelly: Well, I think it’s not really  them seeing it as Middle Tennessee not being ranked, I think its them seeing this is just another opponent that that they can redeem themselves for two blowout losses that they’ve had against LSU and Florida the last two games. So, I really don’t know how much that views going into it because it’s also homecoming for Mizzou and they’re just very distraught after getting beat badly in the SEC twice the last two games. So, it just happens to be Middle Tennessee that they’re facing but I don’t think them being unranked has anything to do with Mizzou’s preparation this week.

Sidelines: What is Missouri’s biggest strength and also their most glaring weakness?

Kelly: That’s a good question because what we thought was their biggest strength, their passing  game, has been terrible over the last two games against LSU and Florida. They struggled a lot. Quarterback Drew Lock threw several interceptions against Florida, some bad throws and he just did not look confident. But when he’s clicking and that passing game is clicking. It’s a very tough passing game to stop. So, I’d say despite that how they’ve been the past two weeks, their passing game is their biggest strength.

Their biggest weakness is their run defense. They’ve done some reshuffling recently. They tried to change things up for the Florida game but they still struggled to stop the run. So if you can run the ball against this team, you’re going to have a decent amount of success. Their passing defense is pretty good but their run defense has struggled at times.

Sidelines: Who is a guy on MTSU’s offense that may be able to wreak some havoc on this Mizzou defense?

Kelly: Well I think it’s their running back, I’Tavius Mathers. I’ve seen he’s had some really good stats. He’s only been against one SEC caliber defense in Vanderbilt, but he seems like he’s an intrusive runner. Again, this is a Missouri run defense that has struggled at times. They have not always gotten off blocks, they’re not always in their gaps or where they need to be. So, if he can find some success, he could make this a difficult day for the Missouri defense, more than they might expect with this being a non-conference opponent.

Sidelines: How do you think the game will play out?

Kelly: If Middle Tennessee can get their running back going and they can take a lot of time off the clock, then I think it could be a close game for several quarters. But with it being homecoming, with just Missouri really struggling the last two weeks and wanting to redeem themselves, I think it’s going to be tough for Middle Tennessee to hang with the Tigers through four quarters. I think it’s going to be closer than people expect but in the end, I do expect Missouri to pull out with the win. I’m going to say it’ll be 45-24 or somewhere around there. I think MTSU will put up some points but I just see Missouri being the winner in the end.

For more sports stories, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Sport.

To contact Sports Editor Tyler Lamb (@Tlamb35), email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

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