Mizzou Game Day Countdown: Gasparilla Bowl vs. Wake Forest

Missouri (6-6) will be looking to win its first bowl game since the 2014 Citrus Bowl when it faces Wake Forest (7-5) in the Gasparilla Bowl on Dec. 23.

This will be the first time these schools face off. A win for the Tigers would put them over .500 for the first time since 2018. For the Demon Deacons, they will be looking to win their fifth game in what will be seven straight bowl game appearances.

Our game day preview will look at the five matchups to watch, four Mizzou players to keep an eye on, three keys to the game, two questions that need to be answered and a prediction of who will win.

5 Matchups to watch

1.) Drinkwitz vs. playcalling

It was announced last week that quarterback coach Bush Hamdan had left the team to accept the Boise State offensive coordinator position. This is a notable move because Hamdan was the main offensive play caller in Mizzou’s last three games.

The team was averaging 32.67 points per game during that stretch, but before Hamdan took over, the team was averaging 23.11 points per game.

Hamdan seemed to have an advantage on quick and short passes while Drinkwitz seemed to be keen on calling more deep shot plays. What has been working lately has been getting the ball out of the quarterback Brady Cook’with hand quicker and getting the ball into the hands of the team’s playmakers in a hurry. The team probably shouldn’t go away from what had been working down the stretch of the season and if Drinkwitz calls the plays that seem the offense gets better and better over Missouri’s last three games then the team should have a decent chance to win.

2.) Defensive line vs. Wake Forest offensive line

Defensive ends DJ Coleman and Isaiah McGuire, who are Mizzou’s top two leaders in sacks, will not be playing in the bowl game and have declared for the NFL Draft. McGuire was the team’s defensive most valuable player last season and will likely have a good chance to repeat that feat this season after recording 55 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, one pass deflection, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery. Coleman came off the bench for most of the season, but was replaced Trajan Jeffcoat in the starting lineup for the team’s last three games and racked up 37 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.

Wake Forest enters the game allowing three sacks per game which ranks 108th in the FBS. So, Mizzou will have to get that pass-rush help from other contributors. Jeffcoat is likely to be re-inserted in the lineup, but then players like Arden Walker and Johnny Walker will also get a lot of playing time on the edge to help out.

3.) Mizzou secondary vs. Wake Forest wide receiver core

Mizzou’s secondary has had its fair share of experience facing wide receiving cores that are much bigger than them physically. They struggled a bit when facing Bru McCoy at Tennesee, but they played decently against an Arkansas team that has no one shorter than 6-2 in the starting lineup. Wake Forest has three wide receivers taller than 6-2, but more impressive than that it has five receivers with 500 or more receiving yards this season.

Missouri will be without a starting safety Martez Manuel who decided to forego this game and declare for the draft. Manuel was third on the team in sacks with four to go with his 49 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one pass deflection and a forced fumble. So, that’s one less player at defensive coordinator Blake Baker’s disposal. Missouri’s secondary is arguably one of the best position groups, but it will be tested against this high-powered Wake Forest offense.

4.) Missouri wide receivers vs. Wake Forest’s secondary

This is more about Mizzou’s wide receiving core than it is about Wake Forest’s secondary. Luther Burden III has shown what he can do. He’s earned the nickname “Touchdown Luther” with a team-high eight touchdowns. All of those touchdowns came as an All-Southeastern Conference second-team wide receiver Dominic Lovett was on the team. Sixth-year wide receiver Barrett Bannister said he is nearing 100% and having him back after missing week 13 will be a plus, but we will be able to see if he really is near 100% or not against a mediocre Demon Deacons secondary. Tauskie Dove, who announced earlier this week he’s entering the transfer portal, has been more of a non-factor this season after leading the team in receiving yards last season. Where will his mind be at come game time? Mekhi Miller has played well in limited snaps, but he is expected to get a healthy portion of the slot reps along with Banister. How will he perform on a big stage with this opportunity? Mookie Cooper has speed and can be the vertical threat to replace Lovett, but will we see it? He had three catches for 45 yards against Arkansas in the team’s last outing, but in the previous four games, he had no receptions.

Lovett is just one person, but he was very important to this offense and gave it a consistent vertical threat.

5.) Strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness

The title of this section is self-explanatory. Will Wake Forest’s 29th-ranked offense be able to overcome a stiff 30th-ranked Missouri defense, albeit one that isn’t at full strength? Will Missouri’s 81st-ranked offense be better than Wake Forest’s 95th-ranked defense? There are a number of ways each side can win, but it will likely come down to what team can make its weakness a strength.

4 Players to watch

1.) Offensive line

This group played better over the last three games, but it still allows 7.58 tackles for loss per game, which is good for 119th in the FBS. It’s also the most penalized group on the team and is a big reason why the Tigers rank 120th with 92 penalties on the year. If the group continues to play how it has in the past three games it will be a net positive, but a common theme with this group is a step forward to take two steps back. It can’t do that this week.

2.) Luther Burden III

Lovett’s departure means Burden will get most if not all of the attention from Wake Forest’s defensive secondary. Burden, like the rest of the offense, benefitted from Lovett’s presence since Lovett could provide a consistent presence in the deep passing game, on jet sweeps and screens. Burden will likely be tasked with shouldering more of the load in all of those aspects, especially the latter. Burden tied for the team lead in touchdowns and was the second-leading wide receiver, so he should get the ball early and often.

3.) Brady Cook

Cook finished the season with his best three games of the season and he was the best player in each one. Cook completed 55 of 86 (63%) passes for 714 yards, seven touchdowns and more importantly no interceptions. He also added 315 rushing yards and a touchdown.

The Tigers went 2-1 during that stretch and had their two highest-scoring games versus Power 5 opponents this season. It will be interesting to see how he fares without his No. 1 wide receiver and if this will have an impact on his decision-making when it comes to scrambling since Lovett was an outlet for him.

4.) Daylan Carnell

Safety Daylan Carnell has had a fantastic season to this point that has seen him lead the team in interceptions with three (one returned for a touchdown) and two fumble recoveries to go along with his 26 tackles, three pass deflections and two tackles for loss.

Carnell has played a little less than 45% of the snaps, but he will get a chance to take most of the snaps at the STAR position with Manuel out. Carnell admitted earlier in the week that conditioning will be a big thing for him since he hasn’t played the number of snaps that he will play on Friday. Not to mention the size and production that Wake Forest’s receiving core provides will put his coverage skills to the test in addition to him trying to make noise in the backfield, especially with the loss of Coleman and McGuire.

3 Keys to the game

1.) Win one-on-one matchups

Again, facing a balanced passing offense where a number of players can catch the ball and rack up yards makes it harder for an opposing defense to be able to key in one or two players. Not to mention, Dave Clawson runs a spread offense, so his passes are designed to get players in space, so Missouri is going to have to win their matchup across the board on every play to avoid giving up the big play.

2.) Be self-disciplined

There are a couple of different disciplines Missouri will have to worry about for this game. Starting with the penalties, the team is ranked 120th in the FBS in penalties and averages 7.67 per game. It doesn’t help that Wake Forest is one of the least penalized teams, so there probably won’t be any balance in this category if the Tigers can’t keep the game clean and disciplined.

The next thing is maintaining gap discipline on Wake Forest’s RPO mesh plays. Wake Forest is a top-10 passing offense for a reason. It has the quarterback, the receivers, the scheme and the offensive line. We know about the quarterback and receiving core, but the offensive line does a really good job at holding blocks long enough in RPOs so that they don’t get an illegal man downfield penalty. That gives Hartman an extra moment or two to decide if he wants to hand the ball off, immediately pass it or make a play with his legs.

It’s going to be important for the defensive ends to contain the edges and for everyone to maintain their gaps and do their jobs to bottle up the run. Missouri has been good in this department for much of the year, but that was also when it had McGuire and Coleman setting the edge and Manuel helping MIKE linebacker Chad Bailey ensure everyone was set up properly. The Demon Deacons aren’t a great running team, but they still have Power 5 running backs and a mistake can lead to a huge gain or a touchdown which would open up the passing game.

3.) Win in the trenches

Like the second point says, Wake Forest’s RPO is based on blockers holding their blocks, so Missouri will have to make sure everyone in the trenches is doing their jobs and are in the correct gaps when they need to be here. The loss of Coleman and McGuire, the team leaders in tackles for loss hurts because getting a team behind the sticks makes them more predictable.

When Missouri is on offense it will have to contend with a third-team All-ACC defensive lineman Kobe Turner and the Demon Deacons’ 44th-ranked run defense. Unlike Missouri, the Demon Deacons are likely to have 10 of their 11 defensive starters back for one of the few things Wake Forest does well, which is stopping the run.

“I think the strength of their defense is in the box,” Drinkwitz said. “They do a really good job of stopping the run and keeping the ball in front of them. It’s going to be a challenge for us to control the line of scrimmage on both sides.”

2 Questions that need answering

1.) How will the offense look without Dominic Lovett?

The biggest loss from a production standpoint is Lovett. There are options as to who will replace him in the lineup, but how does his absence affect the team’s playcalling? How does that affect Burden? Cook has said on a couple of occasions that Lovett was his safety blanket, how will this affect him when he has to look for a new outlet?

2.) How will playcalling change with Bush Hamdan’s departure?

Mizzou was playing its best offensive ball in the last three weeks of the season when Hamdan was taking over playcalling duties. Will Drinkwitz try to call plays that saw the offense have the most success in its last three games or will he revert back to the way he was calling it in the first nine games?

Prediction

Jarod: This is a hard game to pick. Both teams will have disadvantages and I’ve gone back and forth about who will win. I think Missouri overall is a better and more balanced team, but they are not complete. If Lovett, McGuire, Coleman, Manuel and Hamdan were still on the team I’d pick the Tigers, but without them, that seems like too many good missing parts. Wake Forest on the other hand will have almost all of their starters and most of their key role players in this game. Give me the Demon Deacons 28-23.

Gabe: I usually assess a bowl game prediction based on which team it means more for. That’s tough to do here. Wake is trying to continue the momentum of a good little run as a program. Mizzou is trying to have a winning season and win a bowl game for the first time in years. There’s no “Well, you’re playing a no-name G5 team” factor for either team. I think Sam Hartman will put up some yards and points, but I also think Wake’s defense is very suspect. Based on little more than pandering to the fanbase, Missouri 33, Wake Forest 31.

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