Missouri Tigers (3-0, Southeastern) vs Memphis Tigers (3-0, 1-0 American)
Time and Date: 7:30 PM ET, September 23
Broadcast Network: ESPNU
Location: The Dome at America’s Center; St. Louis, MO
ESPN FPI: Missouri, 57.3%
Line: Missouri -7*
Point Total: 51.5*
All-Time Series: Missouri leads the all-time series against Memphis, 3-1
Last Meeting: Missouri 65 Memphis 33 - October 20, 2018
Current Streak: Missouri, 2 (1998-2018)
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Setting the Scene
The Missouri Tigers thought better of traveling to the Liberty Bowl to face the Memphis Tigers as the schools had agreed to in 2010. Last October, Missouri Athletic Director Desiree Reed-Francois negotiated for the game to be moved to a neutral site in St. Louis for a cool million dollars. While St. Louis is a shorter drive for the Memphis’ team and fans, the game will now serve as a quasi home game for Missouri, who sold out their ticket allotment.
Reed-Francois and Missouri Football Coach Eli Drinkwitz should be commended for their foresight as both teams come into this contest undefeated. If this game went forward with Memphis playing at home, it would have likely been the highest attended game this season at the Liberty Bowl. After a seven figure investment, the line sits at seven but it would have been significantly closer, if not a pick ‘em’, if Memphis had home field advantage.
In a game with massive stakes for both teams, only one will continue their undefeated season into the beginning of conference play.
Missouri are coming into this game with more momentum than any team in the country. Kicker Harrison Mevis broke the SEC-record for the longest field goal in conference history as he hit a 61-yard walk-off winner to power the Tigers past a ranked Kansas State team. However, this game was really about Luther Burden III and Brady Cook.
Burden is Missouri’s best offensive weapon who also had his best game in a Tiger uniform last week. The sophomore wideout caught seven passes for 114 yards and two scores. A top five recruit by all major recruiting services in 2022, Burden is living up to the hype and will look to continue his impressive play less than ten minutes from where he grew up.
Luther Burden continues to dominate— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 16, 2023
Meanwhile, Cook also played the game of his life at quarterback after being booed by his own fans in pre-game introductions. In his 23 appearance for Missouri, Cook had never sniffed 300 yards passing against FBS competition. However, the St. Louis native threw for 356 yards and scored three times against the Wildcats. If Cook can play at the same level as he did last week, Missouri would run away with the game. However, Cook has notably never had back to back three score games in his career.
An encore performance for the Missouri offense is far from a guarantee. Their offensive line is shaky at best outside of left tackle Javon Foster who will be playing on Sundays next season. Furthermore, the offensive line has numerous pieces dealing with nagging injuries that will cause them to rotate depth that they simply don’t have. If Memphis dials up the pressure, it is unknown if Missouri’s line will be able to hold up for four quarters.
While Drinkwitz and his captains are saying all the right things to media, it will be extremely important that Missouri do not bask in the glory of their first ranked win since 2020 and overlook Memphis despite having a home field advantage.
Ryan Silverfield is off to his best start since he took the reins from Mike Norvell in 2019. Memphis battered Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas State before avoiding disaster at home against Navy with a 28-24 win. While Memphis are undefeated, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered.
A question Memphis already thought they had answered was their starting quarterback. Entering his third year as the starter, Seth Henigan has been slow out of the gate. After having only eight interceptions in each of his first two seasons, Henigan is already up to three interceptions, with two of those coming against Bethune-Cookman. While Silverfield will be wishing his signal caller will snap back into form, the last time Henigan faced an SEC opponent, Mississippi State, he posted the second lowest passing totals of his career.
Despite some misfortune at the quarterback position, Memphis hit the jackpot in the transfer portal with running back Blake Watson. After four seasons at Old Dominion, Watson has established himself as the focal point of the Memphis offense. Last week, Watson rumbled to 169 yards on the ground on only 10 carries. For the season, Watson leads the team in scores, rushing yards, and is second on the team in receiving yards. I would predict the Watson will have over twenty touches in this matchup.
.@MemphisFB RB @BlakeWatson_2 said his 237 all-purpose yards against Navy might have been a breakout game for this Conference... but he's been doing it all along.— The American (@American_Conf) September 21, 2023
Hear him talk about his performance last week, his story & his focus versus Missouri.
On the other side of the ball, Memphis currently sit seventh in total defense. Despite lackluster competition, the defense has found a way to keep everything in-front of them. Holding Bethune-Cookman and Arkansas State to less than 20 points combined and halting Navy’s triple option is impressive. However, the Memphis secondary has yet to be tested. In fact, it is a blemish on their resume to have allowed the Midshipmen to pass for over 100 yards for only the fifth time in the past three seasons against FBS competition. Now, they will have to deal with one of the best receivers in the country and a quarterback coming off of his best game.
This game would be much different if it was being played at the Liberty Bowl. Instead, Missouri are going to enjoy a home advantage at a neutral site game. Furthermore, it is hard to pick Memphis in a toss up game when Henigan is in a slump and facing the best defense he will play all season. Speaking of defense, Memphis has been relatively unchallenged and has to find a way to contain one of the nation’s top receivers.
Memphis will make Missouri sweat this one out. I can see Memphis going into halftime with a lead if Missouri rests on their laurels from their big win last week and come out sluggish. However, the Tigers from Columbia are going to run away late due to their superior star power.
Missouri wins in St. Louis, 35-24.