Scouting report: Missouri at Ole Miss

DE Michael Sam leads a Missouri defense that's been surprisingly tough this season. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

DE Michael Sam leads a Missouri defense that’s been surprisingly tough this season. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

KEYS FOR VICTORY

1. Protect the football

Missouri’s speed on the edge and savvy play in the secondary has helped it become almost the best in the country in turnover margin. The Tigers are ranked No. 2 in America, No. 1 in the SEC at plus-1.4.

The Rebels are pretty good in turnover margin, 48th in the country, fifth in the SEC, a big improvement from recent years.

They will need to be exceptional today as the importance of every possession is magnified against the best defense at holding down points the Rebels have seen since Alabama.

2. Own your real estate

Missouri leads the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss. The Rebels’ line needs to hold its ground up front, and the backs, while being ball-security conscious, need to make the most of small holes before they close.

The Rebels can’t afford to fall behind and get into a situation where they must pass on every play. That would only work into the hands of a very good pass-rushing team.

3. Play clean and efficient

The 5-yard penalties, while of little bother against Troy, could be drive-killers today. While not admitting it, the Rebels have likely been eyeing this game for some time. Now it’s here, and they need to play penalty-free or very near that to maximize their opportunities.

WHAT TO WATCH

When Missouri has the ball

The Tigers didn’t start the season as a two-quarterback team, but they’ll be one tonight. Senior James Franklin is back and will start, but plenty of snaps will go to redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, who kept the season afloat when Franklin was out with a shoulder injury.

Both are good passers; Franklin is more mobile.

They have targets who are big and physical. Missouri’s four starting receivers go 6-2, 6-4, 6-5 and 6-6.

Missouri is the league’s No. 2 rushing team at 235.8 yards a game. It’s done by committee, led by 5-10, 190-pound Henry Josey who’s getting 76 yards a game, 10th in the SEC.

When Ole Miss has the ball

Jeff Scott has returned to health and gives the Rebels an outside burst in the run game they haven’t since he’s been away.

The Rebels have been much improved between the tackles with Jaylen Walton and I’Tavius Mathers.

With teams now having to respect the inside run game, Scott could give Ole Miss a lift on the edge as he did when at full strength earlier this season.

Regardless of what goes on in the run game, Hugh Freeze will seek balance in the offense. Bo Wallace, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 17-5 this season, will need to be extra careful against a Missouri defense that leads the SEC in interceptions.

CRUCIAL MATCHUP

Ole Miss offensive line vs. Missouri DE Michael Sam

Sam is the SEC leader in sacks and tackles for loss. He’s fast and physical on the edge and will be a challenge for Ole Miss senior right tackle Pierce Burton and others. Sam has most often lined up against the opponent’s RT this season.

Parrish Alford