No. 15 Auburn travels to Columbia, Mo., on Saturday to take on struggling Missouri in a battle of SEC Tigers looking to jump-start their seasons after uneven starts.
Missouri (1-2) is surrendering 442.7 yards per game, worst in the SEC and 102nd in the nation. Coach Barry Odom fired defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross after the Tigers gave up 31 points to South Carolina two weeks ago. It didn't solve Missouri's defensive woes, and now the offense is coming off back-to-back subpar performances.
Purdue marched up and down the field, running and throwing for 477 yards in a 31-3 rout of Missouri last week. The Tigers' offense wasn't any better. Quarterback Drew Lock completed 12 of 28 passes for 133 yards, with two interceptions. Missouri managed just 70 rushing yards on 24 carries.
Running back Damarea Crockett was limited to 19 yards on 10 carries, not starting because of a bruised tailbone, but he is expected to see regular time Saturday.
"We know that three games in, there's plenty of negativity," Odom said
"We haven't played well enough to win the ones we've wanted to, and you look at the things that they're probably hearing outside of our walls here -- I told them last night, it's the same thing if we're sitting here 3-0. I would be hearing how great we were, and really we're not. We're 1-2 and we're hearing probably how terrible we are.
"It's always a little bit of life in between there on never being as good or as bad as it seems."
Auburn (2-1) has its own issues.
One week after failing to do much of anything offensively in a loss at No. 2 Clemson, the Tigers committed five turnovers in last week's 24-10 win over homecoming opponent Mercer. Auburn led by only seven in the fourth quarter, and Mercer had the ball. The Tigers, thanks to stalwart defense, were able to finish off Mercer, an FCS program, but the victory did little to reduce the concern over coach Gus Malzahn's offense.
Four of Auburn's five turnovers were fumbles, and they marred what was sophomore quarterback Jarrett Stidham's best performance in his three-game War Eagle career. Stidham completed 32 of 37 passes for 364 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass and also tossed one interception. Stidham's 86.5 completion percentage was second-best by an SEC quarterback with a minimum of 30 attempts in a game.
Stidham, a sophomore transfer from Baylor, will be making his SEC debut on Saturday, when Auburn makes its first ever trip to Columbia.
"We're excited," Stidham told reporters Tuesday.
"Obviously, we're about to go on a long run with all the SEC teams, so it's going to be a challenge each week. Our defense, they're playing lights out. Hats off to them. They're truly a great defense. I know offensively, we just want to help a little bit more -- obviously with turnovers and whatnot.
"But I know offensively, defensively, special teams, we're really excited for this stretch we're about to get into."
Having running back Kerryon Johnson, a versatile sparkplug, back in the lineup will help. Johnson missed the last two games with a hamstring injury but is expected to play Saturday.
"I'm not going to say he's 100 percent, but he practiced some last week," Malzahn said of Johnson in a Tuesday press conference. "He practiced Sunday, and he's ready to play."
Johnson will add an element to Auburn's running game, alongside All-SEC back Kamryn Pettway, who has a modest 202 yards on 56 carries this season.
Missouri has allowed 172.0 yards on the ground per game to this point.
Odom says despite that early struggles, his team remains confident and ready to turn things around starting with Saturday's game.
Missouri is an 18.5-point underdog.
"We need to focus on what we can control, prepare, stay tight as a team and enjoy the opportunity to go compete," Odom said. "You worry about a lot of things. The only thing we can really do about that is stay close together as a team, which, I like the way our team has responded in the last couple weeks as far as practicing, the way it feels around the climate of the locker room."