When No. 1 Alabama hosts Missouri on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN), all eyes will obviously be on the quarterbacks, and with good reason.
Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa has been insanely good thus far, and leads the nation in passer rating by a wide margin. The Crimson Tide actually averages better than a point scored for every snap he’s taken.
However, Drew Lock, named All-SEC last season, has 10,182 passing yards and 82 touchdowns for his career. He’s in sixth place on the league’s all-time list and needs six to tie Florida’s Tim Tebow (2006-09) and Chris Leak (2003-06) at 88.
He definitely has the Crimson Tide’s attention.
“He’s the real deal,” Alabama nose tackle Quinnen Williams said.” He’s good.
“He can pinpoint. He can get it out there quick, fast. He knows where his looks are at. He’s a veteran on that offense. He really runs that offense.”
Through five games, Lock is second in the league in passing, averaging 297.4 yards per game, with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. However, his passer efficiency rating doesn’t rank in the top 10.
Part of that has to do with his receiving corps being decimated by injuries. All four of his top threats, including Nate Brown (groin), Emanuel Hall (groin) and Richaud Floyd (leg fracture), have all had setbacks.
Hall, who has 18 catches for 430 yards and three touchdowns, isn’t expected to play against Alabama, but Brown and Floyd could return.
Meanwhile, Alabama junior cornerback Trevin Diggs is out indefinitely after suffering a fractured foot at Arkansas. The Crimson Tide will re-insert junior-college transfer Saivion Smith into his spot, with true freshman Patrick Surtain II at the other corner.
“They have a prolific offense,” junior safety Deionte Thompson said. “Drew Lock is hands down one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, if not the best. The way that he can get the ball out of his hands is very fast. The way they move, they average a play every six seconds after the ball is snapped. They average the most plays in college football. It’s going to be a fast-paced game.”
Meanwhile, Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) has been able to score faster than any team in the nation, with 15 touchdown drives in under a minute and seven in less than 30 seconds.
Missouri (3-2, 0-2) is 13th in the conference in pass defense, having yielded 284.8 yards per game, and nationally 105th in pass-efficiency defense.
“They’re the best team in college football,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said. “You watch and you study, you evaluate and you game plan. They don’t have weaknesses. They play extremely hard, they play extremely well, and they’re coached to that level. Also, they have really good players.”
But the more interesting matchup may be on the ground.
Mizzou rushed for a season-high 286 yards and had three rushing touchdowns last week at South Carolina, and the previous week scored four on the ground against Georgia. The Bulldogs have yielded just five all season.
In its last two games, Alabama’s defense allowed 200 rushing yards to Louisiana and 172 at Arkansas. The Crimson Tide believes it’s close to posting better run-stopping numbers, and has allowed only three rushing touchdowns.
“They can run the ball, they can score it,” Williams said. “I think they had four rushing touchdowns on Georgia. And I think right now, Georgia has the No. 1 defense in the SEC run stop-wise. So, we’ve got to really get ourselves together.”
Led by senior running back Damien Harris, Alabama ran for 246 yards and four touchdowns at Arkansas last week. Going into the game, the Razorbacks were similar statistically to Missouri against the run (105.8 yards allowed vs. 102.2).
The Crimson Tide also has depth at the position with Josh Jacobs and Najee Harris regularly rotating in.
“Their runners they run like it’s fourth-and-1 and the national championship is on the line every time they carry the ball,” Odom said.
Alabama has scored at least 45 points against every opponent and has twice topped 60. The closest score was 45-23 against No. 22 Texas A&M.
Missouri is coming off back-to-back losses to No. 2 Georgia and at South Carolina, although both games were close. Even though the latter was played in a thunderstorm and delayed twice by lightning, the Tigers still managed to score 35 points.
Although Alabama and Missouri have played five times dating back to the 1968 Gator Bowl, and twice since the Tigers joined the SEC, this will be their first trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium.