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Ohio State vs. Missouri: 2023 Cotton Bowl game preview and prediction

The Buckeyes battle the Tigers for the first time since 1998 in the 88th Goodyear Cotton Bowl.

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

A little more than a month after suffering a 30-24 loss to Michigan in Ann Arbor that put an end to their Big Ten title and College Football Playoff hopes, Ohio State will close out their 2023 season in Dallas, taking on the Missouri Tigers in the 88th Goodyear Cotton Bowl.

Tonight’s game will mark the third time the Buckeyes have played in the Cotton Bowl, winning their first two appearances in the prestigious game. Ohio State beat Texas A&M 28-12 in the 1987 edition, and most recently defeated USC 24-7 in 2017.


Ohio State’s history in bowls and against Missouri

The Cotton Bowl will be Ohio State’s 55th appearance in a bowl game, which is the most among Big Ten teams. The Buckeyes have posted a 26-28 record in bowl games entering tonight’s contest, with the last bowl game they played in ending in a 42-41 heartbreaking loss to Georgia in the Peach Bowl last year on New Year’s Eve in a College Football Playoff semifinal. Ohio State has played in a New Year’s Six bowl every year during the CFP era, which started in 2014. The Buckeyes have gone 7-4 in their 11 previous New Year’s Six bowl games.

Tonight’s game will be the 13th time Ohio State and Missouri have met on the football field. The Buckeyes have dominated the Tigers in most of those matchups, holding a 10-1-1 edge in the series. The majority of the games between the schools came between 1930-1949, with Ohio State winning eight of those games, and the 1946 game ending in a 13-13 tie. Missouri’s lone win came in 1976, when the Tigers rallied from a 21-7 halftime deficit to win 22-21.

While Ohio State has hosted most of their meetings with Missouri, the Buckeyes did travel to Columbia in 1997. Wide receiver David Boston hauled in two touchdowns in the 31-10 win. The most recent matchup between the schools came the following year in Columbus. Missouri gave Ohio State an early scare, heading into halftime leading 14-13 before the Buckeyes took control of the game in the second half to secure a 35-14 victory. Tonight’s contest will be the first time the teams have squared off in a bowl game.


Who is playing and who isn’t for the Ohio State offense

Over the last few years bowl games outside the College Football Playoff have been hit hard by players entering the transfer portal or opting out to prepare for the NFL Draft. This year’s Cotton Bowl isn’t immune from the trend. One of the more surprising players to enter the portal was Ohio State quarterback Kyle McCord, who eventually decided he will be playing at Syracuse next season.

The transfer of McCord will leave the reins of the Buckeye offense to Devin Brown, who was on the heels of McCord in the competition to earn the starting quarterback job heading into the season. Brown saw some brief action during the season, attempting 22 passes and running the football 19 times. The redshirt freshman quarterback will be making his first career start, and be trying to state an early case to be the starter Ohio State in 2024.

One Ohio State player whose absence tonight was expected after the Buckeyes lost to Michigan is wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. The Heisman Trophy finalist is expected to be one of the top picks in the 2024 NFL Draft, so it makes sense he sit out the Cotton Bowl to avoid injury and prepare for the draft. Harrison is the only Ohio State receiver to record two seasons of at least 1,000 yards receiving. The junior finished the 2023 season with 67 catches for 1,211 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.

Another Ohio State wide receiver who won’t be playing in this game is Julian Fleming, who entered the transfer portal earlier this month. Fleming caught 26 passes for 270 yards this year. The departures of Harrison and Fleming should allow for freshman Carnell Tate to see more snaps in tonight’s game. There is a ton of hype around Tate, he just didn’t see a ton of action because of how stacked the Buckeyes were at the receiver position this year. Along with Tate, Emeka Egbuka should also be heavily featured in this game. There were questions if Egbuka was going to sit out this game, but all signs are pointing towards the receiver playing.

Joining Egbuka as key parts of the Ohio State offense that won’t skip this game are running back TreVeyon Henderson and tight end Cade Stover. After missing multiple games following the win over Notre Dame, Henderson burst back onto the scene by rushing for over 100 yards in three of the last five games of the regular season. In his first two games back from injury, Henderson totaled over 200 yards in wins over Wisconsin and Rutgers. Henderson playing in the Cotton Bowl will help to take some of the pressure off of quarterback Devin Brown.

Stover suiting up tonight will also provide Brown with a trusted target in the passing game. The tight end followed up a solid season last year with even better number this season, catching 41 passes for 576 yards and five scores. For his career, Stover has 1,078 yards receiving, becoming the second Ohio State tight end to crack 1,000 career receiving yards. This will be Stover’s final game in the scarlet and gray.


What to expect from the Buckeye defense

On the defensive side of the football, most of the starters from this season will be on the field in Dallas. One player who won’t suit up will be safety Lathan Ransom, who is still recovering from an injury he suffered late in the season. It is still unknown if linebacker Tommy Eichenberg will play, as he too is recovering from injury. Defensive coordinator Jim Knowles said earlier this week Eichenberg’s status is “up in the air”.

The defensive line for Ohio State will be in tact since defensive ends Jack Sawyer and J.T. Tuimoloau are expected to play, as is defensive tackle Tyleik Williams. Sawyer came on at the end of the year registering 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks over the last two games. On the other end of the defensive line, Tuimoloau had his moments but he might have set the bar too high for what he can do in a game with his massive performance against Penn State last year. Williams was the most consistent player on the defensive line, clogging up the middle and making 10 stops behind the line of scrimmage.

Even if Eichenberg can’t play tonight, Ohio State will still have Steele Chambers and Cody Simon suiting up in Dallas. Chambers is second the team with 75 tackles and will be making his final start for the Buckeyes. Simon has already announced he will be returning to Columbus next year for his senior season. The linebacker has started to put it all together, improving as the year went on. Even if Eichenberg plays, he’ll likely be limited, which will allow for C.J. Hicks to see more snaps, as Knowles will want to see what Hicks can offer ahead of next season.

The strength of the Ohio State defense this year was the secondary. After getting torched in their most important games last season, the pass defense of the Buckeyes was tops in the country, allowing just 147.4 yards per game. Cornerback Denzel Burke announced earlier this week he would be playing tonight, but will announced his future plans early in 2024. Burke broke up nine passes this season, one ahead of safety Josh Proctor for the team lead. Safety Sonny Styles along with cornerbacks Davison Igbinosun, Jordan Hancock, and Jermaine Matthews Jr. are a few others who will likely see plenty of playing time tonight.


Missouri’s season & Cotton Bowl history at a glance

Missouri enters the Cotton Bowl with a 10-2 record this season, with their only losses coming to LSU and Georgia. The Tigers closed out the regular season with an easy 48-14 win over Arkansas, extending their winning streak to three games. Tonight’s contest will be the fourth time Missouri has played in the Cotton Bowl. The Tigers have posted a 2-1 record in their previous three appearances in the classic. After losing to Texas 40-27 in 1946, Missouri beat Arkansas 38-7 in 2008, followed by a 41-31 win over Oklahoma State in 2014.

Coaching the Tigers is Eliah Drinkwitz, who is in his fourth season in charge in Columbia. After a 12-1 season at Appalachian State in 2019, Drinkwitz garnered the attention of Missouri, who hired him following the outstanding season. The first three seasons with the Tigers were nothing special for Drinkwitz, posting a 17-19 record. Missouri will be looking for their first bowl win under Drinkwitz after losing the Armed Forces Bowl to Army in 2021 and the Gasparilla Bowl to Wake Forest last year.


A talented trio

Leading the offense of the Tigers is a three-headed monster of quarterback Brady Cook, running back Cody Schrader and wide receiver Luther Burden III. Following a rough start to his Missouri career that saw some fans boo him last year, Cook was outstanding this year, throwing for over 3,100 yards and 20 touchdowns, while adding eight more scores on the ground. Cook’s best performance of the season came against Vanderbilt when he completed 80 percent of his passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns.

Schrader was one of the best running backs in the country this season, finishing with 1,499 yards and 13 touchdowns. In the blowout win over Tennessee, Schrader became the first player to rush for at least 200 yards and amass at least 100 receiving yards in an SEC game. In the final game of the regular season, Schrader had his highest rushing output of the season, totaling 217 yards against Arkansas. Schrader was a finalist for the Doak Walker Award this year, which was won by Oklahoma State’s Ollie Gordon II.

Opposing defenses weren’t able to key on Schrader since Missouri also has Luther Burden III. The talented wide receiver caught 83 passes for nearly 1,200 yards, finding the end zone eight times during the regular season. Burden had five-game stretch earlier in the season where he eclipsed 100 yards receiving. The sophomore made a huge leap this year, nearly doubling his catches, as well as his yard per catch average. Along with Burden, Ohio State’s secondary will have to keep tabs on Theo Wease and former Ohio State recruit Mookie Cooper.


How Missouri will line up on defense

While Missouri’s defense doesn’t have a standout star, they have a bunch of guys that can make some plays. Safety Joseph Charleston lead the team with 60 tackles, and also broke up four passes this season. Leading the team with four interceptions this year is cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine. The junior also broke up 12 passes during the season. The other starting corner will be Ennis Rakestraw Jr., and Jaylon Charles will join Charleston at safety.

Missouri registered 36 sacks this year. Leading the pass rush is defensive end Darius Robinson, with the senior totaling 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. At the other defensive end spot is junior Johnny Walker Jr., who added four sacks. Clogging up the middle will be a quartet of seniors at defensive tackle. Jay Jernigan, Realus George Jr., Kristian Williams, and Josh Landry will all be looking to create havoc for the Ohio State offensive line.

The linebacker position was patrolled this season by seniors Ty’Ron Hopper and Chuck Hicks, but Hopper will not play in the Cotton Bowl as a result of an injury. Hopper did a bit of everything, securing 55 tackles, six behind the line of scrimmage, three sacks, and three pass breakups. Hicks was even better at making stops behind the line, as he was credited with 10 TFLs. Joining Hicks will be sophomore Daylan Carnell, who lineups up at Missouri’s STAR position.


Summary

Shortly after this matchup was announced, there was a lot of negative feelings about the bowl game for Ohio State following the transfer of McCord, along with the status of a handful of key players being up in the air. Some of those negative thoughts have gone away since the majority of those players who were iffy for the game have announced they will be playing tonight.

Ohio State can’t afford to take the Tigers lightly, especially with the offensive firepower Missouri has. Unfortunately for the Tigers, the strength of the Buckeyes is their defense. Ohio State bends at times, but they don’t break. One thing the Buckeyes have been great at this year is guarding against the big play. What Ohio State has to do is keep Cody Schrader from getting into a rhythm. If Schrader can get some solid gains early, it could be a long day. Just ask Tennessee.

Hopefully Ryan Day won’t have a tight leash on Devin Brown in this game. If Brown is the favorite to be the starter next year, open up the playbook for him. Luckily for Brown, he has had some extra practices to become more comfortable running the offense after only seeing limited duty during the regular season.

Even with a new starting quarterback, Ohio State will be a little too much in this game. The Buckeyes have heard the doubters after losing to Michigan and will want to prove some people wrong. Plus, all the players that will suit up who were on the fence about playing will be wanting to put up some big performances to potentially boost their draft stock. The Buckeyes outlast the Tigers in what could be an entertaining game.

LGHL score prediction: Ohio State 31, Missouri 24