25 September 2011

Down, but Never Out

Tigers again show maturity in loss
by Mizzou Matt 9/25/11
If there is anything good that can come out of last night's loss to no-1 ranked Oklahoma, it is this- Missouri is good. Damn good. They proved they can run with the best of them. They once again proved the "experts" wrong.

So far this season the Tigers have outscored their opponents 144-81, a stat that is skewed heavily from the 69-0 destruction of Western Illinois. In the turnover department, Missouri has intercepted opponents four times and has recovered two fumbles, for a total of six takeaways while the offense has only given the ball away three times- one interception and two fumbles. That puts Missouri at +3 in the turnover margin. A welcome sight after some questionable throws by last year's starter Blaine Gabbert wound up in the defense's clutches.

One stat that is a major area of concern, however, is the penalties. Through four games, Mizzou has been penalized 36 times, an average of nine per game, for 307 yards. They're donating an average of 76.8 penalty yards per game to their opponents. Last year's squad averaged just under five penalties per game on the year. Through just four games, we've nearly doubled that. One thing is for sure- the Tigers need to learn discipline. Late hits, pass interferences, offsides, holding, facemasks...all easily preventable with the proper discipline. As we move on into the conference season, the penalties should, in theory, start to die off. Last night, the Tigers were penalized seven times for 45 yards to Oklahoma's four for 15. The Sooners' penalties came in pairs- two in the first quarter, two in the fourth.

"I'd say we beat ourselves tonight," said running back Henry Josey. "It's just those little things that we have to fix."

The defensive secondary for Missouri, which was thought to be an area of concern, wasn't, then was. They started off playing press coverage while the defensive line pinned their ears back and went after Jones. They mixed up their coverage package, sent some d-backs in on a blitz and kept the Sooners on their heels. Their confusing schemes led to a Kenji Jackson interception. But then something happened. It seemed that after Ryan Broyles' touchdown that was reviewed, the defense started a transformation. As the game progressed, the coverage got softer. The D-line stopped getting penetration. They went from having their ears pinned back to putting their tail between their legs. The linebackers were still crushing the ball carrier, though. Commentator Gus Johnson said of Andrew Wilson, "The guy can hit. The team says he's the hardest hitter out there." Perhaps safety Matt White could take some pointers from Wilson after getting steamrolled by Columbia, MO native fullback Trey Millard.

Trey Barrow punted for a season-high eight times last night, which shows that we couldn't extend our drives on crucial downs, and the time of possession backs this up. The Tigers were -4:46 in TOP against Oklahoma, only holding the ball for 27:37 of a 60 minute game. Place kicker Grant Ressel has been struggling, going 0/2 last night and only 6/10 on the year. "We have to work on Grant. He's struggling a little bit," head coach Gary Pinkel said. "He's got a lot of ability. We've got to help him get his confidence back."

At one point, quarterback James Franklin was 1/8 on a series of eight passes. A few of them were catchable balls, just off the receivers hands and there was some miscommunication on a couple others, but SEVEN straight incompletions. Still, Franklin just has the one interception committed in the Miami (OH) game on September 3rd. He's reading the plays well, looking off receivers and not just throwing the ball up for grabs. He is, however, antsy in the pocket and needs to learn to A) get outside the tackles, and B) throw the ball BEYOND the line of scrimmage. He was charged with two intentional grounding penalties last night, which carries with them a spot-foul and a loss of down.

Franklin has been doing pretty well for a first year starter, but he needs to start finding his playmakers. All-American tight end Michael Egnew only had two catches for 40 yards, including a catch that left Sooner defensive back Aaron Colvin seeing stars. As Egnew hauled in the pass, Colvin went for the clean-up, knock out hit. It was a knock out alright. "Brick walls weren't meant for d-backs." one Tiger fan said in a message board on Facebook. T.J. Moe went 7 receptions for 119 yards. L'Damian Washington had one for 45. Jerrell Jackson, who did plenty of trash talking in the week prior to the game, finished with two for 36.
Starting running back Henry Josey, who got the starting spot by process of elimination due to injuries, reeled off yet another outstanding performance. His 14 carry, 133 yard night propelled his season total to 533, good enough for fifth in the country. He's in some elite company. LeMichael James of Oregon is first while Denard Robinson of Michigan is fourth on that list. Franklin, who after Pinkel said rushed the ball too much against Arizona State (team/season high 27), rushed the ball 25 times for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. Offensive coordinator David Yost seems to still be relying heavily on quarterback draws and other designed runs for Franklin, much to the disgruntled moans of some fans.

But the Tigers showed again why they're one of the more dark horse teams to look out for this year. All the "experts" were predicting Oklahoma would trounce Missouri by 21+. All the "experts" thought Franklin's inexperience would be exploited on the big stage. All the "experts" thought Mizzou wouldn't be able to hang with the Sooners. All the "experts" were proven wrong, again. Not only did Missouri keep it close at the end, they managed to do what no other team prior could do against OU- lead. The Tigers' early score in the first marked the first time all season that Oklahoma has trailed in a game. Missouri even built up an 11-point lead before Oklahoma closed the gap and scored at about the 6:30 mark in the second to take the lead. The Tigers showed they can close the gap, again, and bring themselves back from the dead. Were the two scores too little, too late? That's an obvious yes because they still lost, but they did prove that Mizzou can score at almost any time and you should never count out the Tigers.

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