Disclaimer: Rather than the typical bullet point analysis, this post will be a long and meandering string of thoughts I forced into prose. Hang with me here as I give you a summation of my thoughts from four rows up in the Alamodome end zone.
Having been what appears to be one of the select few of RMN regulars who made it down to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl, there's not much that hasn't been said here that I can add. More than anything, for as disappointing as the season was, it seemed like a season of moderate disappointment was bookended in similar fashion. Missouri began the season with a shootout with a Big Ten team that was fueled by a Maclin return in the first half and Sean Weatherspoon's dominance in the second half. Substitute "shootout" with "slugfest," and you have the exact recipe of Mizzou's Alamo Bowl victory.
Before I delve too deeply into Missouri's end of the equation, I first want to send some love the way of Evanston, Ill. As the 2008 campaign progressed, I was highly enamored with the coaching jobs done by the men in charge of two of Missouri's opponents: Buffalo's Turner Gill and Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy. You can now add Pat Fitzgerald to that list. I've always loved his fire, but after last night, I now respect the man's ability. It should have come as no surprise to me how disciplined NU was defensively and how solid the unit was in pursuit and in wrapping up ballcarriers.
Secondly, I think this game swings far more in favor of Missouri had Tyrell Sutton not been able to go. Before the game, it was clear from highlights that Sutton added a different dynamic to the NU offense, one I asked Lake the Posts to try and quantify last Thursday. Between outstanding balance, great hands (despite one being in a cast), a never-ending motor, and some quick burst, Sutton proved himself as the perfect scat back for NU's style of offense.
The atmosphere at the game seemed very reflective of the attitudes of each school entering the game. The Northwestern players and fans looked absolutely thrilled to be in San Antonio, while the Missouri players and fans looked somewhat determined to redefine the word "complacency." The warmups seemed uninspired, the drills seemed rusty. As ghtd36 passed on in the game thread, the team found motivation from the one man we knew we could count on to try to light a fire: Tommy Saunders (love that kid).
More rambling after the jump.
Needless to say, when the game finally kicked off, Mizzou still didn't seem ready to play. No disrespect to NU, but between penalties and dumb mistakes, Mizzou was beating Mizzou. It took a football team as talented and as sound as Northwestern to make Mizzou pay for its mistakes, but for the majority of the game, the Tigers did not play like a team that deserved to win, much less like Big 12 North champions or a team that began the season with BCS aspirations.
As far as players on the field are concerned, that all began with Chase Daniel's play in the final game of his illustrious Missouri career. I couldn't believe it was happening, but in the second half, Daniel found himself being booed by the Missouri fans after another missed deep ball. What was more unbelievable, though, was that I understood the booing, and semi-agreed. As I look back, Daniel is a victim of his own expectation. When we come to expect excellence, then "pretty good" looks lackluster. When we expect at least "pretty good," an average effort by most QBs standards looks downright pedestrian. And that's exactly what Daniel looked like last night - pedestrian. What made Daniel great in 2007 was his decision making and his ability to always find an open receiver. In 2008, Daniel trusted his arm at the expense of his head. The third INT was a perfect example. Daniel thinks he sees blitz, predetermines a receiver, and one throw later, Mizzou is in trouble.
As for Jeremy Maclin, what can be said that already hasn't? When the game ended, J-Mac smiled as he walked in front of Missouri fans collectively chanting "One more year!" I found myself chanting along, but in my heart, a large part of me wants to see him go to the next level. No. 9 has done wonders for this university in only two years, and his service will continue if he represents the Mizzou football program in a positive manner in the NFL at the level projected for him by NFL scouts.
The same goes for Coffman, minus the questions about his return. I don't need to expound upon the love the Flying Nunchuk gets around these parts, but I'm not sure I'll ever see a set of hands like No. 45's in a Mizzou uniform again, and that's no slight to future Tigers. Watching him in person has been a privilege I'm not sure I can accurately convey with words.
Defensively, a couple of downfield breakdowns aside, we were able to see the kind of individual talent on this defense that was so highly touted before the season and so highly criticized as it progressed. I'm not sure how others have graded them out, but from field level, the D-Line looked absolutely incredible. Stryker Sulak had the type of game you come to expect from Stryker Sulak (including his second straight bowl game Superman). Jaron Baston commanded special attention inside. The numbers may not reflect it, but Ziggy Hood was dominant inside, as the NU guards had no answer for Z's quickness (causing the back-to-back holding penalties in NU's red zone). Brian Coulter showed good burst when he decided to line up on the correct side of the neutral zone, and Jacquies Smith continues to show an uncanny ability to get upfield every play, a huge asset on passing downs but a bit of a concern on rushing plays and screens.
The linebacking corps displayed why it was the backbone of this defense all year, as Sean Weatherspoon was unequivocally the most dominant player on the field Monday. Run stopping? Spoon. Pass coverage? Spoon. Pursuit? Spoon. Wrapping up? Spoon. Holding teammates accountable? Spoon. Firing teammates up? Spoon. But for all of the love we feed Spoon, Brock Christopher has been very much a forgotten man among common Missouri fans. Christopher's knack for timely turnovers (against Baylor and all opponents named "NU") hopefully draws attention to his nose for the football. While I have no doubt that Missouri has an excess of linebackers who can fly (Gachkar, Ebner, etc.), I'm slightly scared to see if Missouri has anyone capable of filling Brock's shoes of a linebacker who can break down and maintain leverage inside, particularly against the run.
Yet, watching the defensive backfield was like watching a bad rerun. Carl Gettis couldn't have picked a much worse time for the worst game of his career (after RMN has vehemently defended him). Justin Garrett was once again either the victim or the perpetrator of a miscommunication on a deep touchdown pass. Kenji Jackson continues to be the in the right place at the right time, but if there were Heismans for almost making plays, KJ would have to at least get an invite to the ceremony. He couldn't have been more than 6 inches from a pick on NU's last TD pass, and he was one NU bobble from another interception earlier in the game.
The most tragic of the defensive back field analyses though is that of one William Moore. What could have been if Willy Mo was healthy and properly used? We've beaten the horse to death, but why put your best ballhawking, centerfield safety and play him at the line of scrimmage all game long? Just because it allows to disguise his blitzing patterns, or are you that concerned with covering the slot? 2007 Willy Mo was a fantastic safety. Injuries and Matt Eberflus reduced 2008 Willy Mo to an above-average nickelback.
Hidden in the passion of victory but supported by The Boy in his recent BTBS post was the play of Jake Harry. Remember when punting was our biggest concern this offseason? The decision to rugby punt in the OSU game and throughout the season was, I thought, one of the better moves of the year, and it paid off handsomely in the Alamo Bowl. Then there's the story of Jeff Wolfert, the diver turned walk-on turned best kicker in NCAA history turned potential goat. What a storyline, and what a finish at a result.
You add it all together, and it made for a drama none of us would have or could have predicted five months ago. And when you think about the 2008 season, I'm not sure it would have been appropriate to end any other way.