Panic Level: Position-by-Position

For some losses, like last week's Nebraska loss, I don't really feel like talking or thinking about it too much.  For others, like this one, I can't really shut up.  So to put my verbosity to good use, we're going to walk through each unit for Missouri, and I'm going to give you two ratings: 1) my short-term panic level (on a 1-to-10 scale), and 2) my long-term panic level (same scale).

Quarterback

Short-term panic level: 5 | Long-term panic level: 0

People are questioning the use of Blaine Gabbert in this game, both whether he should have played at all and, more realistically, whether he should have been playing at the end.  I say of course he should have been playing--an ankle sprain is not an injury with long-term danger, and even though he was spraying every pass a bit high, let's face it: we don't really have another good quarterback.  Maybe Jimmy Costello is better than I'm giving him credit for, but he's probably not better than a one-legged Gabbert, and we knew from the beginning of this season that we were going to live and die with Gabbert this season.  Right now, we're not necessarily dying by any means, but we're not living well because he's not living well.

Of course, the only problem with keeping him in the game, especially late, was that his instincts are very clear when behind center.  He ran a couple of times on the last series of the game, even though that was the worst possible thing he could do.  When he has the ball in his hands, he's not thinking "I should be careful."  He's trying to move the ball, even when that might do him further damage.

Anyway, short-term, quarterbacking is definitely a bit of a concern.  A sprained ankle needs rest and treatment to heal, and Missouri doesn't have a week off for quite a while.  This is going to limit him for the foreseeable future, but he's still going to make some throws that nobody else in the conference can make, and after next week against Texas, he should be able to make quite a few plays even if not 100% healthy.

And long-term, duh.  No worries here whatsoever.  Gabbert still needs to develop better presence in the pocket--when to tuck and run, when to leave the pocket and roll left or right, et cetera.  But that will come with playing time, plain and simple.

Running Back

Short-term panic level: 4 | Long-term panic level: 1

Derrick Washington and De'Vion Moore both took what was given to them yesterday, and in a few instances even took a little more.  I was a bit curious whether Moore was actually any better than Kendial Lawrence and whether he would lose his backup role at some point, but in a handful of carries the last couple of weeks, he has looked damn strong and damn quick.  Meanwhile, D-Wash looked like D-Wash, never letting the first guy bring him down, falling forward, stepping through tackles, etc.  If this performance is what we see the rest of the year, then things will be just fine.  And Washington, Moore, and Lawrence all obviously return in 2010, along with Gilbert Moye an a couple more capable commits in Henry Josey and Greg White.  For the foreseeable future, this unit will have both depth and diversity.

Wide Receiver

Short-term panic level: 6 | Long-term panic level: 4

It's almost funny how things have unfolded in the last two months.  Back in August, we were worried that a) this unit didn't have a go-to guy, b) this unit didn't have a big play threat, and c) Danario Alexander's hands would prevent him from being the solution for (a) and (b).  Instead, Danario is absolutely the go-to guy, and one of the best in the conference.  Plus, Danario and (to a slightly lesser degree) Jared Perry and Wes Kemp are capable of both catching the deep ball and (in Perry's and Danario's case) taking short passes a long way.  The potential big play is one of Missouri's best weapons.  But the hands of everybody not named Danario have been a serious issue.  We've already said this about six times, but two drops more or less made the difference in the game last night.  If Jerrell Jackson keeps his eye on a slant and doesn't let it bounce right off of his hands, it's a 10-yard gain for Missouri instead of a pick six for Oklahoma State.  If Wes Kemp, uhh, closes his hands at the right time on a gorgeous bomb from Blaine Gabbert, Missouri not only uncorks a 60-yard (at least) gain late in the first half, but even if they don't score, they don't give the ball back to OSU in time for the Cowboys to drive down and score with seconds left in the half.  Those two drops resulted in at least a 14-point swing for OSU, and that's if Missouri doesn't score after Kemp's drop.

This isn't a new phenomenon, though last night was the first time it truly cost Missouri.  When you've got a quarterback like Gabbert, who is capable of firing 100-mph fastballs on just about any route, at the college level you are going to have some drops.  Hell, at the pro level you're going to have some drops--not just anybody could catch John Elway's passes, right?  But we are halfway through the season, and the guys on the field need to be getting better at catching the fastballs, and they are really not.  This is at least a bit of a long-term concern simply because the 2010 Missouri team won't feature either Danario or Perry.  Guys like Kemp and Jackson (and T.J. Moe, and Brandon Gerau, and Rolandis Woodland, and L'Damian Washington) are going to have to step up, both as every-down threats and simply guys with reliable hands.  All of the guys I listed above are freshmen or sophomores right now, and they will quite possibly grow into the role.

I really do like the long-term potential of Kemp, especially.  He's not nearly as fast as Danario, but he's got potential both as a deep-ball threat and an over-the-middle weapon.  He's just had a couple of really bad weeks, between almost getting decapitated by Ndamukong Suh last week (I honestly thought his drop last night was due to a case of alligator arms, but the replay showed that he really did just close his hands at the wrong time...which, honestly, is better than if he were starting to get a little scared) and being the perpetrator in one of Missouri's two killer mistakes, but he's a sophomore, and he's already shown ridiculous growth between years one and two.  He'll likely be fine, but until he proves that he will be fine, it's hard to make a 100% confident assumption.

Tight End

Short-term panic level: 10 | Long-term panic level: 8

Last night, when Blaine Gabbert had Andrew Jones wide open on the goal line on a fourth-quarter drive (one of the two that stalled on fourth down), he ended up leaving the pocket and throwing the ball away.  That was the moment I realized that our tight end problem has gone from "Tight ends are unreliable" to "It doesn't matter what the tight ends are doing anymore because Gabbert doesn't even look to them."  Andrew Jones and Michael Egnew were invisible enough over the first month of the season (to the point where Gary Pinkel started Beau Brinkley over both of them at Nevada to send a message) that Gabbert apparently doesn't even trust them enough to see them as an option.  Considering where we thought we were before the season--Jones as a reliable 3rd-and-7 threat, Egnew as the guy with red zone potential--this is extremely alarming.  Gabbert desperately needs another consistent weapon to complement Danario and Perry, and while we all thought Jones was just the man, it hasn't happened.  As fans, we cannot truly determine why, but if Missouri really is going to go 9-3 this year (which is certainly still a possibility), they need Jones and Gabbert to reconnect.  Obviously everybody in this unit returns next year--Jones, Egnew, Brinkley, and redshirting freshman Alex Sanders--but they need to buy Gabbert a steak, get on his good side, and get going with the rapport they had in the spring, when Jones and Egnew were Gabbert's top two targets.

Offensive Line

Short-term panic level: 5 | Long-term panic level: 3

It's pretty clear that, as is usually the case, we were underestimating the loss of starters Colin Brown and Ryan Madison from last year's offensive line.  That, combined with a tweak in technique that they apparently made this summer, have resulted in some early growing pains with this line.  For the most part, I did like what they did last night against a decent OSU front seven, at least in the first half.  Once Missouri fell behind and the OSU secondary started playing better, it ended up predictably affecting how OSU's front seven performed as well, and Missouri didn't have as many options available to them down the stretch.  That said, though, they absolutely get a passing grade for last night's game.

Long-term, things are still pretty rosy.  Four of Missouri's current five starters--Elvis Fisher, Austin Wuebbels, Tim Barnes, and Dan Hoch--will return in 2010, and only Kurtis Gregory does not.  He is a strong lineman, and he will be missed, but Missouri will be in much better shape to replace him, as both Jayson Palmgren and J.T. Beasley will be juniors and are getting plenty of reps this year.  That, combined with freshman Jack Meiners getting some playing time, mean that O-line depth should be a strength in 2010.  I still like the potential of the line this year, and I think that with hindsight the early struggles should have been a bit predictable.

Defensive End

Short-term panic level: 6 | Long-term panic level: 2

From a run-support standpoint, there is absolutely nothing to complain about with this line.  Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, and Briant Coulter all stand up to blocks well and are excellent at pursuit.  Good mixture of speed and size.  But they HAVE to start rushing the passer better.  Aldon Smith is pretty reliably going to make a couple of plays a game--last night it was a couple of timely blocked passes.  But Jacquies really hasn't been very disruptive at all, and even though Missouri got in Robinson's face a few times last night, the pocket never completely closed in on him, and he was always able to escape and make a throw, even if he was just throwing the ball away.

Now...Aldon Smith is a redshirt freshman and Jacquies a true sophomore.  It's easy to forget that sometimes, but while their potential is clear, consistency comes with playing time, and clearly neither has had enough yet.  We've got a potential all-conference performer in Agent Aldon and a potentially solid three-year starter in Agent Jacquies, but they're just not ready to make every-down contributions yet.  If there's a concern here, it's depth.  Brad Madison has been on the field this season, but you couldn't tell it from the stats.  Marcus Malbrough looked decent in junk-time against Furman, but that's it.  Hopefully one of the redshirting freshmen--either Michael Sam or Brayden Burnett--can be counted on to make a contribution next season; otherwise we'll be leaning on Smith and Smith even more next year with Coulter's departure.

Defensive Tackle

Short-term panic level: 2 | Long-term panic level: 4

LOVE what this unit did last night.  Jaron Baston was great, and I noticed Dominique Hamilton quite a bit.  While Missouri's run defense hasn't been as good this year as last, I thought it was an encouraging sign that, against an OSU team with a rock-solid offensive line and a very good between-the-tackles runner in Keith Toston, Missouri held OSU's running backs to just 87 yards on 27 carries (3.2 per carry).  It was their best performance of the year, and if Missouri can count on that for the rest of the year, this defense will continue to look damn good.

For 2010 and beyond, there is a concern here simply because Baston is a senior.  Hamilton and Terrell Resonno are the current projected 2010 starters, and while both have looked decent at times, they've clearly been the #2 and #3 DTs (in some order) behind Baston.  They will need to continue to develop for Missouri not to drop off here.  Of course, two young guys could make this unit a severe strength in the future: Marvin Foster and Sheldon Richardson.  Foster was quickly working his way into the DT rotation in August before injuring his knee and redshirting.  Assuming he's at full strength in 2010 (and with this staff, a knee injury is child's play), he could be an immediate contributor.  Meanwhile, Richardson is an obvious X-factor starting in 2011, assuming he still attends Missouri (and with the comments from his JUCO coach a couple of months ago, that seems like a comfortable assumption for now).

With Resonno, Hamilton, Foster, and maybe Jimmy Burge or George White, this unit could still be strong in 2010, especially if Resonno or Hamilton make a Baston-esque leap between their sophomore and junior seasons.  And in 2011, with all of those players back with Richardson added to the mix, they could be excellent.  The only reason I put the long-term panic level at a 4 is that it's still an assumption that Resonno or Hamilton will make that leap, and as I said with Wes Kemp above, until it happens, it's at least a little bit of a concern.

Linebacker

Short-term panic level: 1 | Long-term panic level: 2

Even without Will Ebner, I had no complaints with this unit last night.  Sean Weatherspoon was outstanding, and Luke Lambert played well, even forcing a late fumble that, uhh, was bafflingly called a non-fumble by the replay official (seriously, get the replay official a bigger monitor please).  Andrew Gachkar was around the ball quite a bit, even if he didn't make a ton of plays, and Zaviar Gooden made an outstanding play on an option run.  With the strong run defense Missouri showed, clearly the linebackers had a role in that.

Missouri obviously loses 'Spoon after this season, but the long-term prospects are still bright.  Ebner, Gachkar and Lambert return in 2010, and with Gooden, Donovan Bonner and hopefully Joshua Tatum assuming backup roles...yeah, let's just say that at least two, and potentially three of Missouri's backups would have been starting LBs for Mizzou anytime between 2000 and 2005.  I'm really excited about this unit, even without SPOOOON.

Defensive Back

Short-term panic level: 3 | Long-term panic level: 2

Don't know what to think about this unit.  Hubert Anyiam had a career day last night, but as the offense was falling apart in the second half last night, the secondary continuously made plays and prevented OSU from running away with the game.  Seriously, with the field position advantage OSU had last night, they very well could have ended up winning something like 45-17 or something, but they didn't.  The Carl Gettis Treatment looked good, Jasper Simmons looked good, and after getting burned once on a double move (and bailed out by Simmons), Robert Steeples got a ton of playing time and did not allow Anyiam to do much of anything on a series of Q4 third-down passes.  I'm not sure why Steeples was in there that much--was Kevin Rutland being punished for allowing the slant-route TD on the last play of the first half?--but he acquitted himself well.  I still wish we were seeing more out of our boy Kenji Jackson, but this unit has still looked good for most of 2009...

...and all of the major contributors return for 2010.  Only Del Howard and Hardy Ricks depart after this year, and no offense to them, but I'm not going to lose a lot of sleep over that.  Gettis, Rutland, Steeples, Kip Edwards and Munir Prince all return at CB, and Simmons, Jackson, and Jarrell Harrison all look like keepers at safety.  And if a redshirting freshman like Matt White forces his way into the rotation in 2010, all the better.

In all, the hopes for this defense in 2010 and beyond are quite high.  By the end of this season, Aldon Smith, Will Ebner, Andrew Gachkar, Carl Gettis, Jasper Simmons and others will have all proven themselves at a pretty high level, and with guys like Dominique Hamilton, Terrell Resonno, Jacquies Smith, Zaviar Gooden, Kevin Rutland, Kenji Jackson, Robert Steeples and Jarrell Harrison all having shown flashes of really nice play, the 2010 defense will be as deep a play-making defense as Missouri will have had under Gary Pinkel, even with the loss of Jaron Baston and Sean Weatherspoon.

Special Teams

Short-term panic level: 3 | Long-term panic level: 1

An absolutely dreadful special teams effort last night, but it's hard to panic over that considering how good special teams have been for Missouri.  Grant Ressel made his only FG, but karma bit Jake Harry IV in the ass, as he didn't get a single good bounce on any of his kicks.  We have gotten very used to getting great rolls on his rugby kicks, and it just didn't happen last night.  That, and OSU made a nice strategic play of having what seemed like two return men--one deep and one at mid-range to catch some of the punts and make sure the rolls didn't happen.  Between Missouri's second-half three-and-outs and struggles in the punt game, they got drilled in the field position battle, especially in the second half.

Meanwhile, OSU broke off a couple of nice kickoff returns, which isn't entirely surprising--Perrish Cox is one of the best return men in the game--and thanks to horrific officiating (sorry, I can't let it go just yet), Missouri's own kickoff returns were major liabilities.  Jasper Simmons' first great kick return was called back to a phantom hold (but hey, how much damage could a 70-yard net penalty do, really?  Not much, right?  Yeah...), and he lost a fumble in which his knee appeared to be down (SERIOUSLY...get the freaking replay official a bigger monitor...), but in the box score it says that kick returns were a liability.

Long-term, things look good here.  Harry has been a great asset, and he is a senior, but honestly, Missouri's punting scheme is good, and whoever wins next year's punting battle (Matt Grabner? Trey Barrow? Grant Ressel?), I think this will still be a relative strength.  Plus, Carl Gettis looking better and better on punt returns, and Simmons has shown at least strong straight-line speed and the capability of breaking a long return.

And we've got Ressel at place-kicker for another two years, so there's that.

Coaching

Short-term panic level: 3 | Long-term panic level: 0

I'm sorry, but I just cannot get myself that worked up about the coaching staff.  I know we always look for somebody to blame when things go poorly, and I disagreed as much as anybody with David Yost's decision to call empty-backfield sets late in the game, but you know what?  When you are calling 60-80 plays per game, you are going to make mistakes.  Dave Christensen obviously made plenty of mistakes, and he was apparently good enough at his job to score a Mountain West head coaching position.  Meanwhile, one of the best coordinators in the country--OU's Kevin Wilson--is getting destroyed by the OU fanbase for sucking...and he's one of the best coordinators in the game.  Missouri fans are spoiled by previous successes, but in his first year on the job, Yost is already a decent coordinator, and when Missouri gains in experience, he will probably start looking like a really good one.  People calling for his head or already falling back on the dumb old "Gary Pinkel's too stubborn!!!!1!!!" line are...well, they're being ridiculous.  Get over yourselves--this is a good offensive staff, and it will only get better.  Blaine Gabbert was two drops away from having 360 first-half passing yards last night.  It takes good play-calling for that to happen.

Meanwhile, I don't think any of us can have much complaint with the job Dave Steckel and the defensive staff are doing, right?  Or are we still managing to be pissed at them too?  You tell me.

---

I know I'm either a) preaching to the choir or b) yelling at people who have their minds made up here (and are more than willing to yell back), but man oh man...BIG PICTURE HERE, PEOPLE.  Most of us did not expect to be better than 4-2 right now, and now that it's happened, we're flying off the handle.  But anyway.  Time to enjoy the rest of the weekend.

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