I have gotten over the Texas Bowl loss to college football's equivalent of Dick Bennett's 1990s Wisconsin-Green Bay teams more quickly than I anticipated. Clearly, this was not the Fighting Pinkels' finest hour but this bowl game was the difference between a solid retool-on-the-fly season and a we-don't-rebuild-we-reload season. I'll take the former and like it. An 8 win season was exactly what I predicted.
I'm sure (?) Bill will have more on this game so I won't sweat the details other than to say coaching decisions aside, we brought our B game. It wasn't good enough. Instead of reliving it, I'd rather offer a few thoughts on next season.
Things that get me excited:
1. Blaine Gabbert. This just in from the Bryan Burwell School of the Obvious, Blaine Gabbert is already pretty good. Wow, I have to keep reminding myself when this kid does something wrong that he was a first year starter. I already expect so much from him. As well as he played overall, he played in peaks and valleys--from series-to-series and game-to-game. This is precisely what we should expect from a first year starter. So, not surprisingly, in his first bowl game against one of the nation's most unorthodox teams he was a bit rusty from the layoff, a bit flustered by environment, and hella indecisive. Again, I have to keep reminding myself that this should NOT have surprised me. That says a lot about what he has a chance to accomplish in a Tiger uniform.
2. Aldon Smith. Mmmm... yeah. Just think about what this kid can accomplish at Missouri. He has all off-season to work on a countermove.
3. The Defense. Yes. The defense. Most of the two-deep will return. We asked for notable improvement over last year and we got it. We took a clear step forward this season, especially against the run, as frustrating as it was to watch us bend to the point of breaking at times. Spoon will be missed, but the LB corps remains in good hands. The secondary has the talent to be good. Not many secondaries so young defend the pass well. The kids just need to play together longer. We also need to remember that this was coach Stec's first year. He will continue to put his stamp on this defense, but I have to say I hope it comes with schemes to create more disruption and negative offensive plays.
Things that trouble me:
1. Kickoff coverage. Sometimes kickoff coverage varies from season to season. Not at Missouri. It has been a consistent blind spot of the coaching staff. Although the staff has been phenomenal at finding and coaching up placekickers but has not found anyone who can consistently kick the ball into the end zone. Additionally, I wonder if Missouri perhaps privileges downfield speed too much over tackling ability.
2. The offensive line. Who would have thought coming into this season that the offensive line would be so up and down--even downright terrible at times? It played better as the season progressed, especially keeping Gabs upright. However, the line struggled mightily against the blitz--lowlighted by Navy's unprecedented success on blitzes. The only anticipated personnel loss is Kurtis Gregory. Gregory made second team all-conference In a not-very-good year for guards, but I think he is replaceable. The offensive line should be a strength heading into next season, but it should have been really good this season but wasn't. If this season proves anything it is that sometimes offensive lines don't gel the way you think they should. As a consequence I have no idea what to expect going forward.
3. The running backs. Where were the explosive plays? D Wash was solid but looked like a guy coming off a knee injury. Outside a few drives here and there, most notably against KU and KSU, the first guy almost always brought him down or slowed him. Moore was good at times but wildly inconsistent. When healthy, Gabs was arguably Mizzou's most effective runner. The running game was modestly successful, but it just should have been better. Everyone is back. Missouri's running game should be among the best in the Big 12. I really cannot point to anything schematic to explain why it wasn't. Just like with the offensive line, as a consequence I have no idea what to expect going forward.
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