We have reached the season which 100% of Rock M readers remember quite vividly. There is no point in me summarizing it for you -- you were there. Instead, since this is the first season in which Rock M Nation (and its Blogspot predecessors) existed, I felt it would be much more entertaining to relive the season through blog posts.
#3: Mizzou 2007 (12-2)
Best Win: Mizzou 36, Kansas 28
Worst Loss: Oklahoma 38, Mizzou 17
Anyway, the Corn Nation post above, and a similar one at Barking Carnival (which, by the way, is a very humorous site when they’re making fun of teams you dislike...just check out this K-State writeup...hilarious AND equally racist across all racial and ethnic boundaries) point to a hardened perception among fans of other schools (and a ton of Mizzou fans to boot) that Gary Pinkel is not a good coach...in particular, he’s a decent recruiter and a horrendous gameday coach. From Barking Carnival:
Gary Pinkel (37-35 in Columbia) has a reputation as a bit of a bonehead and a poor game manager, but that’s what they said about Lee Corso at Indiana and he’s on television now. So don’t listen to the critics. I think he and Bill Callahan may cancel each other out here. Let’s just hope he’s not outwitted by that slick fox Mangino. Similarly, he should remove any snacks secreted in his jacket pockets before the post-game handshake as Mangino will pin him down, sniff them out with his moist, probing nose, and feast on them, wrapper and all, while contentedly cooing and rendering soft belly pats.A different Corn Nation post also predicts that Pinkel is somehow the most likely coach in the conference to get fired.
I can point out all the different ways that this overriding perception is unfair—and trust me, I almost spent 1,000 words doing exactly that—but there’s really no point at this stage in the game. The bottom line is, despite the fact that Mizzou has improved in five of six seasons under Pinkel, the one season they didn’t (2004) has defined Gary Pinkel’s tenure to this point. And it will continue to do so until Mizzou overachieves in the same way they underachieved that year. Simply exceeding handicapped expectations isn’t enough.
If you haven’t noticed, Mizzou’s exceeded expectations each of the last two seasons (and really, in four of the last five). The 2005 Tigers were picked by most to crash and burn and quietly finish off the Pinkel Regime. They lost to New Mexico and Kansas in beyond-aggravating fashion, but thanks to some Chase Daniel magic against Iowa State and some magic against South Carolina, they finished 7-5. At the beginning of the season, 7-5 would have been a welcome bounceback to 2004. At the end of 2005, 7-5 seemed disappointing.
In 2006, Mizzou was picked preseason #5 in the North. They were supposed to struggle to make a bowl game while turning the page on the Brad Smith era. As I’ve pointed out, the Sporting News picked them to lose to Ole Miss at home. Well, they went 8-5, exceeding preseason expectations...and it felt a bit disappointing. In other words, Gary Pinkel’s teams are experts at exceeding expectations in the most disappointing way possible, even going back to 2002 (predicted to suck, but Brad Smith emerged...and went 5-7) or 2003 (8-5 was quite a lovely step forward, but it still came with super-annoying losses at Colorado and Kansas). Mizzou flashes more potential than others thought they had, then pulls a Lucy Van Pelt (or, I guess, a Tony Romo) with the football.
Pinkel needs to win and win big in 2007. Not necessarily because he’ll get fired otherwise (it would probably take a 5-7 season for that to happen, possibly 6-6) and not necessarily because Nebraska is about to distance itself from the rest of the North. I’ll believe that when I see it (how are the four Heismans for Harrison Beck and Marlon Lucky coming along?). No, he needs to win big because, as I’ve mentioned before, we’re one or two steps away from the dreaded Glen Mason Territory, where a coach at a mid-level school establishes his program enough to go 7-5 every year but never turns a corner. To me, 7-5 this year is the worst-case scenario because he won’t get fired, but he’ll have missed another opportunity to turn a corner and prove himself to future recruits.
That, and he needs to win because this year’s team is the most talented Missouri team in 25 years. Chase Daniel > Brad Smith and Corby Jones. Tony Temple > any Mizzou RB since Devin West. Will Franklin, Danario Alexander, Jared Perry, Jeremy Maclin, etc. > any Mizzou WR corps I’ve ever seen. All-world TE Chamartin Ruffman > Kellen Winslow (combined, not individually...and yes, Barking Carnival, Coffman and Rucker are as good as people say...in fact, the ‘lazy media’ is why Martellus "Rivals 5-star" Bennett is being rated above either or both of them in most publications despite all on-field evidence to the contrary).
Yes, the defense will be the team’s Achilles heel. That’s obvious. But the defense just has to be competent, and a defense with Darnell Terrell, Brock Christopher, Lorenzo Williams, Ziggy Hood, and William Moore on it has no excuse not to be at least that. Great? Not with the question marks at DE. Competent? Yes.
For the last three years, I’ve constantly defended Gary Pinkel from attack...mostly from Mizzou fans. Which is funny, because I still have no idea if he’s a great coach or just a pretty decent one. As I’ve said before, he’s extremely classy, and he does everything the exact way I want a coach of my school to do...other than win big. Now it’s time for him to check that one off the list as well.
In this morning's Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Jimmy Burch made this comparison when discussing Missouri and the Big 12 North:"Can Missouri handle the hype as a preseason favorite in the North Division?
History screams 'no.' The Tigers never have finished better than 4-4 in Big 12 play in six seasons under coach Gary Pinkel. One caveat: Similar concerns dogged Texas in 2005, when a transcendent quarterback (Vince Young) lifted lots of monkeys off Brown's back, giving the coach his first conference title as well as a national crown. Mizzou quarterback Chase Daniel has the talent and intangibles to elevate Pinkel, too."
So, in conclusion: Missouri = 2007 National Champions.
Nothing like a Tuesday afternoon to blow things out of proportion, right?
ADDENDUM: Some out there have been unable to detect my sarcasm. Do you really think a blog that claims to be for "God's least favorite athletic program" would actually predict a national title?
Missouri 6-2 (10-2)
Nebraska 6-2 (9-3)
Kansas State 3-5 (6-6)
Kansas 2-6 (6-6)
Colorado 2-6 (4-8)
Iowa State 1-7 (3-9)
Texas 7-1 (11-1)
Oklahoma 7-1 (11-1)
Texas A&M 6-2 (10-2)
Oklahoma State 4-4 (7-5)
Texas Tech 3-5 (7-5)
Baylor 1-7 (4-8)
Mizzou 40, Illinois 34
There is absolutely no doubt that Mizzou could lose this game. We could come up with all sorts of scenarios that lead to a Mizzou loss—turnovers, trick plays, bad bounces, coaching brainfarts, Arrelious Benn being better than anybody ever thought, etc.—but the bottom line is, Mizzou shouldn’t lose this game. Too many advantages, and too much to play for. This is a rivalry game—it will become more and more of one when these two teams are playing every season—and we’ve all seen too many MU/KU games (basketball in particular) in which the team that looks better on paper looks lost on the field (or court). Anything can happen. That’s football. But the odds are still that ‘anything’ won’t. Mizzou wins, 30-17.
6:16 - McGee tried to call a timeout on 4th down, but the ball was snapped, and he completes a strike to Benn. My wife raised a good point: isn't it a distraction to our players if he's signaling timeout? Shouldn't the refs have blown the whistle anyway? Just wondering.
6:17 - First down Illinois at the Mizzou 20 with 1:04 left. I was so nice and relaxed two hours ago. Can't wait for the barrage of calls and texts when this game ends. Maybe I'll just leave my phone in the hotel room when I go to the wedding party tonight.
6:19 - McGee calls timeout as the ball is snapped this time, only the refs blow the whistle this time. Guess the rules change with each play, huh?
6:21 - Pig Brown with the interception at the 1. Huh. That should probably wrap up Defensive Player of the Week, don't you think?
6:22 - Daniel plunges forward to the 2, and Illinois uses its last timeout. Meanwhile, Eddie McGee is crying on the sideline. I feel for him. He was responsible for everything good Illinois did today...and everything bad. Lucky for us, Pig Brown committed to Mizzou over New Mexico, Texas Tech, Marshall, Nevada, and Boise State on 11/27/2005, I say.
6:23 - Ballgame. Think I'll go pass out now. I knew that rivalry games make weird things happen, and that this could be a game, but...ugh. Survive and advance. Or something. I'm done for now. I'm just glad that idiotic (asinine, batty, crazy, daffy, daft, ding-a-ling, dull, dumb, dumdum, fatuous, foolhardy, foolish, gorked, half-witted, hare-brained, harebrained, imbecile, imbecilic, inane, insane, jackass, jerk off, lunatic, moronic, senseless, silly, squirrelly, thick-witted, unintelligent) 2-point attempt didn't cost us the game.
Just like a 102-yard fumble return, away we go:
-- Missouri pass offense vs. soft zone defenses. Holes in the zone defense against Mizzou's four- and five-wide opened up Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman ALL day.
-- Martin Rucker's day in general (10 rec., 87 yards)
-- The debut of Rucker under center in the de facto "jumbo" offense with him under the gun.
-- Covering the spread - not that we condone gambling or anything...
-- Confidence - Mizzou just looked like a team that expected to win, even though all signs pointed to choke towards the end of the game.
-- The healed knee of Jeremy Maclin.
-- Pig "expletive" Brown. I feel 100 percent confident saying he was the difference in the game, from his hustle on the fumble return to his awareness on the game-sealing pick.
Mizzou 38, Ole Miss 25
However, last week I also said "Anything can happen," and anything did, both for and against Mizzou. I say our "anything" coefficient regresses back toward the mean this week (in other words, not quite as many crazy special teams plays and game-changing turnovers), which would be good for Mizzou. This won’t be easy—road games usually aren’t, especially for Mizzou—but I’m once again going to close my eyes and convince myself that Mizzou will come to play and find a way to win. I predicted a 34-17 Mizzou win Wednesday in the Roundtable, and as always, as the week progresses, I lose confidence. I say 27-17 now. Come game time tomorrow, I’m sure I’ll be saying 20-17, but for now, 27-17.
8:14 - Daniel loses 2 on third down and will have to punt again. Ugh. 1:38 left, and Kelly just went ahead and proclaimed Mizzou the winners. He's apparently never watched a Mizzou game before. Good lord, Mike.
8:16 - Despite Mike Kelly's jinx, Crossett manages to get the punt off. Just knew that was going to be blocked and returned for a TD.
8:17 - First down Ole Miss inside the Mizzou 40, 1:21 to go. Damn you, Mike Kelly.
8:18 - First down at the Mizzou 21. Kelly: "Mizzou's going to go to 2-0, folks." GOOD FREAKING LORD, MIKE. HAVE YOU HEARD OF ON-SIDE KICKS?? I realize we're probably going to win, but...good freaking lord.
8:19 - Justin Garrett intercepts the pass at the 4. NOW you can say they're going to win.
8:20 - Daniel takes the knee, and that's ballgame. 38-25. Mizzou moves to 17-7-1 all-time against the SEC. Mizzou's 2-0, just like they were supposed to be, but...to put it mildly, they still haven't figured out how to land the knockout punch. Whatever. What did we all say last week? A win's a win? Sounds good to me.
-- I am bowing down at the throne of Mr. T. Martin Rucker was again outstanding, coming up with four receptions for 54 yards, as well as 10 yards on two carries on the ground, including a nine-yard gain where I'm told he just rampaged through the Ole Miss defense. I'm struggling to come up with a name for the Rucker-under-center formation. Help me out in the comments section...
-- Pig Brown. The official man crush of ETS finished with 12 tackles and a HUGE fourth quarter pass breakup on fourth down to effectively seal the victory for the Tigers. Not only that, but he did it only a few plays after leaving the field hurt.
-- Brock Christopher and Sean Weatherspoon. Once again, it seemed like every time a play ended, those two were somehow involved or somewhere close. The two combined for 17 tackles and two pass breakups.
Mizzou 52, Western Michigan 24
We should win this game easily, and I really want to predict something like 51-7. However, every time I get ready to pull the trigger on that one, I reel myself in with a reminder that the defense really is probably worse than I want to think it is. WMU will need a couple turnovers to have a chance, and (KNOCK ON WOOD...STAT!) Chase Daniel doesn’t turn the ball over. (Wow, that’s a Mike Kelly-level jinx right there.) I’m attempting to be cocky this week...we’ll go with 48-20.
-- "Killer Instinct": I can't really tell whether or not I saw any. Mizzou shut WMU down in the first half and once again gave up big yards and quite a few points using the "bend but don't break and NEVER adapt to halftime offensive adjustments" defense. Once again though, the defense did enough when it had to, and Missouri possessed the ball enough in the second half to get the win.
-- Pass rush: At certain times, the rush looked pretty good. But there were a couple other times where Hiller had a few minutes to look at all five options before finally checking down to Simmons or West. Stryker Sulak made a couple of solid plays getting his hands in passing lanes.
Mizzou 38, Illinois State 17
Mizzou fans (and those who cover Mizzou) are always very good at talking themselves into being super-afraid of things. I’m the same way to an extent—I’m always at my most paranoid the day or so before the game. But...seriously, why waste energy worrying about this? Look, anything can happen—of course it can. We could fumble 12 times. They could fumble and have the ball bounce right into the hands of an O-lineman running full-speed toward the endzone. What? That one already happened? Well it could happen twice then. Hell, there could be a freak accident on the sideline where the bench collapses and breaks the femur bone of every scholarship offensive player at the same time. We’d really be in trouble then! And I’ll be due for one helluva mea culpa! But you know what? As always, anything probably won’t happen. You know I’m right. MU 51, Illinois State 6.
ETS now has an unhealthy mancrush on Jeremy "the X-factor J-Mac" Maclin and all he stands for. To steal a line from one of ETS' favorite blogs Every Day Should Be Saturday, "a thousand cocktails" to Jeremy Maclin and his enormous contribution to Mizzou's undefeated record entering conference play.
Well, congratulations Geno Blow - you're the latest winner of the "Face the Missouri Run Defense" sweepstakes! Blow was the beneficiary of the defensive line struggling and the linebackers have issues with play recognition, punishing Missouri with several angry runs. Blow finished with 116 yards on 21 carries. However, the Tigers did manage to contain the rest of the Redbird runners, who combined for only 39 yards.
Mizzou 41, Nebraska 6
Two of the main themes that are emerging here are third downs and turnovers. You could say that pretty much every game is decided by third downs and turnovers, but it appears to be even more true here. With that in mind, here are the MIPs (Most Important Players...not Minors in Possession) for Saturday:
Missouri Offense: Chase Daniel. Duh. He's held onto the ball a bit too long and forced some passes a bit too tightly into traffic the last two games, and while my theory on that has simply been that he was testing his limits...re-learning what he can and can't do...he needs to be on his game Saturday. If he's making quick decisions and not forcing throws into traffic, MU should throw the ball at will.
-- Home Field Advantage: I have been disappointed, almost depressed, by the Missouri crowd this season. That all changed tonight. The more than 11th but less than 13th Man completely blew me away and forced several Nebraska false starts. The 70,000 strong in gold were impressive and the players, notably the defense, fed off that energy. This was the
drunkestloudest I've ever seen/heard Tiger Nation, including, shockingly, the alumni side of the stadium.
-- Chase Daniel: Yeah, he's pretty good. Maybe the rest of America will notice now. Daniel went 33 of 47 for 401 yards, 2 TD and no INT. Mizzou's fearless leader was exponentially better than the version that looked semi-confused in Lincoln last year, and his control over the game carried over to Mizzou's defense and special teams. And did I forget to mention his 11 carries for 72 yards and another 2 touchdowns? Yeah, he's decent.
-- Killer instinct: Consider it classless (and I do), but the fake field goal showed the killer instinct Mizzou fans have been clamoring for all year.
Oklahoma 41, Mizzou 31
: Curtis Lofton and Ryan Reynolds. Chances are, Missouri’s going to have to get pretty creative—mixing in plenty of Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin to go with the RB’s—to have success running the ball. OU’s front seven is fantastic in defending the run. However, taking away the run and making Mizzou one-dimensional will only work if the LB’s can cover the TE’s. Granted, Mizzou’s offense is at its most effective when the run is working, but if Chase Daniel’s in rhythm, the running game isn’t a necessity. Cover the TE’s even reasonably effectively, and you might be able to take Chase out of rhythm.
So what have we learned here? That there are three things that Mizzou has to do to win the game: 1) Move the ball early, 2) Win the turnover battle, 3) Avoid giving up the homerun. Pull off all three, and I say they win the game. If they pull off two of the three, they could win if they do the other two well enough. And one of three just ain't gonna get the job done.
-- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers: A team with Missouri’s expectations can simply not afford to make that many mistakes against a team as talented and as well coached as Oklahoma. Good teams will make you pay for mistakes, and the Tigers paid that price in Norman.
-- The Tigers need to be better on first down: There were WAY too many first down plays where Mizzou gained nothing or lost yardage. First downs are too hard to come by against teams like Oklahoma as it is, and the Tigers didn’t help themselves much on first down.
-- The run game didn’t work: Missouri can get away with slow developing reads and lengthy draws against weaker opponents, but the Sooners simply had too much team speed for the backs to be effective in that situation.
Mizzou 41, Texas Tech 10
It's funny--when I think back on Pinkel's 6.5 years here, I always think of two Tech games--2003 in Columbia and 2006 in Lubbock--as two of his and Matt Eberflus' best gameplans, and their defenses' best execution. And Tech scored 31 and 24 respectively in those two games. Analyze the numbers all you want, and factor in the fact that Graham Harrell is probably Mike Leach's best QB yet and Michael Crabtree is by far Leach's best WR, and you end up with the same gameplan. Harass and confuse the QB, and you probably win the game. Can this DL get pressure on Harrell like last year's did? If not, will it matter since Mizzou's offense is much more well-oiled than last year's?
While I hate thinking about playing Texas Tech, I remain confident that Mizzou can win a shootout. They're more likely to start fast (Tech doesn't usually get rolling until the 2nd quarter), and the huge expected walk-up crowd could give Mizzou momentum. But I'll make my official prediction tomorrow.
-- Pig Brown's defense: Our beloved Pig finished with 14 tackles, two break-ups, a pick, and several thunderous hits on Red Raider wideouts.
-- Coaching: The defensive scheme was outstanding, the offensive playcalling took what the Tech defense was giving, and the players seemed confident and motivated entering the game. The defensive blitzing put hands in passing lanes and bodies towards Harrell. The offense felt no need to force the pass, especially in the second half. And the fake punt call on the first drive set the tone for the rest of the game. And compared to some of the calls Leach made on the other sideline, Pinkel is looking golden right now.
Mizzou 42, Iowa State 28
I admire Gene Chizik for taking this job when he could have probably gotten something a little higher up the totem pole by waiting. He really could build a winner there, but if he does (and it’s still a huge ‘if’), it’s going to take a long while. Maybe Urban Meyer could have turned the current bunch of ISU Cyclones into a bowl team, but he’s about the only one I can think of. While Gary Pinkel and Dan McCarney always seemed to have some great battles (no matter which team was better—or much better—just about every recent MU-ISU game has been tooth and nail). For now, though, the talent disparity is just too large, and Chizik’s too unproven to predict that he can make a difference. Edge: Mizzou.
. Obviously the list has to start here. When your defensive catalyst goes down before contact, and when he tries to get up and falls back down like he was shot, and when your backup QB sees him on the sideline and kneels down to pray for 30-45 seconds...yeah, you know he's done for the year. And as ZouDave just had to point out, it's the second straight year we've lost our defensive catalyst to a freak injury in the 8th game of the season, at home, in an overall easy win that made us 7-1 on the season (and yes, it was 14 points, but it was never in doubt). I've been high on Del Howard for a while, and now it's time for a) Howard and Jason Garrett to fill Pig's shoes play-wise, and b) Lorenzo Williams, or Sean Weatherspoon, or William Moore, or somebody to fill his shoes leadership-wise. This was Pig's defense, and lots of people have to step up. I think they can, but he played the 'safety valve' role so well this year, and there's no question that our defense is some degree worse now.
. Apparently our defense has the same energy level as the crowd around it. Not a problem against NU or Tech at home, and not a problem against OU on the road, but it's a problem when your fanbase decides to take a week off and your defense follows suit. 53,386 is HORRID. I don't care if Iowa State sucks. It's a late-October conference game, and Mizzou still has the world to play for this year...and we drew 10K less than last week.
Mizzou 55, Colorado 10
So basically the loss of Pig Brown is worth 2.5 to 3 points a game. Lucky for Mizzou, they don't seem to play in games that close, win or lose. But coming down the stretch, with two challenging road games and a possible winner-take-all matchup with KU at the end of the year, you really don't want to be saddled with that handicap. My BTBS numbers came up with a 28-23 prediction for MU-CU this Saturday. Taking this into account, that could be more like 28-26 or 27-24...and more like a game where one lucky (or unlucky) bounce could decide things...that's a situation we don't want. Guess we'll see on Saturday. Cross your fingers.
Honestly, I think it comes down to this: this CU defense obviously handled the Tech spread well, but Mizzou has the best TEs in the nation (Tech doesn't have TEs, period), and that will weaken CU's biggest advantage, their LBs. Either they have to sacrifice LBs for DBs in a nickel or dime package, or they have to line their LBs up wide against Rucker and Coffman. No matter what, the key matchups don't favor Mizzou. Oh, and Chase Daniel >>> Cody Hawkins. It's a fight, but I'll go with what my numbers told me: 28-23 Mizzou.
7:59 - Steak trumps bacon every time. I love Sonic commercials. I hated them for years, then one day I just started enjoying them. No idea what happened. Maybe it was when they started selling Mac & Cheese snacks. Or maybe it's just because we're up by 21.
8:02 - Coach Nolte's son Cody throws another horrid third-down pass. They're 2-for-11 on third downs, and they'll punt again. Nick Nolte VERY frustrated. And we're averaging one minute per possession in the second half. This game will end somewhere around 11pm, but as long as Victory Whiskey is involved, it can last all night.
8:04 - Third-and-1 for Mizzou from the CU 42. Inside screen to Rucker, first down Tigers! And the possession crosses the 1-minute mark! Work the clock!
8:07 - THRUST NUNCHUK GODDAMN UPWARD!!! Coffman hurdles a tackler and scores. Wow. WOW. 38-10 Mizzou. A 31-0 run.
Mizzou 40, Texas A&M 26
ATM OL vs Mizzou DL
This really is the key matchup of the game. In fact...
Game Key #6: this matchup. As I said earlier, Lorenzo Williams and the Mizzou D-line had a simply huge first half in College Station last season, but they wore down with the combination of the J-Train and quick offensive possessions. The ATM O-line has been banged up this year, and have therefore been less effective, but you never know what to expect from week to week. Meanwhile, Mizzou's front four have improved steadily over the last few games. This matchup will decide whether MU-ATM is a tight game or a blowout. For now...Edge: Push.
"I just committed to coach Pinkel and coach Yost," Blaine Gabbert told PowerMizzou.com on Faurot Field.
Gabbert had been committed to the Nebraska Corhnhuskers for months. But amid a turbulent season in Lincoln and rampant speculation that Bill Callahan was on his way out as Nebraska's coach, Gabbert opened things back up in October. Since then, most had thought he was leaning toward the Tigers, but he had not made it official until Saturday.
"Just being comfortable with it," Gabbert said on the timing of his decision. "You've got to really love the place and that's how I feel."
GOOD:-- Martin Rucker: Shame I'll never get to see him dragging defenders along the Faurot Field turf again.
-- Jeremy Maclin: So, he's pretty fast. I wanted to see Maclin v. Goodson in a 40-yard dash at halftime to replace the entertainment we missed from the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band not making the trip.
-- 64,000+: The crowd was loud and blacked-out, and the alumni section was rather impressive, beating the students to their seats. Nice ovation from the crowd when it was announced that the crowd averaged 60,000 for the first time since '81.
Mizzou 49, Kansas State 32
Let's get this out of the way at the start. Let's all say it simultaneously. Ready?
Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's not think about national title games or Big 12 championship games or the Border War to End All Border Wars. Let's talk about the game the Tigers have to win to make all those unmentionables mentionable.
- Jeremy F. Maclin: I don't know if "F" is truly his middle initial, but it's the first letter of the word I usually put between his first and last name, that's for sure. Maclin had 252 total yards, 99 of them on a HUGE kickoff return for touchdown after KSU elected to kick a short FG, in the process setting the NCAA record for total yardage by a freshman in a season.
- Responses: Mizzou's offense came up big, especially in the second half, anytime the Tigers' backs were against the wall. The consecutive touchdown drives in the third quarter helped put the game away, with the drives spanning about 180 combined yards in three minutes of possession.
Mizzou 36, Kansas 28
First: KU hasn't played a team that even remotely has the depth and toughness that Missouri has in the WR/TE corps. Rivera and Mortensen lead a tough, physical defense, but have you seen Martin Rucker drag tacklers around this year? That's rubbed off on the whole team. Mizzou can wear you down with both speed and physicality (there's a reason they're the only team in the country to score 30 in every game), and they'll wear KU down just the same.
Second: Speed, speed, speed. KU has it, and MU has more of it. I still can't get the image of Jared Perry beating Aqib Talib on the slant and then roasting him down the field from the 2006 MU-KU game out of my head. I realize that was last year, and KU's faster and better, but...so is Missouri, on both offense and defense. They're the fastest team KU has played this year.
Third: Chase Daniel. I think Todd Reesing is great, he's a winner, he's a leader, etc. Chase Daniel is everything Todd Reesing is, and a bit more. I will believe that until proven otherwise.
As I mentioned earlier this week, I've made my peace with the sports god. (S)he can smite me if (s)he wants. Been there. But if on the off chance, (s)he wants to try a new tactic with me, now would be a really good time to start. MU 38, KU 31.
I've found myself unable to reflect too deeply on anything that's happened so far because there has continuously been something else to look forward to. We just won the biggest game in school history, and what game is next week? The new biggest game in school history. And if we win that one? Same thing a month from now. I've always dreamed of a season like this, and I almost find myself admonishing, well, myself, for not enjoying it more...not basking in the moment. I guess I'll reflect when the season's over and hope I don't forget anything, from Pig Brown's fumble return...
...to Martin Rucker carring 18 tacklers to the first down line against Ole Miss...
...to Maclin's flawless, untouched punt return against Illinois State...
...to William Moore obliterating Marlon Lucky early in Q1 against Nebraska...
...to the go-ahead TD against OU...
...to Michael Crabtree's alligator arms...
...to the entirely flawless second quarter in Boulder...
...to Lorenzo Williams' icing safety against ATM...
...to knowing Jeremy Maclin was going to score on the kick return against KSU when he got to the 30...
...to Marcus Woods kneeling the ball against KU.
Yup...I'll reflect when the season's over because I have the feeling this team's not done creating those moments just yet.
And then, of course, came Saturday night. I’ve never seen a stadium so electric, or a Tiger team so self-assured. From my perch on the verge of 40, it’s easy to forget how young these guys are. Chase Daniel and Martin Rucker are barely old enough to remember the past’s great disappointments. They don’t believe in curses, they believe in each other. When Stryker Sulak and Lo Williams fell down like hard rain on Todd Reesing to secure a heart-stopping triumph, I looked to my right at my wife, who has shared the joy and despair of Tiger sports with me for nearly two decades, and I saw relief. I looked left at my father-in-law, who played on that star-crossed 1960 team, and I saw vindication. Then, as I thrust my hands in the air and looked up into the night sky, from which no calamity had fallen, my mind drifted to the elegant toast T.J. made at Scott’s wedding. Traditionally, he said, the guests bless the newly wedded couple. But when a bride and groom like this share their moment, they bless us.
Missouri Tigers, you bless us. The curse is dead.
Oklahoma 38, Mizzou 17
In all, I can say that a) I'm not sure I've ever seen Pinkel more giddy than he was tonight (though Linker still had him beaten by about 150 decibels), and other than 'Spoon, Moore, and Rucker, our players really don't like holding a microphone. I'm excited, though. Seeing Pinkel like that reminded me of everything that's happened in the last seven years...and all the hours I spent defending Pinkel on Tigerboard to the "lynch 'im!" crowd...I'm not going to pretend I was the only one by any means, but let's just say that this whole ride has been extremely satisfying.
That, and I really want to win Saturday.
KU was the last straw for me. I officially believe in this team, and I officially believe that they can overcome whatever OU throws at them. (Total kiss of death, I know.) I told everybody I talked to on Sunday (I was on the phone for about 6 freaking hours) that while I know OU can obviously beat us, I also know that the Sooners are going to have to play really damn well to do so. I have complete confidence in what Mizzou will bring to the table--it will be up to the Sooners to respond.
My stomach may be a nervous wreck right now, but you know what? It's been nervous just about every Friday this year. And as Tripper once told me, this is the year that Fink beats the stomach. Mizzou 31, Oklahoma 24.
Just a couple of quick thoughts after Missouri's 38-17 loss to Oklahoma at the Alamodome on Saturday:
- First of all, congrats to the Oklahoma Sooners. Forget the regular season, forget what happened in Norman, Boulder, or Lubbock - the Sooners looked and played like the Big 12's best on Saturday night.
- OU's coverage was simply outstanding. The Sooners got decent pressure on Chase, but it seemed like Chase spent 5-6 seconds each play just waiting for receivers to get open, only, no one ever did.
- Boy, did Mizzou miss Chase Coffman and Pig Brown tonight. Mizzou could have used Coffman's height and vert in the red zone as well as his hands on outlet routes to avoid blitzes. Brown could have helped shore up the secondary on a night that happened to be one of Darnell Terrell's worst.
Mizzou Gets Screwed
...that just got sent to fans of every BCS team is this: next time you feel the need to complain about your team's awful non-conference schedule, what you should be bitching about is that it's not easy enough. Strength of schedule doesn't matter if you want to reach a big-time bowl, nor do head to head losses. All that matters is total losses. (Unless you're in the Big Ten or Pac-10, in which case all that matters is that you're in the Big Ten or Pac-10.) Our 2008 non-conference schedule may have three cupcakes on it, but the real problem is, we haven't canceled the Illinois game yet. We need to cancel that and schedule Eastern Illinois, and we might just be able to slip into a BCS bowl after all. That's the only logic that can be drawn from the fact that KU had a Strength of Schedule about 100 slots lower than Missouri, and they actually lost to Missouri head-to-head...plus, they don't travel any better and they're probably not even as much of a ratings draw. But hey, they only lost once!
I'm going to go down to Dallas and enjoy myself for the Cotton Bowl. It's going to be a good time, it's located in a place of high Mizzou alumni density, and it's one of our main recruiting bases. But no matter how much fun I have, and no matter how easily some recruits can see us play on January 1, it's not going to change the fact that we just got screwed by two teams we beat, one of whom had the 109th-hardest schedule in the country. Doesn't matter that we went 2-2 against BCS Bowl teams. Doesn't matter that our two losses came to a team infinitely better than anybody KU played. Doesn't matter that our BCS ranking was better. KU was 11-1 and we were 11-2, therefore they got the nod. It sucks, and it more-or-less shows you everything that's wrong with college football, and I'm really uninterested in playing Arkansas again, but we'll make the most of it.
Cotton Bowl: Mizzou 38, Arkansas 7
The thing that really begins to stick out about these numbers is that the initial perception of Arkansas' strengths and weaknesses is pretty drastically incorrect. Your first thought about the Hogs is that, with McFadden and Jones, their offense is amazing. And since they only went 8-4, they must have some defensive deficiencies that held them back. Not so. Their defense is tough and physical (though, lucky for us, they haven't really faced a spread offense), and their offense is pretty inconsistent. Yes, they're a strong rushing team, and yes, they have all sorts of big-play potential...but when they lose, it's because they didn't score enough...not because they gave up too many points (case in point: their 9-7 loss to Auburn). Whether this is because of the QB, the O-line, the play-calling, style of offense (built for the big play isntead of grinding out 5 yards at a time?), whatever...they’re inconsistent, but their defense keeps them in games.
Game Key #3: Passing Downs. Mizzou must force them, and Arkansas must stop them. Mizzou is the only team I’ve come across so far with a Passing Down success rate of more than 40.0% for the season. Nothing demoralizes a defense faster than giving up a first down on 3rd-and-9 (or so), and Mizzou was just about the most demoralizing offense in the country in this regard. Meanwhile, Arkansas was extremely average in these situations. When they get into a rhythm with McFadden and Jones running the ball, they’re frightening. But force them into uncomfortable situations, and bad things start to happen.
: Um, let me think about this for a second. Whether you look at the box score, beyond the box score, or you just watch the games and tune out all numbers, this could be the easiest call all year. Arkansas dared Tony Temple to beat them, and to put it mildly, he obliged.
: By all means, William Moore was the statistical standout of the game. He had 2.5 successful tackles, a pick six (and almost had another), and a forced fumble. He had a sickeningly effective day. But this game was won in the trenches. Against Arkansas’ All-American O-line, Mizzou’s D-line dominated, from DEs Sulak and Chavis to DTs Hood and Williams. Williams was the symbolic MVP, the senior leader, the captain; but I’m going to give my last Defensive MVP of the season to Stryker Sulak. He tied with Ziggy and Brock Christopher for most successful tackles on the team, and the play where he caught McFadden from behind on a run to the opposite side of the field and made a gorgeous diving tackle symbolized everything that Mizzou did right all game.