Sheldon Richardson looked awfully good yesterday. (Photo via Bill Carter.)
MUtigers.com: Tigers Victorious in Homecoming Centennial, Rout Cyclones 52-17
The Trib: Tigers pummel Cyclones with balanced attack
The Trib: GAME NOTES: Missouri 52, Iowa State 17
The Missourian: Missouri football gets bounce-back win over Iowa State
KC Star: Mizzou takes wind out of Cyclones right away, breezes to 52-17 win
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou clobbers Iowa State 52-17
PowerMizzou: Balanced attack leads Tigers
PowerMizzou: Sunday Grade Card
The Maneater: Tigers celebrate Homecoming with Iowa State rout
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Pinkel post-game
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Henry Josey
PowerMizzou: PHOTOS: The Sideline View
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Tailgaters celebrate MU's 100th Homecoming
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Tigers defeat Cyclones 52-17 for Homecoming victory
Yesterday afternoon, a sellout crowd saw a flawed but explosive Missouri team rip to shreds an Iowa State team that had given them problems in recent years. Mizzou was focused and physical, and they put the game away, basically, in the first quarter. That meant that the mistakes that followed -- another cluster of brainfarts from James Franklin, another missed field goal from Grant Ressel -- were minimally damaging.
Really, that made it the perfect afternoon for Mizzou fans, who got to do both of the things they love the most: watch Mizzou win, and complain. (My favorite: this game just proves that David Yost should be fired for not giving Henry Josey more touches a week ago!) Anyway, on a gorgeous afternoon, in front of 71,000, Mizzou showed no ill effects from a series of tight road losses and showed that they can stand up to the grueling schedule ahead. Homecoming 2011 was not Homecoming 2010, but it was as enjoyable as it could have been.
Henry Josey: Good
KC Star: Henry Josey carries Missouri in 52-17 win over Iowa State
The Trib: Right pieces, right places, right plans
Post-Dispatch: Pinkel admits Josey deserves more carries
KBIA Sports Extra: Mizzou’s focus on rushing attack leads to dominant win over Iowa State
Sometime in the second quarter yesterday, I came the sudden realization that, before our very eyes, Henry Josey has become a complete back. Last year, he was a one-move back. He had speed and solid vision (for a freshman), and on a given run, he would get as far as one move would take him. Now, he has the complete arsenal. He glides right to avoid one tackler, then back left to avoid another. He is running with confidence and precision, and it is a sight to behold.
(And, as we laughed yesterday during the game, he's almost certainly not big enough to go pro early, so we get him for another 2.5 years!)
I spoke about the Kansas State game last week, and really I have very little to reiterate in that regard. Josey didn't touch the ball in the first quarter in Manhattan, but as I suggested at the time, that was the product of an overthought gameplan as much as anything. The early playfakes suggested Yost, Pinkel and company thought K-State would be keying on the run. They were not. It was already the second quarter by the time Mizzou could run even their eighth play. Josey got plenty of touches throughout the rest of the game, and KSU did a pretty solid job of slowing him down (better than anybody else has, anyway). Against ISU, the script was easy: shove the ball down Iowa State's throat. Last year in Ames, ISU tackle Stephen Ruempolhamer dominated the interior of Mizzou's line, and the Cyclones were effective enough up front to slow Mizzou down considerably. This year ... did ISU even have a defensive line? With the push Mizzou's offensive line was getting, you could have convinced me that ISU was in an 0-5-6 alignment. They made life easy for Josey, James Franklin and Kendial Lawrence, but credit goes to all three runners for both taking what the line gave them and then taking a little bit more for themselves.
(Side note: please, Kendial Lawrence, run as assertively for the rest of your career as you did yesterday. Lawrence sometimes suffers from tentativeness, running sideways first and sometimes deciding not to take the first path upfield that he sees. This cost Mizzou horribly against Kansas State last week. This week, perhaps because of the line's push and perhaps because of his own mindset -- probably both -- he was upfield instantly and making his first move five yards into the ISU defense, not three yards in the backfield. He looked great. Not Josey Great, but very solid.
One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Like celebrity deaths, James Franklin errors seem to come in, if not threes, then at least twos. Against Miami in the season opener, he threw an interception on a poorly-read out to T.J. Moe, then immediately almost threw another one. Against Western Illinois, Franklin horribly underthrew a deep ball on the run (Eric Waters had to turn into a defensive back to keep it from being intercepted), then did it again not long after (L'Damian Washington not only broke up the interception, but made an unlikely catch as well). Against Kansas State, he threw a pick on the first play of the game, then looked horribly hesitant and indecisive the next couple of times he dropped back to pass (on one play, taking a sack after being given approximately 10 seconds to throw the ball away). Yesterday, it was the same thing. He threw a long out route into double coverage, and ISU linebacker A.J. Klein stepped in front of it and took it 78 yards for a touchdown. Then, on the next drive, he threw another pick right into coverage over the middle. They were poor reads, as sophomore quarterbacks are prone to making, but Franklin never seems to make just one.
The bad news is, he is still prone to these clusters of mistakes. The good news is, he looks pretty damn fantastic otherwise. He perhaps got away with threading the needle a little too brazenly in his 39-yard touchdown pass to Michael Egnew (a faster linebacker would have picked off that pass), but despite the mistakes, it's hard to complain too much about his final passing line: 20-for-28, 289 yards, three touchdowns, two interceptions. As Mizzou fans, we demand a lot of our quarterbacks -- to say that the bar has been set rather high is quite the understatement -- and honestly, for the season as a whole Franklin has looked as good as Blaine Gabbert did during his sophomore year. But with plenty of strong opponents left on the schedule (including Oklahoma State this coming weekend), those clusters of mistakes could be costly.
Michael Egnew Goes Off
Are we sure that wasn't Martin Rucker in Michael Egnew's uniform yesterday? Egnew was an incredible weapon yesterday, catching the ball and not necessarily looking to get yards so much as seek and destroy the nearest Iowa State defender. Over the last two games, he has very much played like the All-American tight end Mizzou fans expected to see this year.
Sheldon Richardson Looked Good
I couldn't dig up a link about this, but I just wanted to comment about how phenomenal Sheldon Richardson looked yesterday. His stat line was, like a good defensive tackle's often is, not descriptive of his work as a whole -- 2.5 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, 1 QB hurry -- but he was incredibly disruptive all game long. (Good thing, too, since Terrell Resonno left the game with an injury.) He was reading snaps like Lorenzo Williams, occupying multiple blockers like the best version of Dominique Hamilton, and busting multiple plays like Gerald McCoy. This was just one opponent, and not even a very good one, but if this is a sign that things are starting to click for Richardson, then Mizzou's ceiling just got quite a bit higher.
(Granted, too much of a surge might convince him to look into making the NFL jump, of course -- this is Sheldon, after all -- but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.)
In my opinion, there are two primary goals for this team over the rest of the season: reach bowl eligibility and set Mizzou up nicely for another surge next year. Over the last six years, Mizzou's seasons have fallen into two categories -- transition years (2006, 2009, 2011) and assertion years (2007-08, 2010). The record in the transition years doesn't really matter as long as it sets the tables for lovely runs in the assertion years, but obviously it would be incredibly disappointing if Mizzou stalled and somehow fell to 5-7 this year. To assure bowl eligibility, it's pretty clear what needs to happen: Mizzou needs to seal the deal against Kansas and Texas Tech and win at least one of the following four games: Oklahoma State, @Texas A&M, @Baylor, Texas. At their current level of play (even in the losses), they should easily accomplish that. Just don't ask me which of the tough games they're going to win.
Yesterday showed that this team's head is in the right place. Mizzou did not in any way doubt itself after the loss to Kansas State, and the Tigers showed that when they are focused and clear-minded, they can do some really, really good things.
Photo gallery to come, followed by Beyond the Box Score later this week.