Vandy 19, Mizzou 15: The recovery begins

Jamie Squire - Getty Images

Taking stock of injuries, aching for seniors and keeping an eye on 2013 in the wake of Missouri's disappointing upset loss to Vanderbilt.

A funny thing happens when Mizzou suffers a particularly frustrating loss: I stop reading. I hate doing links posts because I don't want to read what others have to say -- I'm too busy trying to figure out what I have to say about it. That is definitely what is currently going on in my head. You'll still get links posts during the week, but I have no desire to compile them today. So instead, I'm just going to share my own thoughts. Agree with them, disagree with them, your choice.

1. The Injuries Have Been Truly Incredible, Whether You Want To Admit It Or Not

I know a lot of you are desperate to figure out somebody to blame. It cannot possibly be that this team is just ridiculously unlucky when it comes to something bad happening -- somebody must also be at fault, be it the head coach, offensive coordinator (usually), et cetera. And like I briefly said last night, nobody coached particularly well last night. I hated the field goal call on fourth-and-1 in the first drive of the game; there is no better time to go for it than that. You aren't desperate for a field goal two minutes into the game. Plus, as awful as Corbin Berkstresser looked last night, and as unlucky that Missouri was because he had to play at all, there is no questioning that he looked terribly ill-prepared to see the field. Since it is the coaches' job to prepare everybody who might play, this is also problematic. And since experienced, non-offense players like Sheldon Richardson (personal foul that extended Vandy's first touchdown drive) and Trey Barrow (punt slips through hand) also made tough errors yesterday, we can't exactly pin this all on the offense.

But before we go too far down the "coaches suck" road, I'll just point this out.

Pos. Ideal 2012 Starter Late-Saturday First-Teamer
QB James Franklin (Jr.) Corbin Berkstresser (RSFr.)
RB Henry Josey (Jr.) Kendial Lawrence (Sr.)
WR Marcus Lucas (Jr.) Marcus Lucas (Jr.)
WR T.J. Moe (Sr.) T.J. Moe (Sr.)
WR L'Damian Washington (Jr.) L'Damian Washington (Jr.)
TE Eric Waters (Jr.) Eric Waters (Jr.)
LT Elvis Fisher (Sr.) Elvis Fisher (missed 1/2 of 2012)
LG Travis Ruth (Sr.) Evan Boehm (Fr.)
C Mitch Morse (So.) Brad McNulty (RSFr.)
RG Jack Meiners (Sr.) Meiners (Sr.) / Max Copeland (Jr.)
RT Justin Britt (Jr.) Justin Britt (Jr.)

Mizzou averaged 6.8 yards per play on its first two drives last night. Granted, both stalled eventually and led to field goal attempts instead of touchdowns, but the Tigers were moving the ball incredibly well. Meanwhile, the defense held Vandy to two easy three-and-outs to start the game. The first 10 minutes of the game seemed to have gone wonderfully for MU. Then James Franklin limped to the locker room. And Will Ebner got hurt. And Mitch Morse got hurt. And others like Brad Madison began to hobble off of the field. The last 50 minutes were a slow-motion car crash.

Mizzou has not played a single snap with more than nine its ideal 11 offensive players on the field this year. Its ideal running back and left guard have not played. Its ideal left tackle has missed 3.5 games. Its ideal center has had issues (for which he would have probably been benched in favor of Ruth), then got hurt last night. The ideal right guard has missed most of the season; plus, he was forced to play RT last week, got hurt, and (I think) played only a partial role last night. The ideal RT has spent half the season at LT. And the ideal quarterback overcame an offseason shoulder injury, reaggravated it after two games, then suffered an entirely different injury, a strained MCL that will at least keep him out for next week's game … which happens to be against the No. 1 team in the country.

(I feel bad referencing Henry Josey here, simply because that injury took place a long time ago and Kendial Lawrence has been strong this season. But that doesn't change the fact that Mosey is Mizzou's ideal No. 1 running back.)

Let's put it another way. Ignore the line injuries for a moment and just focus on the quarterback. According to Mizzou historian Tom Orf, only three times in modern Mizzou football have two quarterbacks thrown for over 500 yards in the first six games of the season: 2012, 1999 and 1992. In two other seasons, Mizzou has seen two quarterbacks see significant snaps: 2000 and 2001. Mizzou's record in 1992, 1999-01: 14-30.

Vandy fans were chanting "SEC!" after the game (cute), and the players and coaches were evidently shouting "That's how you win in this league" after the game. But guess what: if Vandy were missing half of its first string offense, including its quarterback, half of its offensive line, and its most impressive skill position player (be it Jordan Matthews or Chris Boyd), the 'Dores wouldn't be "winning in this league" this year. Congrats on your win -- you made some fantastic plays, especially late; now move along, please.

This has been an incredibly cruel year, and it has come on the heels of another cruel year in 2011. Every team suffers injuries, but this just makes you feel helpless. In theory, the luck eventually turns. At some point. The 2013 season would be lovely for that.

2. I Feel Worst For The Seniors

We have said it a million times at this point, but as awful as injuries are in the present tense, they tend to help you out in the future tense. Because a majority of the line injuries have come to seniors (Ruth, Fisher and Meiners), youngsters Mizzou was going to be counting on in 2013 have gotten a lot more 2012 experience than we anticipated. That isn't a bad thing. When Evan Boehm finishes up his first full calendar year as a college student, he'll already have 12 career starts (assuming he stays healthy, which is … yeah). And instead of entering 2013 with basically three seasons' worth of starting experience (two from Britt, one from Morse), Mizzou will enter the season with about five or so. Plus, Henry Josey will return (with Marcus Murphy) in time to replace Kendial Lawrence, and in theory, Mizzou will have a healthy, rejuvenated James Franklin behind center, along with exciting defenders like E.J. Gaines, Andrew Wilson, Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, etc. There are reasons to be excited about next year's team, and there are probably more reasons than there would have been had the injuries not taken place.

That said … man oh man, do I feel bad for the players who won't be around in 2013. Kendial Lawrence has carried this offense at times. Kenronte Walker has been a nice hitter in the run game and a reasonably stabilizing force in pass defense. Brad Madison has looked mostly solid. T.J. Moe has not had an incredible 2012, but he would still have been guaranteed to work harder than anybody to overcome disappointment and thrive next year; he won't have that chance. And, of course, Sheldon Richardson almost certainly won't be playing in a Missouri uniform next year.

And of course, I feel even worse for the seniors who have seen their final seasons in black and gold abbreviated (or wiped out) because of injuries; Elvis Fisher missed all of last season, became a two-time captain, and has proceeded to miss over half of this season. Travis Ruth might only see a few snaps. Will Ebner and Zaviar Gooden have both looked outstanding at times this year, and they have spent only about one-third of the season on the field at the same time. That is just so frustrating. Never mind that Mizzou would be a better team with healthy versions of all of those players; I just hurt for those players. As frustrated as we all are about the way this season has turned out, the helplessness on their part must be maddening.

3. Mizzou Has Had Its Serve Broken

Heading into the UCF game, we knew that if Mizzou could just win the UCF, Vandy, Kentucky and Syracuse games, the Tigers would be bowl eligible no matter what happened. And to be sure, the Tigers are still only one upset win from that now. Get Franklin and the line healthy by November, and take your chances in trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M. All hope is not lost. But the simple fact is that their serve was broken when they lost at home to an underdog last night; unless they break back in similar circumstances, the postseason will not happen.

But I'm not going to lie: until that upset comes, I'm going to assume it won't. As desperate as I was for bowl eligibility, I will now watch this season's second half with an eye fully tuned to 2013. It's what I do. There are plenty of games still to be played, but the 12 that happen next year have now become a co-No. 1 focus for me. That means measuring growth and watching the freshmen and sophomores. And that means briefly taking the time to fill out a 2013 depth chart just for curiosity's sake. And for now, I'll ignore any 2013 recruits who might make a difference.

(And yes, some of the guesses on positions below will eventually be wrong. Just go with it.)

QB: James Franklin (Sr.), Corbin Berkstresser (So.), Maty Mauk (RSFr.)
RB: Henry Josey (Jr.), Marcus Murphy (Jr.), Russell Hansbrough (So.)
WR: Marcus Lucas (Sr.), Jimmie Hunt (Jr.), Wesley Leftwich (So.)
WR: L'Damian Washington (Sr.), Darius White (Jr.)
WR: Dorial Green-Beckham (So.), Bud Sasser (Jr.)
TE: Eric Waters (Sr.), Sean Culkin (RSFr.), Brandon Holifield (RSFr.)
LT: Justin Britt (Sr.), Anthony Gatti (Jr.)
LG: Evan Boehm (So.), Mitch Hall (So.)
C: Brad McNulty (So.)
RG: Max Copeland (Sr.), Connor McGovern (So.)
RT: Mitch Morse (Jr.), Taylor Chappell (RSFr.)

DE: Kony Ealy (Jr.), Brayden Burnett (Sr.)
DT: Matt Hoch (Jr.), Evan Winston (RSFr.)
DT: Lucas Vincent (Jr.), Harold Brantley (RSFr.)
DE: Michael Sam (Sr.), Shane Ray (So.)
LB: Andrew Wilson (Sr.), Michael Scherer (RSFr.)
LB: Donovan Bonner (Sr.), Darvin Ruise (Jr.)
LB: Kentrell Brothers (So.), Markus Golden (Jr.)
CB: E.J. Gaines (Sr.), Xavier Smith (Jr.)
CB: Randy Ponder (Sr.), John Gibson (RSFr.)
S: Braylon Webb (Jr.), Daniel Easterly (Jr.)
S: Ian Simon (So.), Matt White (Sr.)

K: Andrew Baggett (Jr.)
P: Christian Brinser (Jr.)
KR: Marcus Murphy (Jr.)
PR: Marcus Murphy (Jr.)

There are certainly some worrisome areas -- the Sheldon Richardson-sized void on the defensive line, the second corner spot (I love Randy Ponder's story, but I really don't want him to be more than a nickel back, so hopefully the stories we heard about John Gibson's potential end up true), the third linebacker, the interior of the offensive line. But of course there are going to be worrisome areas when you project how a team will look 11 months from now. There is a lot to like about this unit, especially if the 2013 recruiting class holds its shape and doesn't suffer much attrition (always an "if" during a disappointing season), and especially if some of this year's freshmen build off of some of the potential we've either seen (DGB, Boehm, Russell Hansbrough) or heard a lot about (Gibson, Scherer, Harold Brantley, Levi Copelin).

Again, the 2012 season is not over. But for all intents and purposes, it is until November. Mizzou will almost certainly lose to Alabama next week, suffer through a miserable bye week, and beat Kentucky on Homecoming. So it is a full four weeks until the Tigers can begin attempting to "break back." Now is basically the perfect time to briefly look ahead before focusing again on the present tense, and as a Mizzou/Pirates/etc. fan, I never pass on an opportunity to say "Wait till next year."

I encourage you to share links you find interesting in the comments below, and I welcome disagreement and debate. But I do have one request: If you really just want to complain or blame David Yost, I also welcome that, but please do it in last night's thread. That was the complaining thread, and this one is the "picking yourself up and moving forward" thread. Thanks.

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