James Franklin is a man, the Mizzou receiving corps is suddenly the one we thought we'd see all year, and ... good on you, Randy Ponder.
MUtigers.com: Mizzou Stuns Tennessee, 51-48, in 4 OT
The Trib: Tigers topple Tennessee in 4-OT thriller
The Missourian: Missouri football survives, beats Tennessee in fourth overtime
KC Star: Missouri beats Tennessee 51-48 in four overtimes
Post-Dispatch: Mizzou rallies from horrendous half to beat Tennessee 51-48 in 4 OTs
PowerMizzou: Rocky Top roller coaster
PowerMizzou: Game at a Glance
PowerMizzou: Sunday Grade Card
PowerMizzou: Game Balls: Tennessee
PowerMizzou: Powered Up: Out of nowhere
Sunday Morning Quarterback: Reaction Time: Missouri shows Dooley the dagger
For most of each Sunday and Monday (and sometimes into Tuesday), I'm box scorin', poring through the play-by-play and box score of each FBS game to find good numbers for the Numerical and good performances for the Heisman Horse Race, and, generally speaking, to check in on my 124 FBS friends. It is my mise en place for virtually everything I write.
As I go from each game to game, I like piecing together exactly how it produced it given outcome. Sometimes one teams gains a lot more yards and than the other and scores more points. Easy peasy. Sometimes yardage, etc., are pretty even, but one team commits 20 points' worth of penalties, or misses three field goals, or has an average starting field position much worse than its opponent. There's always an explanation even if you have to look for it for a little while. (This is what I call "fun.")
Occasionally, a game is virtually inexplicable. Case in point: Tennessee outgained Missouri by 131 yards, won the turnover battle by 3.7 equivalent points (more on that here LINK), made more trips inside the opponent's 40-yard line, and had an advantage of about five yards in average starting field position. But Missouri won.
If this were a game I hadn't watched, I'd eventually end up ascribing the Mizzou win to special teams. Mizzou returned a kickoff for a touchdown, had a net punting average 7.4 yards better than Tennessee's (45.4 to 38.0), and made its only field goal from 35 yards out, while the Vols badly missed their only attempt from 43 yards. But that feels like an unsatisfactory answer, doesn't it? So let's go into a little more detail.
You're A Man, James Franklin
He still leaves the pocket at the wrong time sometimes. I still hold my breath as he's getting ready to throw the ball. He's still not much of a runner right now. He's still not the James Franklin we would be seeing without the knee injury and two different shoulder injuries. There's no getting that guy back right now. But he just got better, and better, and better as the game progressed yesterday, and he deserves an epic amount of credit for that. Nine first-half pass attempts gained 12 yards. His next 24 gained 208. And with the game on the line, he completed his last four third- and fourth-down passes for 70 yards and three touchdowns. Damn.
You've Had A (Mostly) Good Two Weeks, Receiving Corps
Not going to lie: focusing on DGB in these headlines kind of annoys me. For the first 59 minutes of this game, Dorial Green-Beckham was invisible. The only time he was targeted, he was very passive on a first-half deep ball, leaning forward to catch the ball low to the ground instead of using his height to go up and snag the ball. Predictably, it was picked off. That he came up huge at the end of regulation and in overtime was absolutely fantastic. It was. But without the heroics of, in particular, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, DGB doesn't get the chance to come up big. Bud Sasser made just two catches on the day, but they went for 61 yards, and both took incredibly athletic maneuvering to catch the ball. And he almost made an amazing catch of a third-down pass on the drive that eventually led to DGB's game-tying touchdown. He showed better athleticism and ball skills than I, quite honestly, thought he had.
Hunt, meanwhile, bought Mizzou time with a wonderful kick return touchdown in the first quarter. Mizzou's offense didn't show up until the third quarter, but thanks to Hunt's return and two Tennessee miscues (a fumble in the Mizzou red zone and a missed field goal), the Tigers trailed by just 14. And then, when Mizzou forced overtime, there was Hunt again, dragging across the middle and scoring on a 24-yard catch-and-run.
I've said it many times now, but ... Jimmie Hunt really must just stink in practice. That's the only explanation. For the season, he has touched the ball 12 times (six catches, three carries, three kickoff returns), and he has scored three touchdowns and gained 228 yards. He is explosive. But his opportunities have still been limited a bit. I think that changes next year with the departures of T.J. Moe and Gahn McGaffie.
Oh yeah, and I see you, Marcus Lucas. Apparently you were struggling because the degree-of-difficulty was just too low. You've caught tough pass after tough pass in the last two weeks, and Mizzou wouldn't be 5-4 without them.
The Utes Have Potential
Randy Ponder isn't one of the "young players" in the great article above, but I needed to talk about him somewhere in here. For the first three quarters, Tennessee's Tyler Bray averaged 9.9 yards per pass attempt (316 yards in 32 attempts). In the fourth quarter and overtime, he averaged 3.8. And Mizzou locked things down at least partially without the services of an injured E.J. Gaines. With Randy Ponder in the game instead, Tennessee wisely attempted to exploit him. They could not. He broke up two potential touchdown passes to Justin Hunter in overtime and deserves an insane amount of credit for doing so. And then, there was Ian Simon, breaking up the fourth-down pass to Zach Rogers in the fourth overtime. Two backups came up huge under huge pressure, and that is thrilling.
The Road Ahead
Make no mistake: Mizzou still has a lot of work to do. Syracuse is a solid team -- not as good as they looked yesterday (then again, Louisville's not that great), but better than their 5-5 record may suggest to you (three one-possession losses). They're basically a less extreme Tennessee -- their pass offense is good (but not great), and their defense isn't too intimidating (but not terrible). With everything I'm about to say, realize that I don't think bowl eligibility is locked up, or that I'm assuming victory next week (though I'm damn sure going to predict it later this week).
With that disclaimer, however, I have to note that yesterday was a VERY good day for Missouri, and not just because of the win.
1. Mizzou is a healthy quarterback away from 7-3 overall, 4-3 in conference. Obviously this is just conjecture, but it certainly isn't difficult to think this, is it? James Franklin got hurt against Vanderbilt, the offense fell apart for 2.5 quarters without him, and the Tigers lost by four points. Then Franklin came back but missed an insane number of open receivers, and Mizzou STILL only lost by seven points at Florida. Two weeks ago, we were facing the prospect of dealing with a long offseason of "Mizzou wasn't ready" stories. If the Tigers can indeed win next week, then a 7-6 (or, technically, 8-5) finish is still on the table, and … you think that might make a difference in the storylines? Obviously, 7-3 is not 9-1 or 10-0. Obviously Mizzou will want to succeed more in the future. But all things considered, I'll take this story, especially if it ends in a bowl bid.
2. The spread can work in the SEC. The end. As a Missouri fan, it could be quite natural to feel a bit uneasy, or jealous, about Texas A&M's sudden rise in the SEC West. Don't. While this will almost CERTAINLY make A&M fans more unbearable than before, A&M's success this year has shown that what Missouri wants to do on offense can work if Missouri has the talent (and good health) to do it. Long-term, this is very, very good news, worth a little short-term annoyance. With a good quarterback, a great offensive line and confidence, Texas A&M is 8-2 and getting ready to jump into the Top 10 after winning AT No. 1 Alabama. That wipes the slate clean from a storylines perspective. That is tremendous. There officially is no more "Can the spread work in the SEC?" conversation. There is only a "Do you have the personnel necessary to run your offense of choice?" conversation. And with a little bit of injuries luck next year, Mizzou quite possibly will.
3. Mizzou broke back. When Mizzou lost to Vanderbilt, I mentioned that it was like having your service broken in tennis. To win the set (i.e. make a bowl) you have to break back before time runs out. That meant winning on the road against either Florida, Tennessee or Texas A&M, and with the way the Tigers looked against Vanderbilt, that seemed terribly unlikely. Now, not only has Mizzou broken back, but the Tigers did so the hard way. They blew an opportunity last week (to continue the tennis analogy, they had two break points against Florida but didn't win either one), whichis something you can't really afford to do. And then, in Knoxville, they played their worst two quarters since Q2-Q3 against Vanderbilt in falling behind by 14 points (and seriously, it really was three plays from 31-0). But what this team lacks in healthy knees and consistency, it has made up for in resilience and guts. (I realize that, as a numbers guy, I'm not supposed to use words like "guts," but … how else do you describe James Franklin's post-halftime performance yesterday?) And with 60 good minutes next Saturday evening, they will get their reward, even if it is just a(nother) trip to Shreveport. Going to Shreveport for the fourth time in 10 years sounds like heaven compared to staying at home.
The Other Side
Rocky Top Talk: Derek Dooley Squanders His Last Opportunity, Loses to Missouri in 4 Overtimes
Team Speed Kills: Missouri 51, Tennessee 48 (4OT): And Just Like That, Tennessee's Probably Missing a Bowl
The Tennessean: Tennessee Vols defense can't go distance
The Tennessean (David Climer): Vols AD can't decide Dooley's fate alone
GoVolsXtra: With game on the line, UT's defense not there
GoVolsXtra: Another dubious record for UT's defense
GoVolsXtra: As Derek Dooley's future grows more shaky, team still has goal of bowl eligibility
GoVolsXtra (David Climer): Derek Dooley's time is up for Tennessee Vols
GoVolsXtra (Mark Wiedmer): Dooley's guts should have shown earlier
GoVolsXtra: As Derek Dooley's future grows more shaky, team still has goal of bowl eligibility
PowerMizzou: PMTV-HD: Week Ten Post-Game
Yahoo Sports: Kendial Lawrence – Mizzou Notches A Big SEC Win Vs Vols
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Tennessee tailgaters mingle with Missouri fans
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: For Tigers and Vols fans, a close game in Knoxville
The Missourian: PHOTO GALLERY: Missouri Tigers beat Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville
The Missourian: Tennessee football fans flood the streets outside Neyland Stadium
Animated Drive Chart brought to you by Gameday Depot.