Greetings from Greenville, SC. We head back west this morning, and I don't have time to throw some links together (share good ones in comments!), but here are my initial thoughts on yesterday. Consider this your Sunday live thread.
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1. Connor Shaw Was Not 75 Percent
Part of my BTBS preview was based on the premise that Connor Shaw was still a little gimpy and likely to play like he had last week against UAB.
Entering this week's game, Steve Spurrier insists that he's been told the hairline fracture in Shaw's shoulder will not get worse (that doesn't make sense to me, but I'm not a doctor), and that Shaw will start. Honestly, that is probably a good thing for Missouri. A 75% Shaw is not as good as a 100% Thompson in my eyes; Shaw's running ability has been hampered in the short term -- at his best, he is a better version of Arizona State's Taylor Kelly, able to tuck and run on occasion (a zone read with him and Marcus Lattimore is pretty scary) and able to throw relatively accurately on the run. When Lattimore got hurt midseason last year, the offense actually didn't drop off. Part of that was because Lattimore's backups are pretty good, and part was because of Shaw, who took the starting job from the beleaguered Stephen Garcia.
With his injury, Shaw is not nearly as much of a run threat, and that's good.
One can heal a lot in a week, I guess. Shaw not only looked better than 75 percent on Saturday; instead, he looked about 110 percent, running effectively, checking down repeatedly to his running backs and tight ends (as he is wont to do) and, most importantly, connecting on all three of his longer throws. I also mentioned in my BTBS preview that South Carolina's passing success would determine whether this was a game or not, not Marcus Lattimore. Well … a) that was correct, and b) South Carolina passed effectively (to put it lightly).
And make no mistakes: those underneath passes? They didn't really matter. Yes, they moved the ball down the field, but with Mizzou's defensive line playing so well, seven-yard passes weren't going to kill the Tigers, great completion rate or no. The three downfield passes, however (two went for touchdowns, one set up a short-yardage score), were crippling. And Shaw threw all three absolutely perfectly. Mizzou was seemingly content to allow the dink-and-dunk stuff, and you can win with that approach. But you have to prevent the big gainers, and the Tigers clearly did not.
2. When Your Special Teams Sucks, And You Are Playing Your Second-String Offensive Line…
…you are custom-built to get the crap kicked out of you by South Carolina. The Gamecocks have a great defensive line and an outstanding return game, and those two things would have powered the Gamecocks to an easy win, even if Shaw hadn't played well. That Shaw played well made it 31-10 instead of 20-3 or something, but Mizzou simply had no chance to win this game with the offensive line giving James Franklin 0.9 seconds to find an open receiver, and with its flood of returnable punts.
I've talked about the offensive line so much that I'm tired of it, but while the run blocking actually looked rather encouraging as the game progressed, the pass blocking was a disaster. South Carolina's defensive line is fantastic, but while I'd have loved to see last year's line do battle with the Gamecocks, this year's mix-and-match unit just had no chance. The good news is that next week's opponent, UCF, doesn't have a great line; the bad news is that I don't automatically know that Mizzou's offensive line is going to win that battle.
Everything falls apart when your line cannot protect you. In 2011, Florida State had a spectacular defense, the best special teams unit outside of Baton Rouge, a legion of intriguing receivers, and an experienced starting quarterback. But the Seminoles started 10 different players on the line because of a comic number of injuries, and they managed to lose to Virginia and Wake Forest. Until the line settles, nothing else matters. (That's not the same thing as saying that Mizzou has no other problems. It's just that the other problems don't matter until this one is solved.)
As for special teams … I don't know what can be done at this point in the season. At some point in the first four games of the year, Mizzou has had troubles with punt snaps, field goal snaps, punt coverage and kickoff coverage. Almost no future opponent has a return man as good as Ace Sanders, but the issues have piled up, and it's kind of too late in the year to find better personnel. The starting long snappers are the starting long snappers because they were better than everybody else at the job. The coverage unit is already full of starters (i.e. the best athletes). It is what it is; you just hope that more repetitions plug up the holes.
3. Mizzou Has A Really Good Defensive Line
Sheldon Richardson is playing some spectacular ball; he made quite a few downfield tackles, and he absolutely wore himself out trying to keep Mizzou in the game. Mizzou's rotating other tackles also played capably. A lovely percentage of Marcus Lattimore's runs were dead after 2-3 yards; after the nice 21-yard run off of misdirection on the first play of the game, 20 Lattimore carries gained just 64 yards. But Mizzou's linebackers were victimized a few times by dump-offs to Lattimore and Justice Cunningham, and when asked to stay in front of South Carolina's small but quick receiving corps, the secondary couldn't do it.
Make no mistake, though: the back seven of the defense wasn't the problem on Saturday. The defense should continue to put Mizzou in position to win games (or at least have a chance) as the season progresses. No, the problem is on the offensive side of the ball.
4. South Carolina Was In No Way Attempting To Pressure Corbin Berkstresser
Just keep that in mind. Berkstresser looked great in completing seven of eight passes in his late drive. But in eight passes, Berk also had more combined seconds of peace in the pocket than James Franklin had in 18 pass attempts. I love that Mizzou has a pretty competent backup quarterback, but for those who really want to go down the "Berkstresser is better than Franklin" road … just don't. Yet.
5. There was one more silver lining
For all the issues in pass blocking, Mizzou really did seem to figure some things out on the ground. Kendial Lawrence, Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined to gain 100 yards in 16 carries, and the zone read was clicking nicely, especially with the quick slants thrown in. That gives opponents a lot to prepare for in the future, which is never a bad thing. The problem was that, eventually, Mizzou would shoot itself in the foot. Kendial Lawrence whiffed on an option pitch, resulting in a third-and-long; then, in the next quarter, he muffed a hook-and-lateral pitch from T.J. Moe, resulting in second-and-long (and a sack). An early third-and-4 conversion was nullified by an illegal formation penalty that neither Gary Pinkel nor I understood. Mizzou spent much of the line reacting to its line getting blown up. But even when it began to find some success, silly mistakes ended drives.
Hmm. This was supposed to be a positive thought. The run blocking was good!
6. Mizzou Has A Better Record Than Arkansas.
So there's that.
More later, once I get a good look at the (horrendous) advanced stats. For now, that's all I've got.