Gary Pinkel & the Lasso of Truth
If Gary Pinkel were ensnared by Wonder Woman's lasso of truth during the first quarter against Murray State he would not have proclaimed that his Tigers would win their first three SEC games. Yet here they are. Have they met some good fortune along the way, with opponents missing key personnel? Absolutely. But, not so much that they owe anyone an apology. Football is an attritional sport. Play long enough. Be a fan long enough. You'll be on both sides of the injury situation. You celebrate fortune when it appears. You don't begrudge others when it's their turn.
Relish the Attention
Win or lose, Missouri fans should relish the attention on their program. They should even relish the scrutiny, and the so-called doubters. I am pleased to say that has been the approach here at RMN. (Y'all rock.) That's not true everywhere in the Tiger blogosphere. Self-doubt posing as analysis and howls of "Disrespect!!!" at actual analysts who dare mention potential Missouri weaknesses is turning what should be a grand time into something less pleasant for some fans. That's a shame, because every snap played under watchful eyes helps build the program into the powerhouse we want it to be. This is what Oregon fans have gone through, and Boise State fans, and even Stanford fans. This is what building a program looks like. As has been noted here dozens of times, some high school kid from Georgia or Florida is learning his first lessons about what Mizzou football is all about. Mostly, he won't remember a final score. He will remember players, plays, and moments.
Steve Spurrier (and Lou Holtz before him) understood the value of getting eyes on the program when he took the job in Columbia. Even though both coaches suffered through some dreadful moments, they put the program in position to not only get national attention but to benefit from it. Gary Pinkel is putting the program in that kind of position.
I don't wish to step on Bill's previewing toes, but wanted to add a couple pre-game thoughts.
1. Expect South Carolina to move the ball. Fast forward to 2013, early in the season. There was great hand-wringing about Missouri's ineffective pass rush. (Good times.) In truth, the offenses on Missouri's non-con schedule largely neutralize pass rush through formation and quick passes. Then, the Indiana game happened. Missouri dismantled that kind of offense. That showed us where Missouri's defense had greatly improved over 2012: (1) the quality of the interior pass rush and (2) the overall quality of tackling.
South Carolina is a quick strike offense, though an entirely different animal than Indiana. The Gamecocks will stress this defense in ways it hasn't been stressed much--intermediate coverage and tackling in space*. I suspect that Spurrier will snicker at the Toledo and Georgia (3rd qtr.) tape since it's pretty much his 2012 game plan. Put Missouri in nickel, throw short against the LBs, run against two deep safeties, throw over the top against single high safety. Spurrier didn't get nearly enough credit for his game plan last year. The media was still on its collective fainting couch about "old man football". So the official narrative was, "Xs and Os be damned. Missouri can't handle SEC size and speeeeeeed!" Sure, we can put that narrative to bed three games in to 2013. That doesn't change the fact that Spurrier had the best non-Jarvis Jones approach to beating Steck's defense. And beat it he did. Doug Marrone (Syracuse) then basically repeated the plan later in the year.
*Mike Davis is the single best offensive player we have seen this year. I may have some bias since I'm here in Columbia (SC), but for my money he's player of the year in the conference. (And I love Michael Sam.) Davis can control a game five yards at a time, but can also take it 80 yards. He's tough. He's explosive. He's also very good in the passing game--blocking, catching dumpoffs, and running routes. Think: Zack Abron but with Derrick Washington's speed and hands.
2. Run away from Clowney, duh. Don't believe the hype. Clowney is playing about as well as he ever has, and is becoming more disciplined in his rushes. You don't see USC hit with a lot of reverses and trick plays predicated on over-pursuit from him. Teams are just moving their offense to the opposite side, and finding some success. There are big plays to be made in the running game and the short passing game versus the Gamecocks' defense. At the same time, Missouri won't be able to hide Maty Mauk. He'll have to make some plays. Fortunately, that does not appear to be how Pinkel and Henson are managing him.