Last night I begged out of the "community building" activity at this annual academic conference I'm attending so I could hunker down in my hotel room and (barely) stream Mizzou at Vandy, while surfing between Ohio State/Northwestern, Florida/Arkansas, and Detroit/Oakland.
All this, while those schmucks went to the House of Blues here in Chicago. Look at me, hustling the nerds, amIright? AmIright?
Anyway, it was already 20-0 when I got back to my room. I was jaw-dropped. You see, I think James Franklin is one of the best game planners in the SEC. We romped them. At their place. In the first quarter. The coach's gameplan quarter. And more importantly, I don't think this Missouri team has peaked.
1. James Franklin looks to be taking his step forward.
There is a one-word answer to the question, "What has happened to SEC defenses?" Quarterbacks. The clearer, multiple-word answer is that the combination of better recruiting and natural maturation has raised the median level of quarterback play. There may be no Matthew Staffords, Cam Newtons or Tim Tebows, but the "typical" SEC quarterback is so much better than, say, five years ago. It's easy to forget the kind of dreck that Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina used to run out onto the field--guys that could not cleanly drop back and complete a 5-yard hitch. (I spent many a day patiently explaining to Gamecock Nation that Stephen Garcia was better than what they were used to, but not particularly good, and not nearly as talented as he was billed. Now, with Conner Shaw, they see it. No one is wistfully pining for the Garcia days.) The SEC is a (surprisingly) well-quarterbacked league right now. And, as many of us have argued for a long time, good quarterbacking should produce points even against good defense.
James Franklin looks like a really good quarterback right now. Granted, he rarely been harassed this year. (And when he has been, he's been an effective scrambler for both run and pass. To be fair, he does have an annoying tendency to take the same sack; the one where he misses delayed front side pressure.) Franklin is in control in a way he never was in 2012, even in the non-conference season. The touchdown pass on the slant to Marcus Lucas in the second half against cover 2 marked a new phase in his development to me. More important than the placement of the throw--he's made thread-the-needle throws before--was the decision. It was the perfect balance of confidence in his own skill, knowledge of his personnel and of what the defense is trying to do. Those things are starting to come together for him and it is a pleasure to watch. The fact that it has come out of an off-season of adversity makes it poetic, but we should appreciate the beauty of that kind of development on its own terms. What I love about Franklin's case is that his development is so unique to his personality. He's confident, but not prone to the "eff you" throws that sooooommmme quarterbacks make. They think confidence is the same as disregarding the defense. He's taking what the defense gives but not in a way that's conservative. You know who I am interested in hearing from this week? Coach Richt. He's got his own problems, but I bet he'll be gushing over Franklin once he puts in the tape. I bet it'll sound Lou Holtzian over the top, but it'll be more than coachspeak. Richt has a genuine appreciation for the position.
The rigor of the challenges facing Tanklin quickly ramp up beginning this week. I, for one, am very much looking forward to seeing what he does. He looks ready.
2. The two lines look ready for prime time. The secondary is still a work in process.
It's worth saying up front that Austyn Carta-Samuels (ACS) is almost as annoying as Todd Reesing. He has just enough power and accuracy to make you pay for being undisciplined in coverage, and a good enough receiving corps to make you pay dearly. He's also slippery enough to make you pay for getting out of your rush lanes. He avoids a bunch of sacks, but he runs himself into a fair number as well. For the people who have been complaining about the lack of sacks, last night was solid proof that sacks have little to do with pressure directly. They are like a 2nd or 3rd order derivative of pressure. The ability of pass rushers to win their matchups has been pretty consistent game-to-game. However, to get sacks the QB has to hold the ball. ACS held the ball and ran around with it. He made some plays. He took some sacks. The quarterbacks from Murray State, Toledo, and Indiana did not hold it. They threw it away. Or they threw quick screens.
It's also worth saying that the ends will get all the ink this week, and deservedly so. But don't sleep on the guys playing nose (i.e., Marvin Foster, Dan Hoch, et al.). They consistently pushed the pocket back to the QB. That's what makes edge pressure work. The secondary will be solid. They were excellent in the first half, but probably regressed to the mean a bit in the second. Expect Duron Singleton to be targeted wherever he is until he gets his feet wet.
On the other side of the ball, what can you say about the offensive line? The offense just did whatever it wanted all game long. All game. Go back to 2007 and look at some of those offensive beat downs. This game was a worthy successor to really any of them.