Missouri 41, Okie State 31: Two Post-Game Thoughts

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

This game was ugly throughout its youth but should age quite well.

1. "Tank. Slow Down."

Nothing wrong with winning ugly, but good grief, James Franklin. This performance hit every branch of the proverbial ugly tree. Both he and the receivers were first-day-of-training-camp bad for long, alternating stretches. Tank could not find his release point. His already longish windup got longer and loopier causing his ball to sail. To add to the misery, receivers repeatedly dropped catchable throws. I could hear my mom's voice whenever I got caught in one of those places where I just couldn't get right. "Crockett. Slow down."

On his last few drives Tank finally heard it too. Or something. Maybe he just progressed to the mean, because James Franklin is not the guy we saw for much of the game.

Pinkel would have been well within his rights to bench him for Mauk. The fact that he didn't will no doubt fuel the fire of the "Pinkel is too stubborn" crowd, and perhaps not without some justification. But sometimes you have to trust kids to do the right thing and sometimes they do. After screwing up in every way imaginable, and in some I had not considered, Tanklin retuned to form, and the offense got it right in the 4th quarter. At winning time, Franklin played more like one of the five best QBs in school history with drives of six plays for 60 yards (TD), eight for 47 (FG), and eight for 69 (TD). On those fourth-quarter drives he was 5-for-9 for 81 yards by my count. We needed every single completion.

To their credit, the 'Pokes stayed with a heavy man coverage game plan. In fact, Henson smartly exploited their use of cover-zero (no safety help over the top) with Mauk in the game. He sent his receivers streaking down the field so that Mauk could run in behind them to the tune of 73 yards in two carries. At times, though, it looked like their defense signaled Missouri's offensive play call in to save Henson the trouble. Few college teams play that much man, but OSU clearly had in mind that they could shut the WRs down with tight coverage. They forced tight windows and were most impressive at the catch point. To beat that kind of coverage consistently, the QB has to throw receivers open. Unfortunately, Franklin was horrible for much of the game.

Another approach to getting guys open is through stacked or tight formations that facilitate picks (or "rubs"). Keep in mind, Mizzou, under Henson or Yost, is more reliant on superior pitching and catching. They got neither for most of the night.

2. You Must Be Solid in the Kicking Game.

It's not often that you can say you won a game on defense and special teams when you score over 40 points, but that's kinda what happened here. Removing Shane Ray's scoop and score, Missouri scored 34 offensive points, but barely averaged five yards per play. Okie State scored fewer points (31) on nearly a yard more (5.7) per play with five more plays. How?

Well, two guys that may not get as much credit as they deserve in this game are Andrew Baggett and Christian Brinser. Baggett hit his kicks. Yay! Just as importantly though, these two effectively shut down the return game. At a time when the Tiger offense was in full self-destruct mode, the Pokes averaged only 14 yards on two kickoff returns and 5.3 on three punt returns.

Brinser punted seven times for a 41 yard average. In that awful third quarter, the defense and the kickers kept Okie State climbing uphill rather than rolling downhill. Often, "momentum" in football is just another name for field position. The Cowboys' third-quarter drives started at their 20, 8, 13, and 38, and then our 33 after a fumble (TD), and their 37 after a Missouri drive gained zero yards.

When an offense hits a self-destructive streak like Mizzou's did, the hidden damage often comes from ceding field position that effectively allows the opponent to take control of the game. Leaving the turnovers to their own separate category, empty drives flip the field and create situational advantages.

The kicking game helped dampen any advantages the Cowboys got from a helpless offense, which allowed time for the Tigers to find their offensive footing in the fourth. Give the Pokes one more short field in the third quarter, and Missouri is likely playing from behind in the fourth.

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