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Mizzou 2009, Part Twelve: The Secondary

Moving right along in the Mizzou 2009 series...


I think that was Ricky Steamboat's finishing move.

2008 Unit Ranking: #28 in the nation (#6 in the Big 12)

Projected Depth Chart
CB Carl Gettis (5'11, 195, Jr.)
S Kenji Jackson (5'10, 195, So.)
CB Kevin Rutland (6'0, 195, Jr.)
S Jarrell Harrison (6'2, 220, Jr.)
S Hardy Ricks (6'0, 200, Sr.)
CB Trey Hobson (5'11, 190, So.)
S Jasper Simmons (6'1, 205, Jr.)
CB Robert Steeples (6'1, 195, RSFr.)
CB Kip Edwards (6'1, 200, RSFr.)
CB Munir Prince (5'10, 185, Jr.)
S Del Howard (5'11, 200, Sr.)

1. How bad was the Mizzou secondary in 2008?  I won't spend a lot of time on this one, simply because I've gone over it before.  Factoring in junk-time yards and the quality of the offenses Missouri was facing, they simply weren't nearly as bad as people want to think.  Let's take a quick look back at the schedule, using good old S&P as a guide:

Opponent Season
Passing S&P
S&P vs
vs Illinois 0.906 0.758 -0.148
Nevada 0.812 0.734 -0.078
Buffalo 0.855 0.827 -0.028
@ Nebraska 1.013 0.920 -0.097
Oklahoma State 1.083 0.950 -0.133
@ Texas 1.096 1.212 +0.116
Colorado 0.666 0.160 -0.506
@ Baylor 0.805 0.946 +0.141
Kansas State 0.853 0.195 -0.658
@ Iowa State 0.808 0.897 +0.089
vs Kansas 0.939 0.967 +0.028
vs Oklahoma 1.195 1.212 +0.017
vs Northwestern 0.812 0.792 -0.020

* Now's a good time to remind you that these are close-game ratings, meaning the only plays accounted for here took place when the score was within 24 points in Q1, 21 in Q2, and under 17 in Q3/Q4.  Pretty much all of Illinois' passing success, for instance, took place when Mizzou was up a large amount, and when Illinois cut the lead back inside two possessions, the defense locked down again.

So Missouri held eight of 13 FBS opponents (no SEMO here) below their season rates, and in the case of a couple opponents--Colorado and K-State--completely shut them down.  They gave up two huge passes to Northwestern and otherwise limited them to sometimes inefficient slant routes.

Now, one reason people are talking about how atrocious the Mizzou pass defense was in 2008 goes beyond the "117th in passing yardage" thing (which I've pretty thoroughly debunked by this time, I think).  It's that they seemed to get worse as the season progressed.  Of the five opponents who achieved an S&P above their season average, four came in the last six games, and they all came in the last eight.  Granted, only two teams (Texas, Baylor) far exceeded their season averages--everybody else exceeded in very minor terms, but still, the Mizzou pass defense went from far above average early on (the perception was still hurt by those bombs to Will Judson against Illinois) to average or slightly below-average later in the season.  Clearly that will need to change.

So here's my question: I don't think any of us are too worried about the secondary, at least not worried about them being any worse than last year.  But if they actually weren't bad last year, can we still expect a comparative level of play?  Can Kevin Rutland v2009 cover better than Castine Bridges (and Tru Vaughns, and Kevin Rutland) v2008?  Can Carl Gettis do better in the nickel back role than William Moore did?

Mizzou's passing yardage numbers should improve this year for a number of reasons: 1) they probably won't be far ahead of teams as much, 2) they might be running the ball more (and therefore potentially eating more clock), 3) it's hard to get much worse than last year's yardage numbers, 4) et cetera.  But will their S&P and S&P+ improve?  Can they be counted on to at least hold teams to their season average in this regard?  Are they going to be reliant on the lawfirm of Smith, Smith and Coulter to get good pressure on the QB and make their lives easier?  We'll see.

2. Is somebody going to overtake Hardy Ricks in the starting lineup?  Sub-question: how valuable is experience?  I honestly have nothing against Hardy Ricks.  I think he's a good hitter, he's a damn solid backup, and he seems like a good kid.  I advocated for him to move to safety in 2007, thought that would suit his style of play better, and I still think that.  But I just don't trust that he's good enough to be the starter in a decent secondary.  I don't think his cover skills are up to snuff, even for a safety, and I'll feel much better about the defense if Jarrell Harrison or Jasper Simmons is able to overtake him as a starter by September 5.

And no, I do not know anything about the quality of play Harrison or Simmons are capable of delivering, but I think I know Ricks pretty well by now--he's a known quantity--and I'm really hoping that either or both of them are better.

3. Should Carl Gettis move to safety?  This is not really a realistic question...just a thought.  We've read for the last couple of weeks that this is the deepest set of cornerbacks Gary Pinkel has had at Missouri, how guys like Trey Hobson, Kip Edwards, Robert Steeples and Munir Prince are virtually interchangeable and how any of them would have started for Pinkel's first few teams.  Meanwhile, at safety, Ricks is fighting with two JUCO transfers (Harrison, Simmons) for a spot in the starting lineup.  And in the nickel alignment, Gettis plays the roaming nickel back.  If he's already putting together some safety-esque skills, and Hobson/Edwards/Steeples/Prince are better at CB than Ricks is at safety, then shouldn't this be a move we're considering?

Now...that's as far as I'm going with the thought.  It's a waste of time to make suggestions or speculate about position changes when a) we're not at every practice (for all we know, Ricks could have turned into an all-conference safety over the offseason...though I think I'll go ahead and doubt that), and b) we're not the coaches, but it's certainly an idea that's been floating around in my head the last couple of weeks.  I'd take my chances with a (short) safety combo of Kenji Jackson and Carl Gettis, with Kevin Rutland and the winner of the Hobson/Edwards/Steeples/Prince derby starting at CB.

2009 Mizzou Football Preview Series