For the last few years, I've been keeping live blogs during Mizzou road games. The comments threads have sort of become the live blog, so after having fun with the Colorado diary last week, I figured I'd keep the format this time around. Written from my sofa, this one won't be as in-depth (or long) as last week's, but I digress.
Actually, first a word about happiness. Few weekends are as positive for one school as this one was for Missouri. Never mind the growing buzz about Mizzou Basketball, or the big win for Mizzou Volleyball, or even Ian Kinsler's big hits for the Rangers in the ALDS (and Game 2, at least, of the ALCS). Everything we hoped we would see from the Mizzou football program, we saw this weekend. Here's the big, five-star, golden boy recruit making good. Here's a defense that is improving by the second. Here's a coaching staff pushing all the right buttons. Here are two former stars, so tremendously likable, making a killing in the NFL. Here's ESPN deciding that Columbia is finally ready for its Gameday close-up. (And yes, here's Nebraska losing and Kansas dropping below Washington State on the BCS conference totem pole.)
Weekends aren't always like this. We hope this coming one will be even better, and it may be, but it also might be worse. Savor the good ones.
10:45 - Just had the following exchange with my wife:
Me: "They're schizophrenic, so any score between a 35-point win or 35-point loss won't surprise me much."
Wife: "Tech's schizophrenic, or Mizzou's schizophrenic?"
Me: "A&M. We're playing A&M."
Wife: "They're all the same to me."
Me: "Pretty sure a Tech fan would disagree with that."
Wife: "He'd probably offer to show me the difference."
Touche. Very, very touche.
10:50 - Taking it a bit easy this morning, as I woke up with something of a sore throat. Let's see … under six hours of sleep a night, getting sick … do I have a newborn child and not realize it?
10:55 - Like most trips to Stillwater (2009 aside, really), trips to College State are usually quite memorable for Mizzou, for better or worse.
1993: Texas A&M 73, Mizzou 0. The game that officially got Bob Stull fired (a couple of months later). Like the 66-0 loss in Manhattan six years later, this could have been so, so much worse. A&M was actively trying not to score in the second half, but Mizzou was having none of it.
1998: Texas A&M 17, Mizzou 14. Three weeks after a last-second loss to Nebraska (and one week before a last-second loss to Kansas State, Mizzou loses to Texas A&M when Randy Potter muffs a late punt and A&M kicks the go-ahead field goal. Mizzou gets off a long field goal attempt as time expires, but it doesn't come close. (This was 1998, after all -- with any of Gary Pinkel's last five special teams units, that 1998 team would have gone 10-1.) Poor Randy Potter -- no idea where he is or what he is doing these days, but anybody who was a Mizzou student in 1998 probably still calls him "Randy F***ing Potter" 12 years later.
2002: Mizzou 33, Texas A&M 27. Strangely enough, this Mizzou win was perhaps the least memorable trip to College Station in the last 20 years. Mizzou takes a 17-3 lead into halftime, but A&M scores with 15 seconds left to force overtime. In the second OT, Michael Harden picks off a Dustin Long pass, and after four straight Zack Abron runs, plunges in from the 1 to give Mizzou the win.
2006: Texas A&M 25, Mizzou 19. Mizzou is 6-0 for the first time since 1973, and when Chase Daniel finds Will Franklin for a 64-yard bomb on the game's third play, things look great. Only, Franklin is stripped at the 1, and the ball rolls through the end zone. Mizzou takes a two-point lead in the third quarter, but after A&M scores to take a 25-19 lead, Mizzou goes three-and-out in three of their final five possessions, and a fake field goal attempt is doomed from the start. A&M downs undefeated Mizzou in extraordinarily frustrating fashion.
11:00 - Welcome to Aggieland … your announcers: Steve Physioc & Dave Lapham. I knew Lapham was doing the game, I really did, but I was still quietly hoping that a stomach bug would knock him out of action or something. Every Saturday morning, I find myself going through the following stream of thought: "Oh hey, (random Big 12 FSN game) might be interesting. Let's see what … OH GODDAMMIT LAPHAM."
11:10 - Hey, get this: Mizzou is going to receive to start the game! Less than full crowd at Kyle Field at kickoff. Marcus Murphy somewhat foolishly decides to return the kick out of the end zone, but he gets past the 20, so no harm no foul.
11:15 - The Aggies start in a soft zone, and Michael Egnew camps out for three quick catches and a first down. After a bubble screen to Wes Kemp is sniffed out, Mizzou fails to convert on third-and-6 from their 42. Blaine Gabbert seemed almost surprised when A&M didn't blitz and fired a no-chance pass over Murphy's head. Gabbert found himself in an awkward situation heading into today -- upon his first couple of mistakes or poor throws, Mizzou fans at Columbia bars or in front of their keyboards were ready to pounce with thoughts like "James Franklin would have made that pass," or "He's clearly hurt -- Franklin should be in! Stop being so stubborn, Gary!" (That's one of my favorite Mizzou fan memes.) For the first time since Chase Daniel was bailing Mizzou out against Iowa State in 2005, Mizzou officially reached "The backup QB is the most popular guy on campus" territory. It was a short stay, of course.
Mizzou punts, and I've become so accustomed to great special teams that I almost forgot to mention the lovely hangtime on Matt Grabner's punt.
11:20 - After two Christine Michael runs generate no yards (he gains three on first down, then is stuffed by Michael Sam for a loss of three), A&M picks up the third-and-long blitz wonderfully ... but Uzoma Nwachukwu drops a sure-fire first down pass, and A&M has to punt.
11:25 - It's a field position battle early on. On third-and-2 from their 45, Mizzou sends Justin Britt in motion (almost the spread version of a student body left situation ... okay, not really), but Jerrell Jackson completely forgets to try to block the cornerback, who comes up and stuffs De'Vion Moore in the backfield. Mizzou punts again, and naturally it is downed inside the 10.
11:30 - After a nice Jerrod Johnson run (he fakes Jacquies Smith out of his shoes, then trucks Andrew Gachkar), Mizzou responds by stuffing both a Michael run and a dump-off to Cyrus Gray (I was very scared of the dump-offs, but only a couple of them really worked out), Mizzou sends the house on third-and-long, and Johnson fires an inaccurate pass. A&M punts, and Gettis misplays it a bit. Luckily, there's no Aggie in the area, and he falls on the ball. Mizzou once again starts near midfield.
11:35 - Mizzou makes their move. After going short and horizontal for the first two drives, it's time to go downfield. Gabbert lobs to Egnew for 17, and after a sack sets up second-and-long, he finds Jerrell Jackson for a huge gain. Jackson spins off of multiple tacklers for 28 yards and a first down. Another lob to Egnew sets up first-and-goal, and a perfectly blocked bubble screen to Kemp gives Mizzou a 6-0 lead. Three straight perfect passes from Gabbert set up the easy touchdown. The hip/rib injuries are clearly not a factor early.
(Buzzkill: the PAT is blocked.)
11:40 - Field position continues to be an issue for A&M. They fake a reverse on the kickoff return, but Trey Hobson is not fooled. He mauls Cyrus Gray at the 12. Hobson, Carl Gettis, Andrew Wilson, and Jaleel Clark have been special teams all-stars for Mizzou this season.
Johnson finds Jeff Fuller for the first time of the day to get past the 20, then floats a very pretty ball to Michael for a nice gain. Quickly, it's third-and-4, however, and Kevin Rutland almost picks off a pass intended for Ryan Tannehill. The Aggies punt, but they were finally able to flip the field a bit.
11:45 - Mizzou goes three-and-out (third downs are still an issue -- they went 3-for-12 for the day), but then so does A&M. On third-and-4 for the Aggies, Mizzou didn't blitz; instead they had every option covered. They had Michael covered out of the backfield, they were shadowing Johnson, and eventually Johnson just threw the ball away. An almost perfect defensive quarter comes to an end with Mizzou leading 6-0. Gabbert is 12-for-15 for 117 yards and a touchdown. You'd prefer to be up more than six with stats this dominant.
11:52 - The second quarter begins with Mizzou's first really nice run of the day. Josey goes for 16 to the A&M 40. On second-and-10, however, Gabbert goes long for Kemp, who loses the ball in the sun, I guess. It is about the only mistake Kemp makes all game, however. Easily his best game of 2010, and potentially the best of his career. Gary Pinkel then makes one of two questionable decisions for the game -- on fourth-and-7 from the A&M 37, he initially elected to punt and pin the Ags deep. After A&M called timeout, however, he talked himself into going for it. Gabbert fires a poor pass to Kemp, and A&M takes over on downs.
11:57 - I hate October in election years. All political ads make me angry, whether I like the candidate or not. And then I almost forget to hit 'unmute' when the game comes back on. Would just hate to miss some of Dave Lapham's witticisms.
12:03 - A&M fails to pounce on momentum from Mizzou's fourth down failure. A busted play sack and a short scramble lead to third-and-7, and Kip Edwards plays a deep ball to Fuller perfectly. A&M punts yet again. Dave Steckel trusted his No. 3 cornerback on an island with A&M's best receiver many times yesterday, and until late in the fourth quarter, it worked. He has this defense playing at a level they haven't seen since about October 2007, if then.
12:07 - 12:14 - Mizzou seizes control of the game with one of their most perfect drives in a long time. A Lawrence run and a Moe catch get Mizzou a first down. Then a Kemp catch and Lawrence run get another. Jackson picks up nine, then Mizzou goes long on second-and-1 (just like I do in video games!). A&M covers it well, and Egnew is upended (he lands on his head, drawing a gasp from my wife). Egnew turns right around and catches a third-and-1 pass. Josey picks up six, then two straight Lawrence runs get a first down. A&M begins to look gassed.
Now at the A&M 26, Gabbert fires downfield to Kemp, who makes a tough, lunging catch and catches a hard collision with Steven Terrell. Terrell is shaken up, Kemp is not. Lawrence drives in from two yards out, and Mizzou is up 13-0. Twelve plays, 77 yards, 5:43 time of possession. A&M only came close to stopping the drive once, and they were exhausted at the end. With under seven minutes remaining in the first half, Mizzou has run 36 plays for 206 yards. A&M: 20 plays, 66 yards.
(By the way, notice that Mizzou didn't go for two? The "card" in Pinkel's pocket appears to have changed this year.)
12:16 - I have a dog who barks every time a doorbell rings on TV…therefore this John Lynch avocado commercial is MY LEAST FAVORITE COMMERCIAL IN THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD.
12:23 - A&M finally begins to loosen up a bit. Dave Lapham points out that Mizzou is six minutes from their sixth straight shutout quarter, and Johnson immediately finds Brandal Jackson for a third-down conversion after Carl Gettis lost track of the ball. The 28-yard pass sets A&M up inside Mizzou's 40. On third-and-7, Kenji Jackson breaks up a long pass to Fuller (in fairness, he got there a bit early), but the first of Mizzou's four offsides penalties continued A&M's drive. On third-and-2, Gray picks up the first down, and I begin to hate Lapham even more than before.
On third-and-10, however, Brad Madison executes a textbook spin move to the inside and lights up Johnson for a huge loss. This was to be the biggest test for Mizzou's defensive line sans Aldon Smith, and they put together their second straight A+ effort. Not only does Madison's sack force fourth down, but it takes them out of field goal range. They punt, but they quickly force a Mizzou three-and-out. If nothing else, it appears they are winning the field position battle now, and they will likely get at least a field goal before half.
12:29 - Mizzou's defense has other ideas. They catch a break when Ryan Tannehill fails to pull in a long touchdown pass (he got a mismatch with Luke Lambert but couldn't take advantage), then they force an overthrow on another pass to Tannehill. On fourth-and-5 from the Mizzou 38, Johnson throws to nobody in particular, and Mizzou takes over with 1:36 left.
At this point, Johnson is so far in his own head that he's covered in cerebrospinal fluid. (Science!)
12:39 - Mizzou catches fire once again. Gabbert finds Jackson for 11 yards, then lobs to Moe for 21. He fires a laser to Brandon Gerau, who gets crushed in the back but holds on at the A&M 10. He stays down for a bit but goes off on his own power.
On first-and-goal from the 10, Mizzou executes another perfect screen to Kemp. Egnew blocks two guys at once (and gets away with hands to the face, ahem), and Kemp lunges into the end zone. The ruling on the field is that the play is a touchdown, but despite inconclusive evidence either way, the call is overturned and Mizzou gets a horrible spot. At worst, Kemp was six inches away from scoring, but they spot it directly at the 1.
The overturned call costs Mizzou four points. Gabbert fumbles the snap on second down (he was under center ... so of course he was going to fumble), and De'Vion Moore is stuffed on third down. Mizzou settles for a field goal and goes into halftime up 16-0. Still technically a two-possession game. It feels like it's much worse than that. Case in point: at halftime, Blaine Gabbert is 22-for-33 for 233 yards; Jerrod Johnson is 7-for-21 for 83 yards.
1:15 - A&M starts the second half at the 20 after a touchback (more good special teams!). At this point, the game is still within reach for the Aggies, and a good drive to start the second half would basically hit the reset button on the afternoon. Meanwhile, a hold by Mizzou would put A&M's back against the wall. Things start well enough for A&M -- Christine Michael makes a few tough runs (I really, really like this guy), then Johnson sidearms a no-look swing pass to Michael for what looks to be a big gain. Fortunately, Mizzou has Zaviar Gooden, who tracks Michael down for minimal damage. The Ags convert a fourth-and-1 when Dominique Hamilton jumps offsides.
What follows is one of the best sets of downs a Missouri defensive line has ever produced. With all options covered, Johnson tries to escape the pocket on first down, but Hamilton and Jacquies Smith stop him for a two-yard loss. On second-and-12, Madison just abuses A&M's true freshman left tackle with another spin move and lights Johnson up. After Hamilton jumps offsides again on third-and-15, Madison and Sam play "Let's meet at the quarterback" for the third sack in three snaps. A&M had advanced to the Mizzou 44, and they punted from their own 41.
This game was a great example of why there is almost no correlation between defensive penalties and winning. Mizzou jumped offsides four times on the day, but the aggression that led to those penalties also led to seven sacks and nine points allowed. Until the game was well out of reach, Mizzou made every single play they needed to make, and if they committed a few five-yard penalties in the process, that was a small price to pay. Specific, individual penalties can be killers. But in all, committing a few infractions on your way to a stout, aggressive performance is alright.
1:20 - Gabbert's second half starts slowly -- he misfires to Egnew (who catches the six-yard pass anyway), then fires over Moe's head to set up third-and-4. But after he finds Egnew again on a comebacker at the Mizzou 40, he floats the prettiest mid-level pass that you'll ever see to Moe. Moe makes three Aggies miss and cuts to the outside for a 45-yard gain to the A&M 15.
Moe will get a lion's share of the credit on this one, but three Tigers made unbelievable plays:
1. Gabbert's pass to Moe was one of the toughest passes you can ever make. He had enough touch to float the ball over the linebacker and enough zip to get it to Moe before the safety closed in. The replay from the end zone view showed exactly how difficult this was, and Gabbert could not have thrown it any better. This type of pass represents a passer's final level of progression. Gabbert has always had a cannon, but the touch he puts on passes all over the field is just incredible. We all know that his instincts still abandon him from time to time (they only did a couple of times against A&M, but that is still his biggest question mark), but he has, without a doubt, the best arm a Mizzou quarterback has ever had. I'm looking as forward to the James Franklin era as anybody, but there will be quite a few times when Franklin fires a pass that just feels like an offspeed pitch after watching Gabbert do his thing for a few years.
2. Moe's elusiveness represents the final step in his own progression toward the "Wes Welker 2.0" reference that every announcer will make for the rest of his career. He proved against Illinois (and in every game since) that he is tough as nails; his agility, however, makes him a bit of an unfair weapon. If you've got a guy who can have a "13 catches, 101 yards, rattle helmets for every first down" game like Moe did against Illinois, then have a "six catches, 110 yards, big play threat with every touch" game, you've really got something.
3. He didn't end up actually accomplishing anything on this play, but when Moe made the first guys miss and cut to the outside, Brandon Gerau raced down the sidelines, as fast as you'll ever see him run, to catch up and make a block. Gerau proved in the first half that he will sacrifice his body for the team -- again, he got whiplashed on the tough, 20-yard catch he made in the late-Q2 scoring drive and hobbled off the field -- and he proved in the second half that he will kill himself to make a block, even when he's 30 yards away from the play. He is the definition of an unheralded contributor, but he is something that every great team needs.
1:25 - Mizzou officially makes it a three-possession game when Gabbert finds Kemp for an easy 10-yard touchdown, Kemp's second of the day. It's 23-0 now. The Tigers needed to make a stop and score to start the second half, and they did just that. Gabbert started the drive with two iffy throws, then was perfect.
1:35 - The shutout streak comes to an end 12 minutes into what would have been the seventh shutout quarter. Johnson jukes Gachkar out of his pants and makes him fall to the ground (poor Gachkar ... he was the only player on the Mizzou defense who never got a good lick in on Johnson), then finds Ryan Swope for 11 yards to the Mizzou 35. Michael makes another nice run to get inside Mizzou's red zone for the first time of the day, then gobbles up some tough yards down to the Mizzou 4. He fumbles a second-and-goal exchange, however, and on third down from the 7, Jarrell Harrison plays a lob to Fuller perfectly and breaks up the pass with ease. With the offseason he had (the rare "get caught stealing something from Spencer's, of all places, then get hurt), I honestly didn't expect much from Harrison this fall, especially after he had such a nondescript spring (he was briefly overtaken by Matt White and didn't handle it well). Instead, he has been steady and mature all fall, even as fellow senior safety Jasper Simmons has dealt with his own injury/stupidity issues.
A&M settles for a field goal to make it 23-3; the three points are the first Mizzou's first-stringers have allowed since the third quarter of the Miami-OH game. The last time Mizzou allowed a non-garbage time touchdown: Ronnie Hillman's fluky 93-yarder against San Diego State. The last time Mizzou allowed a sustained, non-garbage time touchdown drive: the first quarter against San Diego State. That was 15 quarters ago.
Also: Mizzou and Iowa are the only teams in the country not to allow a third-quarter touchdown.
1:40 - If A&M fans still had dreams of a comeback, they have died within five minutes of the Aggies' field goal. Marcus Murphy rolls up the middle on another nice kickoff return, and Mizzou starts from their 44. Gabbert then throws a casually gorgeous pass to Kemp to the A&M 35 -- it is a pass that looked almost lazy, yet it zipped in between two Aggie defenders who really did not start off very far away from Kemp. Ho hum.
Michael Egnew follows this up with an incredible Martin Rucker impression (catch a five-yard pass, then drag three defenders for another five yards) -- he's looking more like T every day -- then Mizzou uncorks what they've been setting up all day. If you're successful enough with horizontal and underneath passes, eventually the defense is going to become extremely vulnerable to a pump fake and a double move. Moe benefits from this, catching the easiest 20-yard pass of his career for a touchdown and a 30-3 Mizzou lead. 30-3! Just incredible execution from a team that I labeled the "best third-quarter team in the country" two weeks ago. Gabbert: 29-for-43, 352 yards, three touchdowns.
1:43 - Just an observation: FreeCreditScore.com has really pushed the bounds of the whole "Who cares if everybody hates our commercials and our terrible jingles -- all that matters is that they remember our name" approach to advertising.
1:50 - Mizzou's defense completes what is just about the perfect drive. We get to see an amazing catch (Jeff Fuller makes a lunging, one-handed, nine-yard grab on third-and-10 despite great coverage from Kip Edwards), then we get to see Terrell Resonno and Andrew Gachkar stuff Christine Michael on fourth-and-1, ending another drive. Resonno has been an absolute revelation in the last two games.
1:51 - DAMN YOU, JOHN LYNCH COMMERCIAL.
1:58 - The last time a Mizzou starting quarterback had to hear as many "We want the backup!" calls around town, Brad Smith torched Nebraska for 246 rushing yards and 234 passing yards in 2005. If this is what always happens, allow me to be the first to say I think James Franklin should start against Oklahoma next weekend. We don't want Gabbert to get more hurt, right? And Franklin would give Mizzou the element of surprise. It's a no-brainer, really. Rock M Nation wants James Franklin!
What probably should have been Blaine Gabbert's final drive ended with a sack. He's stubborn as a damn mule and convinced the coaches to let him keep playing, but it should have been his final drive.
2:05 - There's the play I feared from Christine Michael. After Kevin Rutland kills Jerrod Johnson on first down and Resonno chases him out of bounds on second, A&M calls a perfectly-timed screen against a defense with its ears pinned back. Johnson drops it to Michael, who rips through the Mizzou defense for 60 yards before Carl Gettis can track him down. If it had to happen, I would say "late in the game while up 27" is good timing.
Mizzou keeps attacking, however. Rutland gets to Johnson again (you have to give the Mizzou defense this -- they just gave the Sooners a ton for which they have to prepare), and Sam again slams into Michael on third-and-2 ... but on fourth-and-5, A&M finally strikes paydirt. Johnson lobs the ball to Fuller, and he pulls it in. It took a great catch in double coverage (in garbage time), but Mizzou finally gave up the touchdown. It's 30-9 with 8:37 left after A&M goes for two for no apparent reason.
This leads to me having to explain the whole "Kiss the girl after the first touchdown" tradition at A&M. She is unimpressed.
Side note: the "dejected home fan" crowd shots are not nearly as entertaining in this game as they were Thursday night during the KU-KSU game. Nothing is better when you see a girlfriend making the "Can't we leave now? Will he get upset and pout if I ask him? Yeah, he will, won't he..." face next to her sad (and often body-painted) boyfriend when the home team is down 30. Or, in Kansas' case, much more than 30.
2:09 - Fox cameras show Reveille after a commercial break, which gives me an opportunity to explain A&M's "Bury dead Reveille's behind the end zone facing the scoreboard" tradition. Again, unimpressed. She would not make a very good A&M student, apparently.
2:12 - A quick three-and-out for the increasingly-on-cruise-control Mizzou offense. On third down, Von Miller (remember him?) puts a ridiculous move on Dan Hoch and obliterates Gabbert. Mizzou clearly played with fire letting Gabbert stay in, but in the end it didn't backfire.
It could have, though.
2:17 - With the game technically still within reach (with some luck from onsides kicks, anyway), A&M continues to move the ball. After a third-and-3 pass to Tannehill (I very much expected them to go to him more when they realized Mizzou was not at all focusing on him), Johnson scrambles for another first down. Mizzou is not sitting back and playing prevent defense by any means; they kept attacking. A&M just finally began to handle the pressure better. A nice catch-and-run for Fuller is followed by a 15-yard pass to Swope. A&M is inside the Mizzou 15, but they get no further. After two Johnson throwaways (Mizzou still coming with outstanding coverage), a false start, a Johnson misfire, and yet another offsides penalty, it's fourth-and-10 with 3:27 left. Gachkar drops into coverage and forces Johnson to throw high to Tannehill, who can't bring the pass in. A&M has been hopeless for a while, but now they're officially hopeless. Mizzou will win.
2:25 - At this point, Gary Pinkel was just messing with Mizzou fans. Gabbert comes back in for first down, then Franklin finally comes in. Gabbert then not only comes back in, but he also keeps the ball on a zone read and takes one more hit (Blaine, I know a zone read is an option, but I'm pretty sure they didn't intend for you to hold onto the ball ... just a hunch). Then Mizzou brings Franklin back in and runs the Wildcat while lining Gabbert up wide. If the goal was to give Oklahoma a bunch more to scout, then mission accomplished. If the goal was to make Mizzou fans crazier than they already are ... then mission accomplished.
Regardless, Franklin's two Wildcat snaps bring the game to an end. And what a game it was. As Pinkel will say after the game, Mizzou didn't close tremendously well -- after allowing just 209 yards in three quarters against a strong offense, Mizzou allowed 170 in the final 15 minutes. It was meaningless yardage, and it won't hurt Mizzou in my S&P+ rankings (garbage time is eliminated -- A&M needed to score one more time to get the ball back in "close" range). In fact, I see almost no way that Mizzou isn't a Top 10 team again when the rankings are compiled.
This really was a wonderful weekend to be a Mizzou fan, from Thursday night in Lawrence to Sunday afternoon in St. Louis and Philadelphia. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. Next week, the stakes are raised. Oklahoma comes to town for what is officially, in terms of stakes, atmosphere, and everything else, the biggest game in Columbia since Nebraska 2007. Homecoming, Gameday on the Quad, etc. ... it is difficult to think of a more exciting atmosphere than what awaits in about five days. As we always say around here when something good happens, soak it in. We always want more and more success, but we also need to savor what we have. And the football program has seen quite a bit in recent years.