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Mizzou Beats McNeese State: Links and Reflections

First of all ... I finally caught up on the live threads from last night, and I wholeheartedly approve of this exchange...well done, people.  Old set of jokes, but given a bit of new life.  (Now just don't overdo it!)

And since I'm referencing the work of community, I will pay homage to yesterday's amusing #BillyCorganPBPCalls series by using Smashing Pumpkins lyrics for my five thoughts*.

1. "You can't bring me back, you can't bring me back"

I have to figure the number of half-bitter Missouri fans who made a "Derrick who?" reference in the first or second quarter was quite high.  Needless to say, through two games Mizzou hasn't missed Derrick Washington too much.  Here are the individual rushing numbers so far for Mizzou RBs (and no, I'm not including the two walk-on carries late last night):

I would happily wager that those numbers wouldn't look any better with Derrick Washington in the mix.

What most impressed me last night was not necessarily Henry Josey's speed (though that was certainly quite impressive) -- it was the willingness and ability of Josey, Moore and Murphy to run between the tackles.  None of the four backs above are taller than 5'10 or bigger than 195, but they have shown at least decent ability to get physical yardage in the middle of the field.  They're better on the outside, obviously, but if the linebackers have to respect the up-the-middle runs, you can get an extra half-step on them when running to the edge.

No, the competition has not been amazing yet.  The time between snap and handoff was still a little too slow for my liking (I don't mind slow-developing plays -- they just shouldn't be slower than they need to be), and against better defenses that don't get blown off the ball by Mizzou's offensive line, the timing will need to be a little sharper.  But I think it's safe to say that, at the very least, Mizzou fans should feel much better about the running game than they did about nine days ago.

2. "I am one as you are three/Try to find messiah in your trinity"

Jacquies Smith needs to up his game, because Mizzou has shown off three big-time play-making defensive ends so far, and he has not yet been one of them.

  • Aldon Smith: 7 solo tackles, 7 assists, 3.0 TFL/sacks
  • Michael Sam: 2 solo tackles, 4 assists, 1.5 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 Blkd Kick, 1 QB Hurry
  • Brad Madison: 5 solo tackles, 3.0 TFL/sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR, 1 Pass Breakup

Jacquies Smith and Marcus Malbrough have at least been competent so far, so that makes five solid options at the DE position.  And you know you're in good shape there when Aldon Smith is your third-most productive end on a very good defensive day.  Once a quarter, Brad Madison gets shot out of a cannon toward an unsuspecting quarterback or running back, and almost every play he makes is disruptive in some way.  But the star of last night had to be Michael "Country" Sam.  He managed to get in the box score in almost every way a defensive end can last night.  He had a sack, another half-TFL, a forced fumble that led to a safety, a blocked punt (granted, it was due as much to a bad snap as anything else, but still), and he almost recovered a fumble.  He was everywhere.

It is hard to overstate the impact that could be felt if Mizzou opponents cannot run away from or pay extra attention to Aldon Smith.  If Sam, Madison, J. Smith and Malbrough all not only hold their own, but thrive with plays designed toward them (because teams fear Agent Smith), then there are no free plays against the defense this year.

3. "Tug at my sleeve/My little girl, supermaid"

Swarm, turnover, swarm, turnover, swarm.  That has been the last six quarters of Mizzou defense.  (And the first two weren't even that bad.)  Even without Will Ebner, Mizzou has shown the ability to make aggressive plays all over their front seven, and it has done epic favors for the secondary.  Bad, hurried throws and a heaping helping of passing downs have led to the Mizzou secondary intercepting almost as many passes in two games as they did all of last season.

(And as The Beef pointed out last night -- because I try to quote Beefy at least once per piece, it appears -- it's hard to fathom all of these defensive ends playing with both Dominique Hamilton and Sheldon Richardson at defensive tackle next season.  I don't even want to think about it yet, since it would require Aldon Smith to return to Mizzou next year, and obviously that's not a given.  But wow.)

Of course, the aggression is not without vulnerability...

4. "But beware/All those angels with their wings glued on"

First, Mizzou has committed quite a few penalties in these first two games.  Fifteen for 165 yards, to be exact.  Many have been Unnecessary Roughness penalties by the defense.  Luckily, in the grand scheme of things, statistics show this isn't necessarily a big deal.  There is almost no statistical correlation between defensive penalties and wins/losses.  Typically the defenses that are most successfully aggressive tend to get a little carried away from time to time.  It's the cost of swarming defense, unfortunately.  But in theory, any resulting penalties are more than balanced out by the number of disruptive plays the defense makes.

One thing I am worried about, however, is the simple fact that offensive coordinators are typically pretty smart guys, and it won't take long for the jailbreak screens we saw many times from McNeese State against Mizzou's scrubs last night, to make their way into every opponent's playbook.  We all love the thought of the 4-end "Candy" formation, and it has been extremely successful to date.  But opponents will catch on.  McNeese State had success with screens in the second half, and they almost had success with a lot of other delays, screens and general counter-punches.  Nothing against Champlain Babin, but a faster back (say, Christine Michael) could have a field day if Mizzou isn't both aggressive and conscious of their surroundings.  Mizzou must play aggressive and smart in the future.  Not saying they can't, but they just haven't had to yet.

5. "We only come out at night, the days are much too bright"

It probably goes without saying that Mizzou started yesterday's game infinitely sharper than last week.  Yes, the opponent helped, but this wasn't about the opponent.  Mizzou was just plain sharp.  Like, Chase Daniel Offense sharp.  The offensive line was killing, Blaine Gabbert's passes weren't hitting the ground, Mizzou was tackling well ... it was just plain excellent execution, and it would have been that way if Mizzou had been playing Michigan State or Mississippi State instead of McNeese State.  We've seen Mizzou beat plenty of FCS teams over the years while not looking particularly inspiring in the process.  Last night's effort, especially for the first 20 minutes before they justifiably took their foot off the gas -- was just inspired.

* And no, I'm not acknowledging that the Pumpkins have made an album after 1998...or really, 1995.  I always hate it when people mock Pearl Jam for going downhill after their first three albums -- they've simply made too much amazing music since then for that to be anywhere close to true -- but in the Smashing Pumpkins' case, that's absolutely true.  I've given them many opportunities to win me back, and the results have been less inspiring each time.

To the links!



The Mizzou running game did, um, well



Bring on San Diego State!