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Vandy 19, Mizzou 15: An airing of grievances

Discussing what needs fixing with the Missouri Tigers without calling for the heads of everyone in charge.

Bill Carter

It's been this way since 1999, really. I discovered in January of that year, and in the midst of the disastrous 1999 football season, because I was only incredibly annoyed but didn't think the proper plan of action was to fire everybody, then rehire them just so you could fire them twice, I was called a sunshine pumper, naive optimist, wearer of rose-colored glasses, etc. It is the way of the Internet. It was exactly the same in 2004, when Mizzou suffered through another ridiculously frustrating season. Because the negativity goes straight from neutral to nuclear, I end up almost hesitant to say anything negative because a) it might be taken the wrong way, and b) people with whom I vehemently disagree on about 90 percent of the topic will agree with me. It's not a fun place to be.

That said, let's give it a shot. With all of the proper disclaimers -- that coaches and players can be criticized or critiqued without the calling for either their heads or the second-stringer -- I'm going to talk about the things that frustrate me the most about this team right now. I encourage you to do the same.

And if you're wanting to talk about things that need to happen for this team to improve (which I encourage), please refrain from the typical "Yost needs to not suck at his job" level stuff. It's annoying, it's repetitive, and it's ridiculous. Adjusting for opponent, Mizzou had a Top 20 offense last year. David Yost didn't forget how to coach in the offseason. Besides, Gary Pinkel's extreme loyalty to his assistants (depending on which version of the Matt Eberflus story you believe, he has pushed out either zero or one assistant in his time at Missouri) has reaped enormous dividends. We heard rumors of assistants being put on notice, so to speak, with the move to the SEC (i.e. we all have to raise our game, or else), but we'll see. Regardless, if assistants do leave, it almost certainly won't be David Yost, who was good last year and might magically become a smart coach again when he actually has a semi-healthy lineup. So save your breath. Please.

Fourth-and-1 field goal attempts on the opening drive make me crazy.

You cannot possibly be so desperate for a three-point lead two minutes into the game that you can't take a chance and go for it on fourth-and-1 deep in opposition territory. The conversion rate on fourth-and-1 is REALLY high (like, better than 70%, I think … probably better than Mizzou's chances of getting a good snap, hold and kick on a field goal attempt), and while there may be some mental effect to getting the ball when you're behind … it's minimal that early in the game. Go for it. Every time. Please. Mizzou's line pushed Vandy around for each of the first two drives; despite the lack of short-yardage success this year, Mizzou's odds of converting with a simple handoff to Kendial Lawrence would have been very, very high. And if the drive had resulted in a touchdown, those extra four points may have come in handy, you know, in a four-point loss.

(And yes, I was indeed also thinking of the 2008 Oklahoma State game the entire time I wrote that paragraph.)

Marcus Lucas is seeing too many targets.

In the last two games, James Franklin and Corbin Berkstresser have thrown a combined 69 passes. Twenty of them, almost 30 percent, were directed at Marcus Lucas. He responded by catching just nine of them for 87 yards and dropping at least four of them, perhaps as many as six or seven. (Unfortunately, Mizzou does not track that in its play-by-plays like some others do.) About 65 to 70 percent of the passes to Lucas have been pretty catchable, and his catch rate has been 45 percent. You can get away with a 45-percent catch rate if you are averaging about 20 yards per catch. Lucas is averaging 9.7.

Make no mistake: I like Marcus Lucas. I have for two years, and I still do. But as I said on Friday, I do NOT like him as a No. 1 receiver. Not yet.

And if James Franklin wanted to get T.J. Moe and L'Damian Washington a little more involved, I wouldn't complain. I like Marcus Lucas, but I like him more as a No. 2 target or co-No. 1, not as a far-and-away No. 1.

Lucas had, frankly, an awful game on Saturday. As confused and inaccurate as Corbin Berkstresser looked for a good portion of the game (and it was very disconcerting to see him step into a pass and still misfire by about 5-10 yards), Lucas could have bailed him out by reeling in catchable balls on more than one occasion. But as was the case against UCF, he didn't.

Where is L'Damian Washington?

According to the box score, L'Damian Washington was targeted five times on Saturday. I honestly remember only one: the time he was running open down the left sideline for a bomb, and the pass to him came up about 10 yards short. Washington is the team's best deep threat, and he is often used as such. But in light of Lucas' struggles, I would love to see Washington getting some easier opportunities to get the ball in his hands. He is fast and decisive in his running; for an offense known mostly for being tentative at the moment, Washington is not. I would love to see more of him, even if we apparently saw more of him on Saturday than I thought.

Is Jimmie Hunt just awful in practice or something?

On an offense struggling mightily for yardage and momentum, Jimmie Hunt has caught five of five passes for 100 yards. He has carried twice for 11 yards. That's seven touches in six games. I am not foolish enough to decide that coaches are just stupid and they don't understand how good Hunt is; as Lucas has proven, you earn your reps in practice, and Hunt was not even on the second string in last week's depth chart (he was the No. 3 H-receiver behind T.J. Moe and Gahn McGaffie). Clearly he is not always as good as he has been in games. But he has been great in games. And with the desperate state of the offense, I would like to see more of him.

I can't believe I'm saying this, but where are the bubble screens?

Or, to put it a different way, where is the "getting the ball to playmakers in space"? That is the primary concept behind the spread offense, and it is what made Mizzou so ridiculously dangerous in 2007-08. Obviously "space" is at a premium when you are starting a completely different offensive line in every game -- it wrecks even the most well-laid of plans. Trust me, I know. There is nothing saying bubble screens or quick whips to the sideline would be even remotely effective. But a) two-yard completions are still better than incompletions, of which Berkstresser threw quite a few on Saturday, and b) I don't even remember Mizzou attempting a screen to a receiver in either of the last two (three?) games. It used to be a staple of the offense, too much of one, even; but so many of Mizzou's pass attempts have been low-percentage efforts, especially with Berkstresser at quarterback.

And while we're talking about play-calls...

Third down fade routes in the red zone are absolutely terrible calls about 80 percent of the time.

So stop calling them. Especially if your quarterback(s) can't throw them.

There's no excuse for still struggling with field goal/PAT snaps.

None. I was happy that Andrew Baggett got an opportunity to prove he can actually make a field goal (though, as mentioned above, I wish he'd attempted one fewer kick), but the two-hopper that wrecked what would have been a game-tying fourth-quarter PAT was inexcusable. Bad snaps happen sometimes. They just do. But there have been far too many this year, and we saw on Saturday night that this is not an issue that has been rectified. I can almost excuse Mizzou's two other special teams miscues -- the leaping penalty on Sheldon Richardson was an "if he jumps 1% more vertically, he doesn't land on someone, and holy crap this is a personal foul penalty??" situation, and while Barrow absolutely should have caught the punt snap that led to a safety, I at least know why it happened (with the end zone in play, he was closer to the center and was very much not ready to catch the ball that quickly). Two-hopping a seven-yard PAT snap is worse, especially when it's happened before (and almost cost Missouri the Arizona State game).

The defense doesn't respond well to success.

It's almost as if the Missouri defense has to have the game on its collective shoulders to succeed. After showing improvement in the second quarter against UCF, the defense responded to Dorial Green-Beckham's long touchdown by immediately allowing a touchdown drive of its own. And after a long second- and third-quarter drought against Vandy, the defense responded to each of Berkstresser's scoring drives by allowing scores -- Mizzou drives 88 yards to tie the game with a field goal, and Vandy drives 74 yards in five plays for a touchdown; Bud Sasser catches the long touchdown pass, and Vandy drives 78 yards for a field goal. It is difficult to complain too much about the defense considering how much of the weight it has had to carry this year. But the offense's struggles make it doubly important to take advantage when the offense does something well.