It's funny how a victory can sometimes feel like a let down, even when it's a huge victory over a tough opponent. The defense obviously played great. But the offense really looked fairly pedestrian outside of the third quarter. I really think the coaches let A&M get the better of them quite a bit, and the offense just didn't look confident. I haven't seen James Franklin look to the sideline for an audible that much since his sophomore year.The receivers had some nice plays, but they also got pushed off of their routes quite a bit by very aggressive defenders, leading to more than a few coverage sacks and scrambles. The A&M linebackers jumped all over the place pre-snap, and blitzed seemingly every other play.
And yet, is it really so easy to throw Mizzou off its game? The coaches have to make A&M pay for gambling. Yes, it throws off the offensive line when six people show blitz and you don't know which four or five are coming. But it also exposes the middle of the field. I think Henson got caught a little off-guard.
Even worse, while a gambling defense hopes to get more stops even if it means getting big plays, most of Mizzou's big plays came with A&M in its base defense, rather than when they were blitzing or jumping around, meaning they had no incentive not to gamble. I think Mizzou is more than capable of making teams pay for that kind of game plan, but they can't be caught off guard if they see it again. Notice in this video all the pre-snap movement. I'm really surprised A&M didn't confuse themselves more often and get out of position. Heck, just once I would have liked to see Mizzou snap it quick just to confuse the defense who were likely just trying to disguise their look and didn't intend to play that coverage.
This next play in particular made me laugh. A&M shows the middle of the field open with their formation, so Franklin audibles into a QB keeper, a play that had been successful several times on third and 3-5 already in this game. But after the audible, the defense shifts into the perfect formation to stop that play. It was like they suckered him into the play call.
Of course, there is one very big play where A&M's gambling came back to bite them. On Henry Josey's 57-yard TD run on third-and-1, A&M had 11 players within three yards of the line of scrimmage at the snap. A&M went in all or nothing and came away with nothing.
I also wanted to point out a little bit of Johnny Manziel's antics. I don't mean this to target Manziel so much, as I really hate the sportswriters storyline that a great player should automatically be able to single handedly lift his team to victory, and be a natural born leader that everyone listens to. More than anything, I hate the narrative that great competitors just hate losing more than everyone else. Manziel looks like he hates losing plenty, but he can't make his line block for him, and nobody will even make eye contact with him when he's ranting. No thanks, I'll take Frank the Tank any day.
One theme I've read from some of the sportswriters is that Mizzou's otherwise stout run defense showed signs of weakness against A&M, which bodes poorly for Auburn. A couple of problems with that assertion. First, Mizzou has been run on a fair bit this year, but almost always when defending the pass first. When we focus on stopping the run, we've been pretty effective. Against A&M, you can see we were most definitely worried more about Manziel beating us downfield than stopping A&M's run. Look how far the safeties are back.
Auburn obviously presents a different challenge, but Mizzou has a pretty good squad for this particular challenge. They have tackled pretty well this season, with some notable exceptions, and they've got a nice combination of disruptive up front with experience in the back. A lot has been made about Wilson vs. Auburn fullback Jay Prosch being a key matchup. I actually see the more important position being Kentrell Brothers. Wilson has proven he belongs. We know what we'll get from him. Brothers is the question mark. He has been known to get out of position and confused by new looks from time to time. If he's in the right place and making solid tackles, we should be very effective.
A couple of other keys I'll be looking for. Auburn has a speedy defensive line, which seems to give our O-line more problems than the traditional power SEC line. If they're blowing past us, it will have Franklin scrambling and backs stuffed behind the line. If not, we should hum on offense. And back to the other side of the ball, I look for Kony Ealy, Michael Sam, Shane Ray and Markus Golden to set the edge at DE. I think they have enough speed to chase runs, particularly Nick Marshall's keepers, sideline to sideline. That takes some stress off the LBs.
I have a lot of respect for Auburn's rushing attack. It's very potent. But I go back and forth on Auburn's ability exploit our matchups. For one thing, they've played only one single defense ranked in the top 40 in rush defense. On the other hand, the one defense in the top 40 was Alabama (still top 10 after surrendering 296 yards rushing). And yet, Alabama only gave up 28 offensive points, a total that Mizzou could easily score, and surrendered just four drives over 35 yards. It's just that all of them resulted in Auburn TDs. When Auburn moved the ball, they went all the way.
I think Mizzou's disruptive playmakers could pose an issue for Auburn. That's no disrespect. Auburn stresses a defense and will score on Mizzou. They clearly have the upper hand. With familiarity, I think Mizzou would have the upper hand in this matchup, but given that it's a new offense, expect Mizzou to struggle a little bit, especially in the first quarter. Don't panic if Auburn moves the ball early on. But I do think Mizzou's defense is going to hold them well below their season averages.
I think we'll be able to tell a lot about this game after the first two drives. Look for one thing in particular. Auburn is successful in this scheme where other teams are not because they have slippery ball carriers that make that one guy miss and get yards after contact. If Auburn is breaking tackles in the first quarter and getting 6-8 yards a carry after running through contact, expect a long day. Mizzou may need to score 45 to win. If Mizzou's tackling is solid, even if it's a bit confused by Auburn's scheme, the team will eventually adjust, and as long as they're not on the field too long, they should hold Auburn under 35. If Mizzou is tackling solidly and looks in control of Auburn's scheme, then Auburn will still break some big plays for TDs, but not enough to win. Mizzou may only need to score in the mid-20s to come away SEC champions.
My guess is Auburn scores about 30. If Mizzou comes out with the offense of the last two weeks, that won't be enough. However, if we can get pre-injury Franklin back, we will be milking the clock in the fourth quarter.