Never forget to stop and enjoy a win.— Rock M Nation (@rockmnation) October 19, 2014
I'm not sure Missouri will move up even one spot when we get our new Football Outsiders rankings cranked out this week. In fact, the offensive ratings might even go down, and I wasn't sure that was possible.
So yes, all of the internet grumbling following last night's game is at least housed in legitimate reasons. Instead of any sort of major offensive turnaround, this could just be another 1999 Texas Tech game. (That was one of the most impressive oasis-from-bad-feelings games imaginable. Mizzou had just been shut out by Kansas and was about to get outscored 154-14 in its final three games of the year but somehow smoked a decent Tech team in between.)
Still, don't forget to remind yourself that Missouri was up 42-0 in The Swamp last night. Instead of focusing on the grumbling, remember the giddy yelp you gave when Markus Golden was returning Shane Ray's sack-and-strip for a touchdown, or when Darvin Ruise was scoring his first career touchdown on a pick six in his home state just 88 seconds later.
This was fun (at times). And if you don't pause to enjoy it, you don't really have a reason to follow sports. Our approach here has always been to maximize the happy feelings and try to move on from the negative as quickly as possible. That's not the same as ignoring the negative or pretending it doesn't exist; it's just an attempt at being as healthy as possible within our obsession. And 29-point wins over name teams are always happy things, even if we figure more negativity awaits soon enough. Forgoing present-tense happiness because of potential future-tense sadness is the opposite of healthy.
This is quite possibly the worst offense and best defense of the Pinkel era. One glance at last week's F/+ ratings -- 104th on offense, 10th on defense -- certainly hinted at that, and last night we saw what could happen when a great defense generated good breaks and a bad offense at least avoided turnovers (after the first possession). It was a thought experiment if nothing else, but it was one that at least went in Missouri's favor. Allow yourself to enjoy that for at least a moment. Winning: better than losing.
Yes, Florida's offense bottomed out in an almost cartoonish way last night. But realize that nobody else has made Florida's offense look like that this year. Yes, the Tigers eased up a bit after going up 42-0, allowing 31 plays for 194 in three pointless drives. But until garbage time, Mizzou allowed 89 yards in 48 plays. Florida's possessions: Fumble, Downs, Fumble, Punt, Punt, Interception, Punt, Punt, Punt, Fumble, Interception. The Tigers punished every unforced error, then forced a few errors themselves. It was impressive to watch, even against an offense that couldn't get out of its own way.
The main force behind this, of course: Shane Ray. He let others have their fun early -- Harold Brantley was the best player on the field in the first half, and in the end 12 Tigers played roles in Havoc plays (tackles for loss, interceptions, break-ups, forced fumbles). But in the third quarter, when it was time to put the game to bed, Ray showed a level of burst and explosiveness I don't know if I've ever seen from a Mizzou defender before. He sacked Driskel on a second-and-6, came out of the game nursing what looked like a pretty painful arm injury, then came back in on third-and-9 on the next drive and simply abused Florida's left tackle. Driskel barely had time to even start his throwing motion when Ray stripped him, but that wasn't the impressive part. After exploding toward Driskel, Ray somehow stopped, changed directions, and nearly recovered the fumble instead of Markus Golden. And since Golden got there first, he simply escorted No. 33 to the end zone instead.
The last time I can remember saying "DAMN!" that loud about a Missouri player's pure, raw athleticism was either when UCF defenders were bouncing off of Dorial Green-Beckham in 2012 or when Jeremy Maclin was juking hard and kept moving at full speed on a kick return against Illinois in 2008.
Marcus Murphy was the fourth of a four-headed running back rotation in 2010. He played as a true freshman but was overshadowed by fellow true frosh Henry Josey and upperclassmen Kendial Lawrence and De'Vion Moore. It was easy to wonder why he even had his redshirt torn off; he wasn't getting much playing time. But he was showing hints of potential as a return man, and against Texas Tech, he raced down the sideline for a 69-yard touchdown run. He then missed 2011 with injury, lost in the shuffle as Henry Josey was announcing his presence even louder.
That 2011 injury has become a blessing for Mizzou; he's still sharing carries with Russell Hansbrough and isn't going to finish with a 1,000-yard season as a senior, but he's getting one last chance to stand out. And for a team desperate for points and explosiveness, he had himself an incredible evening in Gainesville.
Marcus Murphy 1st Tiger to score TD 3 different ways in a game since 1976 Curtis Brown vs. USC (KO, rush, rec)— Tom Orf (@MU4124) October 19, 2014
Missouri took the ball first but still held a 7-0 lead before Maty Mauk could touch the ball because Murphy took the opening kick for a touchdown. Then he plunged in to cap a four-play, 19-yard drive after Kentrell Brothers' forced fumble on Treon Harris. Then he took the opening punt of the second half back for a score as well.
On Marcus Murphy's punt return TD, MU didn't even have return team on field. It was safe return team. He expected to fair catch the ball— Dave Matter (@Dave_Matter) October 19, 2014
Mizzou has a lot of exciting running backs in the pipeline, and we've seen return potential from guys like Russell Hansbrough and John Gibson in the past. (Neither might be Mizzou's return men in 2015, but we know there's upside on the roster, at least.) So all will not be lost when Murphy plays his final game in a long career. But he set a hell of a tone last night, and he's been an incredible, underrated weapon for this Mizzou team through the years. The Tigers haven't always gotten the big plays they've needed in 2014, but when they've gotten them, a majority of those plays have come from Murph.
I said it last week, and I'll say it again now: I don't know how you fix this offense before the offseason. Last night showed us that a bad offense isn't the end of the world, and that there are plenty of other ways to make big plays and either score points or set up offensive points. Obviously Mizzou probably isn't going to average four return touchdowns per game the rest of the way -- best Wooderson/McConaughey voice: It'd a lot cooler if they diiiiiiid -- but last night proved that it can be overcome to some degree.
Yesterday also proved that Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Texas A&M are quite beatable if Mizzou figures out how to at least get out of its own way offensively. Thriving to some huge degree isn't an option, but figuring out "This is something we're good at, and this is our identity the rest of the way" could lead to some November wins.
In the moment, Josh Henson's play-calling had me pulling my hair out last night. With a comfortable lead, I wanted Mizzou to simply run out the clock on offense, minimize any threat of turnovers (the only way Florida was going to come back from down 20 or so was with defensive touchdowns), punt the ball, and get out of town. But Henson, Gary Pinkel, etc., kept giving Mauk a chance to find some sort of rhythm, some sort of positivity. And now that I'm not living through the game in present tense, I figure that was the right call. Simply running the ball and getting out of town wouldn't have done anything positive for the remaining five games of the year, and the staff kept giving the offense a chance to dig its way out of a hole.
The offense did no such thing, of course. And the play-calling seemed to emphasize what wasn't working instead of what actually sort of was.
Mizzou had some success with slant routes and between-the-tackles rushing. (Think back to Murphy's touchdown run and the two-point conversion pass to Bud Sasser.) Granted, slants and other passes toward the middle of the field might be more likely to result in picks, but while I eventually became alright with continuing to give Mauk a chance to find a rhythm, throwing countless fade routes and runs to the outside (against a Florida defense that is flawed but still plenty fast) wasn't accomplishing anything.
Vanderbilt is an awful football team Missouri will almost certainly beat next week. (The Commodores ranked 122nd on offense and 88th on defense heading into this weekend. I know what you're thinking, and yes, Vandy is much, much worse than Indiana. Anything can happen in football, but ... they're awful.) The Commodores will offer Mizzou one final chance to find some sort of offensive groove, to establish some sort of identity. I don't know what that identity might be, exactly, but I feel confident that Mizzou should be able to run the ball next week, and in theory, that might give us an opportunity to figure out what kind of play-action potential the offense has. And in the process, maybe Mizzou will find some plays it likes for the rest of the season.
Just beat Vandy, and you're bowl eligible. The bottom-tier goal for 2014 will be met. But as I wrote last night in the post-game thread, Mizzou is in an incredibly strange place right now; assuming the Tigers do indeed win next week (and I understand if you aren't comfortable enough to assume that), then Mizzou will enter November with a legitimate chance of going either 6-6 or 10-2. All four November opponents are beatable if Mizzou can just develop some sort of offensive competence, but all four November opponents can beat Mizzou if the Tigers are forced to rely on defense and return touchdowns.
By October 19, we've usually figured out what might be in store for Missouri. In 2013, Mizzou was 7-0 on October 19, thinking East Title (and more) and getting ready to welcome South Carolina to town. It was going to be a good year, and we were just waiting to figure out the degree. In 2012, Mizzou was 3-4 and coming off of a rainy, humbling pasting at the hands of Alabama. It was going to be a bad year, and we were just waiting to figure out the degree. In 2011, Mizzou was 3-3 and coming off of an easy win over Iowa State -- the Tigers weren't good enough to beat elite teams but were good enough to handle bad ones. In 2010, Mizzou was 6-0 and preparing to welcome Oklahoma to town for Homecoming.
Et cetera. This year, the strengths and weaknesses are so extreme that I honestly have no idea what to think. There is reason for hope with a dominant defense that has quickly turned into one of Mizzou's best since the 1960s. There is reason for complete and total dread thanks to an offense that, at the moment, has no answers. I guess we just wait and see (and remember that being up six touchdowns in The Swamp is pretty cool).