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Examining the Mizzou secondary vs Florida, Vanderbilt and Kentucky and what it might mean against Texas A&M

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The combination of Shane Ray and Markus Golden on the edges and breakout performances at defensive tackle form a strong foundation for potentially Gary Pinkel's best defenses. What about the play of the secondary and how it might affect the outcome of Saturday's game at Texas A&M?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I thought it might be interesting to go back and examine the way Mizzou's secondary has played for the past few weeks. The defensive line puts pressure on on an offense by stifling the run and wreaking havoc on passing downs, giving the secondary time to grow and, in the case of junior Kenya Dennis the past few weeks, become a starter and shine.

Florida QBs (Jeff Driskel and Treon Harris) vs. Mizzou's defense

Prefacing this with "It's Jeff Driskel and a freshman QB Treon Harris" as well as, "It's Florida's offense"

Florida's offense doesn't really get a chance to start since there are several incompletions, a fumble recovered by Lucas Vincent, and a deflection by Marcus Loud. When they finally did attempt something resembling a passing offense, they took a shot down the field, but it was very well covered by Mike Scherer. The first part of the above video looks at Driskel, so we'll break up the plays in the same manner. First Driskel:

3rd and 5

Driskel throws a short hook to the right side, and Kenya Dennis immediately comes up and makes contact, taking out the receiver's legs before he has a chance to turn up field. The ball is also almost fumbled and recovered by Kentrell Brothers and Harold Brantley. On closer review, the receiver doesn't even catch the ball but it's still great coverage by the corners and pursuit defense

4th and 2

Florida lines up in the shotgun and takes a deep shot to the left side of the field where we actually see #8 Thomas Wilson lined up in soft zone coverage of the slot receiver. Driskel floats the pass way too high, and Braylon Webb gets under it for an interception and a nice return. Part of the reason the pass is poorly thrown is the pressure brought by Harold Brantley and Matt Hoch up the middle.

2nd and 2

Driskel attempts to take advantage of the Mizzou cushion by throwing a quick pass to the Z receiver. The pass is high, and Kenya Dennis closes quickly and is able to force an incompletion.

3rd and 14

Florida lines up shotgun, and Driskel finds his slot receiver up the middle for a first down. Not really sure what happens here since the receiver is running wide open in the middle of the field. Kentrell Brothers picks up the underneath route, but both Ian Simon and Aarion Penton are covering large areas of open grass. That's way too easy for Florida to pick up a 3rd and long.

1st and 10

Florida in the shotgun, Driskel drops back, but Braylon Webb is coming hard off the edge on a safety blitz. He doesn't get the sack, but he disrupts the timing of the play and forces the QB to scramble right while being chased by "Big Bear" Josh Augusta. Unfortunately, with Braylon Webb out for the first half against A&M, Mizzou's play calling will likely become more conservative in this kind of situation.

2nd and 7

Driskel attempts a short out route to the far right side of the field. John Gibson, former starter-turned-reserve (and now starter again vs A&M), is on top of the play and makes the tackle for only a two-yard gain.

3rd and 5

The very next play, Driskel attempts to go back toward Gibson's man. Gibson plays solid, letting the receiver release inside where he knows he has inside help from Darvin Ruise, who coincidentally steps in front of this pass and takes the interception to the house. Mizzou is now winning 42-0.

Now we'll look at Treon Harris' passing vs Mizzou. Keep in mind he actually came into the game midway through the first quarter.

2nd and 10

Harris attempts to throw to the running back out of the backfield. The pass is incomplete, but John Gibson is on top of the play. Gibson has his eyes in the backfield from the start of the play, which is good in this situation but is something that can be taken advantage of by smart QBs.

1st and Goal

Florida has managed to move the ball down the field thanks to some scrambling and timely catches. It might be enough to say that Mizzou let up on defense, but on 1st and goal, John Gibson nearly makes a play to prevent a touchdown, and only through sheer luck does Harris not get sacked or his pass not get intercepted.

That's the tight end coming from across the formation, chipping on Markus Golden, then catching a prayer in between Kentrell Brothers, Eric Biesel, Braylon Webb and Duron Singleton.

3rd and 6

Harris eludes Golden and Harold Brantley and finds an uncovered receiver behind the coverage to convert for the first down. I have no idea why Kenya Dennis and Braylon Webb are both covering the deep receiver, but it allows some YAC before being tackled by Darvin Ruise, Webb and Biesel.

1st and 20

Harris attempts a flare screen to the left side. Thomas Wilson diagnoses and promptly makes a play on it.

3rd and 15

Harris tries to go deep toward the right side of the field where Kenya Dennis has actually let the Z receiver get past him. Fortunately Braylon Webb is there to pick off the high pass and make a decent return.

Mizzou was playing hot after being smoked at home by Georgia, and versus an inept Florida offense that hadn't figured out how to run the ball (as it later did against Georgia), the defense feasted for most of three quarters before easing up and allowing two late scores. Florida's offense line allowed a lot of pressure, and a combination of no confidence from Driskel and inexperience from Harris further inflated Mizzou's performance.

Vandy QB Johnny McCrary vs. Mizzou's defense

Vanderbilt's first touchdown

Shotgun, McCrary finds a TE running wide open into the end zone. There is obviously a lapse in coverage. Duron Singleton looks to be the person to blame as he's lined up over the TE and appears to bite on ... something?

As you can see in the below GIF, Singleton is in great position for about 90% of this play, but instead of continuing to  back-pedal when his man gets to him, he inexplicably takes about four steps forward as if he's going to chase down someone in the flat. This leaves #83 wide open on the right hashmark between Braylon Webb and Mike Scherer.

Until I saw the goalpost angle I thought he might have seen McCrary move up like he was going to scramble, but that's plainly not the case.

Braylon Webb's interception

Early in the third quarter, Vandy had just crossed into Mizzou territory and attempted to take a shot downfield.

Early in the 3rd quarter, Vanderbilt lined up and tried to run play action and hit the TE deep but Braylon Webb was lined up over him in anticipation and a combination of Charles Harris - showing off a nifty spin move - and Harold Brantley twisting outside and beating the RT to lay a hit on McCrary caused a bad throw. Webb was in perfect position to make a play on the ball because he was playing trail coverage. Also, notice who else was in on the action, (hint: initals are KD)

Webb is helped out immensely by Vanderbilt's TEs running into each other and knocking each other off their routes.

Vanderbilt's second touchdown

Vanderbilt scores a touchdown, again against Duron Singleton, on a "7" or "Corner" route from the inside slot receiver. Vandy's #19 runs it without really selling the inside fake, instead relying on setting it up by accelerating once he got ten yards up field.

I'm less frustrated with Singleton's coverage on this throw than the earlier touchdown because that's a pretty difficult throw as well as a difficult catch. Singleton was on an island on the right side of the field with no help over top so he played inside and over top to prevent the receiver from beating him over the top or to the inside.

Unfortunately this meant the outside was open. Essentially it was a very well designed and executed play and likely a "shot" play that Vandy has in its playbook when it felt it needed a touchdown.

In retrospect I think it was just bad luck for Duron both TD's came against him.

Vandy's QB attempts four more passing plays after the second touchdown.

1st and 10

He over throws his receiver on an out route.

2nd and 10

He hits his Z receiver on a 5-yard in route. Dennis dives for the feet to make the tackle but can't bring him down. Fortunately Kentrell Brothers and Ian Simon are there to run him out of bounds. Vanderbilt gets called for tripping which pushes them way back, setting up...

2nd and 23

The defensive line twists both DE/DTs and Brantley and Hoch converge on McCrary, bringing him down on the 4 yard line.

3rd and 32

Vandy's Z receiver tries to run a hitch and go double move to beat Kenya Dennis on the right side of the field, but Dennis doesn't bite and McCrary's throw over the top is way out of bounds and bracketed by Duron Singleton inside and Braylon Webb over the top.

Mizzou struggled early with some coverage issues coming from lapses in attention and poor coverage. Vanderbilt did a good job of using the run to set up the play action, as well as letting their freshman QB take some shots down field, he was intercepted once and had one touchdown plus a few nice chunk plays. Vanderbilt didn't make plays against Mizzou's corners but instead against the linebackers and safeties - something Mizzou has improved upon but not become good at.

Now let's examine the film from the Kentucky game:

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles vs Mizzou's defense

2nd and 10

Kenya Dennis continues to have impressive reaction time closing when teams try to throw to receivers underneath. He has good body positioning and is obviously not worried about being physical and tackling.

I wanted to spend the rest of this article looking at Kentucky but there are no longer any reliable replays available to me so I'll spend the rest of this space with some thoughts on how all this projects for the A&M game.

Thoughts on Texas A&M vs Mizzou

Kyle Allen will be Texas A&M's starting quarterback. If you believe the folks over at Good Bull Hunting, he deserves it due to his accuracy and his better grasp of the offense.

Allen plays like a freshman sometimes, but he's coming off one of the biggest upsets in college football while throwing for 277 yards and four TDs to one INT with a 65% completion rate. He's elusive enough if he needs to scramble for a first down, so Shane Ray, Markus Golden and the rest of the defensive line will have to be aware and quick to react.

Quarterback controversy aside, A&M has had better wide receivers to throw to, and they've stayed healthy. A&M puts redshirt freshman 6'5" Ricky Seals-Jones in the slot, but he's basically what Dorial Green-Beckham was for Mizzou, while freshman 5'11" Speedy Noil has become a play maker returning kicks and lining up outside.

They can also lean on senior Malcome Kennedy  who I'd liken to Mizzou's Jimmie Hunt. Heck, A&M even has their own 6'6" tight end who they can't really expect any production out of (Cameron Clear).

Before the season, I believed A&M would offer the greatest test to Mizzou's defense, and this was before Kenny Thrill was a thing. Their offensive line was initially ranked #2 in the SEC (but then again South Carolina's was ranked #3) and their receivers pose significant matchup problems for a team, especially when down two starters.

Kenya Dennis' discipline encourages me. Dennis has proven he has good closing speed and plays physically against most routes, particularly the screens A&M has used to get Noil going.

Dennis is primarily lined up on as the LCB (on the Z-receiver), so I expect A&M to have more success putting Noil wide left and facing him up against John Gibson, who'll be starting at the slightly un-familiar role of RCB in Aarion Penton's place. Gibson being overtaken by Dennis probably has more to do with Dennis' improved play than with a drop off by Gibson, so I think we can trust when Steckel says things like he's not going to have to change the defense.

The concerns I have are about Ricky Seals-Jones in the slot matched up against either senior Duron Singleton or freshman Thomas Wilson. Seals-Jones will see some action on receiver screens but he's more dangerous inside, where he can play as a fast tight end in the mold of Chase Coffman. Way back at the beginning of the season I was excited about Duron Singleton's potential ,and it was because I envisioned this game specifically. Singleton *only* cedes 4 inches to Seals-Jones and can be physical with him in the red-zone or after the catch while trying to force a fumble. As of late I've become worried about Singleton's coverage skills, and though I'm still high on his ability to help vs A&M's run game, I'm apprehensive about this matchup. That being said, some of the responsibility to help will also fall to Michael Scherer and Kentrell Brothers.

If we see A&M have success passing, I expect it'll come in the middle of the field, just behind the linebackers or on out routes vs. linebacker/safety coverage. Sumlin is a good offensive mind, I expect he'll test the middle of the offense with the two largish running backs Brandon Williams and Tra Carson (who had his own Russell Hansbrough-like rushing touchdown two weeks ago).

Positive running plays and smart use of constraint plays isn't ground-breaking offensive strategy, but A&M managed to put up 41 points (yes, including a special teams touchdown) vs. Auburn at Jordan-Hare. The Aggies scored quickly and via explosive plays against Auburn to take an early lead, then turned turned the tables and benefited from fumble-luck to win the game.

Combine missing Braylon Webb in the first half and Aarion Penton for the game with the struggling offense on the road, and it's easy to imagine Mizzou down a couple scores early. Sumlin will be gunning to take advantage of a depleted secondary to take an early lead then matching scores with whatever offense Mizzou can muster.

It'll be up to John Gibson and Cortland Browning to hold the fort while the rest of the defense looks for stops and turnovers to give Mizzou extra possessions and good field position. Keeping the game in the 20s with at least two turnovers, as against Kentucky, might be enough for a Mizzou win, but a shootout or a single possession game late has to favor A&M.