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Missouri 49, Toledo 24: Tigers clear the Toledo hurdle with room to spare

In handling a solid Toledo team more easily than it did a year ago, Missouri proved that its upside is still awfully high this season. But the improvement will need to continue if the Tigers want to match 2013's eventual output.

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

1. A pretty good bad game, huh?

Maty Mauk fled the pocket a few too many times last week, apparently prompting cries of Gabbertitis on the internet (you know, because Blaine Gabbert was sooooo bad in a Missouri uniform, playing hurt and winning 18 games in two years). He seemed dead set on staying in the pocket as much as possible on Saturday, and while it backfired a few times -- he got hit pretty hard on two sacks, and pressure forced him to throw off of his back foot a few times -- it's hard to argue with the results.

For all of the back-footed passes and the two picks, and through the pretty windy conditions both he and Ely (and Toledo backup Logan Woodside) were dealing with (notice that basically every pass thrown yesterday was a foot or more off target?), Mauk finished with a rather saucy stat line: 21-for-32, 325 yards, five scores, two picks, two sacks. Yards per pass attempt (including sacks): 9.3. (Anything over about 7.5, including sacks, is pretty good.) Plus, he added 10 non-sack carries for 46 yards, creating a little something out of nothing here and there. That's a pretty damn awesome flawed performance, and it speaks to pretty ridiculous upside.

He got help from his receivers, too. Yes, Toledo's secondary was the weakest area of the defense and one of the weakest remaining DB units on Missouri's schedule. If the Tiger receiving corps didn't have success in this game, it would have been hard to imagine much success coming in the next 10 games.

But Bud Sasser caught five of six passes for 121 yards and forced a fumble after Toledo's first interception, and as Toledo began to pile up momentum late in the third quarter, he made two catches that basically ended the game -- a 47-yarder on third-and-7, and a 25-yard tiptoe on a screen (complete with pancake block from Jimmie Hunt).

After a slow start (one catch in four targets, with a couple of drops), Jimmie Hunt caught five of his final six passes and scored twice. His route on the second-quarter touchdown was sick.

Darius White caught another bomb AND did solid work closer to the line of scrimmage, finishing with five catches in five targets for 69 yards. And in his first day as part of the official Missouri gameplan, Sean Culkin caught two of four passes (well, five ... he was the target on Mauk's first interception) for 23 yards and drew a pass interference penalty. Not great, but not terrible.

There were some drops here and there, and poor J'Mon Moore probably lost some sleep over the killer drop he had on a perfect long ball from Mauk. But it's hard to complain too much.

2. Not what I expected from the run game

Missouri got the yards it needed in the second half, and with the way the pass was clicking in the second and parts of the third quarter, the Tigers didn't need to have a huge day on the ground. But that was good because the run game didn't work as well as I thought it would. Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy combined for 140 rushing yards, but it took them 31 carries to do so (4.5 yards per carry). Hansbrough gained 25 yards on his first two carries, then gained just 59 in his next 16 (3.7 per carry).

Hansbrough and Murphy typically had to bounce runs outside to find success, which was at least a bit alarming.

I expected Missouri's offensive line to be able to push Toledo around a bit more than it did (and in the line's defense, it also protected Mauk better than I feared). Toledo had a good game plan in this regard and clogged the between-the-tackles running lanes, hoping to rely on its speed to make up the difference on the outside. It didn't work enough, but it worked at times.

And again, I can complain all I want about the "disappointing" run game and Maty Mauk's inaccuracy; Missouri still gained 502 yards (6.3 per play), scored 49 points, and completely wore down the MAC's deepest, fastest defense. That's a pretty good indicator of high upside, I'd say.

3. Honestly? I expected more from Toledo

My close-game prediction was based mostly on the fact that I expected quite a bit out of the Rockets, especially on offense. I've seen them play very well quite a few times in recent years (including for three quarters of last year's game), but the drops were prevalent, Phillip Ely's (wind-aided) passes weren't accurate, and aside from about three run plays, Toledo's offensive line just didn't look very impressive.

The Rockets still got their big plays -- rushes of 29 and 38 yards, six passes of between 20-25 yards -- and I expected that. Plus, Toledo found quite a bit of run success when the Tigers attempted a three-man front. But on a down-for-down basis, Missouri mostly dominated.

No complaints, mind you. When Team A looks bad, after all, Team B probably had quite a bit to do with it. I just expected a bit more resistance, is all. Hopefully I'm saying this exact thing after each of the next 10 games on the schedule.

4. We have Markus Golden and you don't

Markus Golden's final stat line was surpising to me: 4.5 tackles, two tackles for loss, one sack, one quarterback hurry. It felt like about nine, four, two, and five, respectively. Golden was incredible. He changed the game with his big plays and snap anticipation in the second quarter, and even if he had only one official "hurry," he very clearly got into Phillip Ely's head. Ely's accuracy diminished pretty significantly as the game wore on, and one has to figure both Golden and Shane Ray (two sacks) had a lot to do with that. Having the best player on the field can make up for a lot of deficiencies, and in quite a few games this year, Markus Golden will probably be the best player on the field.

This was important because it masked a pretty horrific tackling day from the secondary. The young guys (Aarion Penton, John Gibson) whiffed quite a few times, and so did the old guys (Braylon Webb, Ian Simon, Duron Singleton). To put it kindly, they took sketchy angles on Toledo's (pretty damn awesome) Kareem Hunt when he managed to break into the second level. They made some nice plays on the ball -- Gibson and Penton each had two passes defensed, and David Johnson took advantage of the fact that officials were allowing them to play pretty physical coverage downfield -- but I assume plain old pursuit and tackling will be a focus this week in practice.

5. My favorite stat of the year so far:

Christian Brinser has punted 10 times (a few too many for my liking, but that's not the good part), and opponents have one return for zero yards. His net punting average yesterday was 41.2. That's good.

6. This was a very 2013 win

Early last season, Missouri had plenty of questions to answer about offensive consistency, defensive play-making, et cetera. The Tigers went on the road to take on an explosive Indiana team and a sturdy Vandy team that would finish 9-4. Missouri hit the accelerator in the first half, built a huge early lead, and coasted in both games -- 45-28 in Bloomington, 51-28 in Nashville. There were mistakes, and opponents found offensive success here and there, and Mizzou won by an average of 20 points. (They of course went on to win three more road games by double digits.)

There was plenty to nitpick yesterday, and I've done so quite a bit above. But make no mistake: a four-point favorite winning by 25 is a very, very good thing. Mizzou dealt with wind, took a couple of shots to the chin, and made every play it needed to make to take down one of the two or three best teams in the MAC.

Look around the country. There was a lot of bad football being played by major-conference teams yesterday, and not only in Big Ten country. For all of the flaws we could point out, Missouri absolutely looked like a top-25 team yesterday, and the Tigers did so with 14 new starters. Simply by playing one decent game and one good game, Mizzou has put itself ahead of a vast majority of teams in 2014. And in theory, the Tigers might be ahead of where they were this time last year, too. In trying to keep up with the 2013 team, the slope gets awfully steep, awfully quickly. But against a Toledo team with a similar overall level of talent, Missouri looked better on the road this year than it did at home last year. No complaints there.