GOLD PANTS, Y’ALL.
A six-pack of knowledge bombs from the opposition:
Get learned, folks.
Jack - Kentucky didn't have a great start to the season, but things seem to be improving lately. Is that true? If so, what factors would you attribute that improvement to?
Will - Kentucky has certainly improved to the amazement of many of the fans. What was most evident after the Southern Miss and Florida games was UK's inability to respond to adversity - a calling card of the last six years or so. When the team got down, they deflated, lost their concentration, and misery ensued. It seemed like the late season collapses of the previous two years were less about over-relying on a young team, but rather the canary in the coal mine that this staff had trouble instilling mental toughness.
Then New Mexico State happened. A game with a lot of adversity, and ugly defensive play, but UK won. Then they controlled most of the South Carolina game, and the real eye-opener was how confident and tough the team played against Alabama. Alabama easily won, but Kentucky made them work for it. Now afterwards, Nick Saban of course said nice things about "Mark Stoops' program", but coaches tend to protect their own. What was surprising was that even Alabama's players talked about how physical the game was which they certainly didn't have to go out of their way to do. Then they again controlled Vanderbilt not allowing a single offensive touchdown, and honestly, controlled Mississippi State for wide swaths of the game last Saturday night (21 points came from a short field after a turnover, a 40 yard TD run UK rarely gives up, and a fumble returned for a touchdown).
The single biggest factor is a new-found resiliency. They don't get down when things don't go there way, they just keep fighting. They have to rely on their strong running game - honestly over-rely a bit - and the defense has played better every week. UK's coaches simplified some things, and meanwhile their fundamentals improved.
It's the most banal turnaround I've ever witnessed without any real epiphanies, but it's definitely been a transformation.
Jack - Stanley Boom Williams has been quite productive so far, and he's probably the biggest concern for Mizzou defensively. What does UK need to accomplish for him to succeed in Columbia?
Will - Just keep feeding him the ball. S&P+ ranks UK's rushing attack 11th in the country while Missouri's rush defense is ranked 97th, and may be in even more trouble if Scherer and Beckner are out. Boom is consistently running for seven yards per carry, and can turn just about any play into a 10 yard gain.
UK likes to run these guys out of 11 Personnel with a H-back, and a zone blocking scheme that sometimes features pulling guards. UK likes to keep their interior offensive line fresh attempting to substitute four to five players along the line. This backfired in previous seasons, but as they've grown in experience they've begun to develop.
Jack - Outside of Williams, what players should Tiger fans be most worried about for this weekend's game?
Will - Missouri should also be concerned about Benny Snell Jr who is UK's more physical back. He's averaging 5.8 yards/ carry this season. He's a good change of pace back UK uses in short yardage situations, and out of their Wildcat package.
UK's offense is very reliant on the run game, but other skill players probably worth highlighting are tight end CJ Conrad who UK will use in their play-action game, and he is someone with a Success Rate of 50%, according to Bill C. Garrett Johnson is a slot receiver who has been UK's best receiver this year, but Jeff Badet is a deep-threat who played a great game last Saturday. Ryan Timmons is another slot receiver who has a success rate of 69% this season, but has been playing behind Johnson which has limited his touches.
Jack - What do you think Kentucky will do to try and slow down Missouri's offense? How successful do you think those endeavors will be?
Will - It's really hard to say. Mark Stoops hasn't yet faced a Big 12 style offense yet at Kentucky, but he mentioned this week he will give his brother a call at Oklahoma to gauge his thoughts. Overall, UK has been very good about allowing explosive plays, so they'll probably be willing to give up short routes in order to keep the ball in front of them. They'll mix in some Cover 1 and Cover 3 pattern-matching coverages against most teams, but they may run more Cover 4 this week for all I know.
UK likes to use weakside linebacker, and team leading tackler, Jordan Jones on delayed blitzes against pocket passing quarterbacks. They've also always liked to blitz safeties or nickels over slot receivers too. I think UK will try to mix it up, but not be too reliant on blitzes so as to avoid being vulnerable to screens. It'll be interesting to see!
Jack - How do you see the game as a whole playing out? Who wins, and how are they doing it?
Will - I like UK which is a weird thing to write. I like UK mostly because they have momentum and seem to be playing with a passion. Would Missouri fans say that about their team? I think UK has beaten the spread the last four or five games in a row. They continue to outperform most expectations, maybe because they continue to pull it out in close one-score games. Maybe also because a one-dimensional offense, and a non-flashy defense keeps their ceiling low. I think both are probably true.
I'm honestly not sure what to make of Missouri's offense at this point. UK's defense won't be close to the best they've faced this season, but in the little bit of it I've watched it seems inconsistent; meanwhile, I think UK's rushing offense outmatches the Tigers and limits Missouri's offensive possessions. When Missouri starts creeping up safeties to take away the run, that's when I think UK will turn to their passing game which did go for 300 yards last week.
Assuming UK can finish drives, I think they win this game 24-17.
Jack - Zooming out a bit, what's your opinion as an unbiased party on the Barry Odom hire so far?
Will - I think it was an okay hire. I'm surprised Missouri didn't at least see what other names they could get apply, but I mostly say that as a UK fan still bitter about UK automatically turning to Joker Phillips as Rich Brooks retired. Odom clearly proved himself as a defensive coordinator at Memphis and Missouri, but there can be a steep learning curve going from successful DC to being the head guy. Mark Stoops would definitely say there is.
I like Odom's instinct to introduce Heupel's offense to the SEC. It's schematically different than what a lot of the conference sees, and when it puts up points it'll help attract blue chip quarterbacks and skill players. I'm not sure what happened with the defense this season. That aspect is very troubling. Stoops started calling the defensive plays this season after the third week of the season, but he admitted it took until now for him to be comfortable doing so as the head coach. Maybe Odom should look into doing that this off-season.
In the long term, the biggest factor for Odom's tenure will be whether or not he and his staff can develop players. Missouri will rarely finish with Top 20 recruiting classes, but Gary Pinkel proved you don't need those in order to win the SEC East and have great seasons.
1. Mizzou's players can't seem to stay healthy this season. Were you in charge of things, what drastic measures would you implement to safeguard against injuries for the remainder of the season?
Josh Matejka - Three words: Russell Wilson's nanobubbles.
Jack Peglow - The nanobubbles might really be the answer. They also give me an excuse to post what is possibly my favorite GIF I’ve ever created.
If that doesn’t work, I would have to force the team to wear body suits made of incredibly fluffy pillows at all times. Would it greatly hinder their agility? Probably. That’s a small price to pay for guaranteed health, in my opinion.
PBoggs - Go back to the old defensive scheme from last year, and have a more aggressive pass rush. The slower the defensive front plays, the more likely you're prone to injury.
Sam Snelling - One of those big inflatable balls. That version of football would be vastly more entertaining than what we've watched over the last 6 weeks.
Switzy227 - Keeping the players nestled gently in their original styrofoam packaging when they aren't being used.
dcrockett17 - The kinds of injuries Mizzou has suffered this season do not appear to me to have any obvious source. Sometimes all you can do is play the hand you're dealt, and hope that the experience some of the young players are getting now pays off big time later this season and next season. Injuries are mostly random. That sucks but they are.
2. Since questioning the hiring of Barry Odom seems to be the talk of Mizzou twitter, I propose that we play devil's advocate. What would you say to the doubters to talk them down from calling for a coaching change so soon?
Matejka - I would tell them to read my opportunely-timed story I posted earlier today!
Peglow - I would tell that while I appreciate the dedication to their duties as an internet commenter, they could probably be a bit more realistic. Like I told our friends over at A Sea of Blue, Odom and his staff have changed a lot of things schematically and they don’t have the pieces to complete the puzzle right now. Let them get a full team of square pegs for the square holes they have, then we can take a look at the results. Calling for heads to roll when the staff is doing the best that they can with the round pegs they were given is a bit harsh.
PBoggs - View this like James Franklin's situation at Penn State. Give him a few years to get out of the mess, and let him fill his roster with his own recruits.
Snelling - In the grand scheme of things, are "wins" and "losses" really important? Isn't it just important that we play the game and have fun?
Switzy227 - Same thing I've been saying. You don't fire a coach after 7 games. Give him a couple seasons (and recruiting cycles). Then there will be plenty of time to criticize, regardless of how things are actually going.
dcrockett17 - There are some depths to which I will not stoop. Short of an obvious alternative candidate, available at the time Odom was hired, what do we have to talk about? Odom versus someone else specific (Steck?), maybe we can have a conversation. (I still side with Odom, but I can at least grant that I'm not talking to a numbskull.) Odom versus "the field"? Nah. Not interested. The program was almost certainly looking at a ceiling of incremental improvement this season. This team was catastrophically horrible last year. Modestly improved was as good as it was gonna reasonably be. The most likely route to even that outcome was through maintaining some degree of program continuity. We can debate the wisdom of changing so much on defense, but Don Faurot is not walking through that door.
3. It's Spook Weekend, so let's get spoopy. If you could add one traditional Halloween monster to Mizzou's roster, which abomination would it be and what position would they play?
Matejka - Frankenstein's monster in the third act of the novel. Contrary to popular Frankenstein lore, the monster evolves and becomes agile and hyper-intelligent. Slot him in as a linebacker and let him work.
Peglow - One of the biggest things this Mizzou team is missing is a play-making defensive end to line up opposite Charles Harris. As it stands, teams can simply run away from Harris without much consequence. This would be remedied immediately if Odom could start a werewolf at DE. Speed? Check. Instincts? Better than any mortal’s. Not a single player in the nation would have a better nose for the ball.
PBoggs - Freddy Krueger at corner. I cant see QB's having a good pass completion percentage when throwing his direction.
Snelling - Dracula at QB. Bomb on each play, turn into bats and catch his own passes for a Touchdown. The touchdown play every time. Ok, maybe he hands off to Crockett a few times too.
Switzy227 - Pumpkinhead would make for a good QB, because evidence of targeting would be super easy to spot. But I like Lock, so I'm choosing Ghostface from the Scream movies, because his victim chase game seems well suited to transition to making tackles out of nowhere. And we need all of that we can get.
dcrockett17 - I'm thinking, "Let's replace Terry Beckner, Jr. and Michael Scherer with these characters from the Red Lantern Corps and see if anyone notices."