No, Eastern Michigan is not very good. Yes, Missouri was supposed to win handily (the Tigers were 20-point favorites). But it still feels really good to look the part. And wow, does it feel good to find an offensive rhythm and then keep it for quite a while.
A sustained explosion
Mizzou opened the game with a brisk, 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a lovely lob from Drew Lock to Emanuel Hall. But the Tigers quickly fell out of rhythm after that — their next three possessions produced only 41 yards (2.7 per play), two punts, and a goal line fumble.
Johnathan Johnson’s punt return score made it 14-0 Mizzou, but after only marginal gains in the first quarter, EMU scored to cut Missouri’s lead to seven. But after the teams traded punts, Mizzou ignited:
- 12 plays, 76 yards, TD
- 1 play, 87 yards, TD
- 3 plays, 87 yards, TD
- 6 plays, 78 yards, TD
- 7 plays, 76 yards, TD
Over the course of about 14 minutes, Mizzou scored 33 points and averaged 13.9 yards per play. Long lobs turned into huge gains; so did quick sideline passes.
This was the vision. This is what Missouri’s offense is supposed to look like. The offensive line kept a pristine pocket for Drew Lock despite what appears to be a decent EMU pass rush, and while the run game was not incredible, it was good enough to force the Eagles to continue to mind it.
Johnson was the clear star here, with five catches for 115 yards and punt returns of 54 and 20 yards (and yes, a lost fumble, too). But the revelation here was the variety. Against West Virginia, Chris Black and Sean Culkin were efficient, and no one else was even close.
But on Saturday, everybody was efficient, and Black and Culkin didn't even play a role. Johnson, Ray Wingo, and Hall (combined: 11 catches, 330 yards) were absurdly explosive, and the tight end position was productive even without Culkin, who was on the sideline in a boot -- Kendall Blanton and Jason Reese combined for six catches, 58 yards, and two scores. Throw in Dimetrios Mason taking the ball near the line of scrimmage (five catches for 51 yards, one carry for nine), and J'Mon Moore and Keyon Dilosa pitching in as well (three catches, 25 yards), and ... again, this was how things are supposed to look.
Now we get to find out how much value confidence really has. Georgia comes to town next Saturday, and while the Bulldogs looked strangely mortal against Nicholls State on Saturday, the Dawgs obviously have athleticism EMU cannot come close to matching. Does Johnson look confident and explosive as he did on Saturday night, or does he look hesitant again like he did in Morgantown? Who does Lock lean on — does he go back to Moore, Culkin (if healthy), and Black, or was yesterday’s “Everybody in the pool!” approach the likely approach moving forward?
What of the defense?
It amuses me to step back and realize just how high my/our expectations are for the Missouri defense.
For the game, EMU averaged just 4.7 yards per play and managed only one sustained drive while the game was within reach. Running back Ian Eriksen gained only 90 yards in 23 carries. Quarterback Todd Porter was 5-for-16 in the first half, and Mizzou defensed (picked off or broke up) a rather incredible 17 passes. By all means, Mizzou did exactly what it needed to do defensively, and because of it the Tigers would have won even if the offense hadn't clicked like it did.
But ... it still felt like something was missing, didn't it? Porter found a second-half rhythm when the game was out of reach (and the rhythm got even stronger when Aarion Penton left the game), and it became increasingly clear that Mizzou is still in transition from an aggressive front to a reactive one. The Tigers really were fine when the game was in the balance but still ended up with only four tackles for loss, one sack, and three QB hurries. The havoc numbers will end up fine because of the pass defense, but ... four tackles for loss! Against EMU!
Through two games, Charles Harris has zero stops behind the line and little to no invasive presence. We saw how the defense was intended to operate, and again, it was fine. But the personality is different, and the swagger isn't the same. We'll see if this means things are actually worse or just different.
Barry Odom played linebacker at Mizzou, got his big coaching break at Mizzou, and got to lead his team out onto Faurot Field and win for the first time on Saturday. Has to feel pretty damn good.