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Who Gets Thrown at When You Can’t Throw at Penton?

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Aarion Penton has been -- dare I say — impregnable over the first 2 games. How strong has his supporting cast been?

Eastern Michigan v Missouri
Aarion Penton’s a sixth of the way through the regular season and he’s putting together a pretty good one.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Allow me a minute, if you will, for a short vignette.

Missouri senior cornerback Aarion Penton, still smarting from a shoulder stinger suffered while swatting away a third-down pass four plays earlier, exited Missouri’s 61-21 win over Eastern Michigan after the defense’s 53rd snap and did not return.

Before Penton exited the game, Eagles quarterback Todd Porter was 8-of-20 throwing for 97 yards and a pick...by Penton, natch. After Penton left, Porter was 15-of-25 for 190 yards, a touchdown and a pick. A rating of 70.7 DAP (During Aarion Penton), a rating of 129.0 AAP (After Aarion Penton).

Yes, Eastern Michigan threw more as it fell further behind. Yes, Missouri’s defense got more vanilla as the Tigers got further ahead.

Still, Missouri’s pass defense was 82.5 percent worse (rating-wise) without Penton. Let me say this in a less quantitative way.

Aarion Penton is, by far, Missouri’s best pass defender by now, and it’s not even close.

That’s a very good thing for the Tigers (especially with their pass rush finding its way), unless two things happen.

  1. Penton gets injured for a long period. Which, judging from Coach Barry Odom told the assembled at Wednesday’s SEC teleconference — and faithfully recorded by my suave, dashing Trib successor Blake Toppmeyer here -- isn’t the case here. Odom said Penton should be good to go against Georgia.
  2. Teams stop throwing at Penton altogether and start preying on the rest of the defense.

That...has a better chance of happening.

Let’s go through the first two games and see who Missouri’s opponents are targeting and how successful they have been in doing so. Without an all-22 view of the game (and with so many players switching off man and zone from play to play), it’s sometimes difficult to tell which receiver is which defender’s problem. And, in some zone cases, a safety could get tagged with a pretty big gain because, say, the linebacker in zone coverage underneath him released a receiver too early and said receiver was able to nestle into that hole in the zone.

What I’m saying here is this isn’t exactly a failproof way of saying who’s done well, who’s done poorly. But the corners’ assignments are usually more cut-and-dried.

Penton’s done well. Everyone else: not as well.

at West Virginia

Aarion Penton: 6-of-8, 39 yards, INT

John Gibson: 2-of-3, 32 yards

Logan Cheadle: 0-of-2, PD, Sherrils INT

Cornerbacks: 8-of-13, 71 yards, 2 INT, PD

—-

Anthony Sherrils: 4-of-5, 70 yards

Ronnell Perkins: 1-of-2, 13 yards

Thomas Wilson: 0-of-1

Safeties: 5-of-8, 83 yards

—-

Donavin Newsom: 3-of-6, 48 yards

Joey Burkett: 3-of-3, 27 yards

Terez Hall: 3-of-3, 29 yards

Michael Scherer: 1-of-3, -5 yards

Linebackers: 10-of-15, 99 yards

(Throwaway: 0-of-1)

The Mountaineers basically tried attacking Penton by covering up his man (the outside receiver) with a slot guy and trying to block him out of the play to open up a big gain for the outside receiver. It didn’t work. West Virginia averaged only 4.88 yards a pass while targeting Penton, 7.38 yards per pass when not targeting him.

The one time Skyler Howard tried Penton deep, Penton made an acrobatic, leaping interception. The rest of the corners acquitted themselves well too, as the group held the Mountaineers to 71 yards on 13 attempts with an interception near the end of the first half when Cheadle ushered his man into Sherrils’ zone and Sherrils made the interception.

West Virginia made hay in the middle of the field and on underneath routes, hitting the safeties and linebackers for 182 yards on 23 attempts. Sherrils and Newsom, stuck often on slot guy Daikel Shorts (eight catches, 131 yards), were targeted 11 times for seven catches and 118 yards.

Gibson, on the other side from Penton, let up two catches for 32 yards on three targets. We’ll see more of that against Eastern Michigan...

vs. Eastern Michigan

John Gibson: 7-of-10, 87 yards, TD, 2 PD

Logan Cheadle: 4-of-6, 32 yards, 2 PD

Aarion Penton: 1-of-5, 12 yards, INT, 3 PD

DeMarkus Acy: 0-of-2, 2 PD

Christian Holmes: 0-of-2, PD

Cornerbacks: 12-of-25, 131 yards, TD, INT, 10 PD

—-

Anthony Sherrils: 3-of-5, 53 yards

Thomas Wilson: 2-of-3, 35 yards, Garrett PD

Cam Hilton: 1-of-1, 8 yards

Safeties: 6-of-9, 96 yards, PD

—-

Michael Scherer: 1-of-4, 0 yards, 2 PD

Donavin Newsom: 2-of-3, 34 yards, Burkett INT

Brandon Lee: 1-of-1, 23 yards

Joey Burkett: 1-of-1, 3 yards

Cale Garrett: 0-of-1, Frazier PD

Terez Hall: 0-of-1

Linebackers: 5-of-11, 60 yards, INT, 3 PD

The good: Gibson broke up two of the 10 passes that targeted him. The bad: he allowed seven catches for 87 yards on those targets, including a 5-yard touchdown on a fade route and gains of 14, 16, 21 and 25 yards.

Let’s contrast that with Penton, who allowed a 12-yard catch on the first pass thrown at him and fit in three pass break-ups and a 67-yard interception return into the other four.

Yes. That is good.

The linebackers were a little more effective (with Burkett’s pick-6 coming when Terry Beckner spooked Porter into not noticing Newsom’s man also had Burkett standing right in front of him), while the safeties were still a bit shaky.

Sherrils did get saddled with a rather tough 32-yard gain to his name, though, when he got stuck accounting for two players on a halfback screen and couldn’t shed the tight end block in time to blow up the play. Pity, that.

Totals

John Gibson: 9-of-13, 119 yards, TD, 2 PD

Aarion Penton: 7-of-13, 51 yards, 2 INT, 3 PD

Logan Cheadle: 4-of-8, 32 yards, Sherrils INT, 3 PD

DeMarkus Acy: 0-of-2, 2 PD

Christian Holmes: 0-of-2, PD

Cornerbacks: 20-of-38, 202 yards, TD, 3 INT, 11 PD

—-

Anthony Sherrils: 7-of-10, 123 yards

Thomas Wilson: 2-of-4, 35 yards, Garrett PD

Ronnell Perkins: 1-of-2, 13 yards

Cam Hilton: 1-of-1, 8 yards

Safeties: 11-of-17, 179 yards, PD

—-

Donavin Newsom: 5-of-9, 82 yards, Burkett INT

Michael Scherer: 2-of-7, -5 yards, 2 PD

Joey Burkett: 4-of-4, 30 yards

Terez Hall: 3-of-4, 29 yards

Brandon Lee: 1-of-1, 23 yards

Cale Garrett: 0-of-1, Frazier PD

Linebackers: 15-of-26, 159 yards, INT, 3 PD

There’s some nice symmetry here: Both Gibson and Penton have been targeted the same number of times: 13.

Gibson has given up 9 catches for 119 yards and a touchdown, a 171.51 rating.

Penton has given up 7 catches for 51 yards and two interceptions, a 56.03 rating.

That is stark.

Of the slightly concerning things about Missouri’s defense in the early going (the run defense against West Virginia...the pass rush against both teams...the tackling against Eastern Michgan...), an under-the-radar one is just what will Missouri do on the back end if Penton goes out? Or if offenses start throwing away from him?

(A little note about the linebacker numbers. The interior ones have mostly been responsible for guys out of the backfield, shallow crosses and things of that nature so far. That has gone well. The outside linebackers have had to chase tight ends and slot receivers more often on crosses and deep routes. That has gone less well.)