When I woke up this morning, all I could remember was the punting. I wrote a few thousand words’ worth of instant reactions during Wednesday night’s Texas Bowl, but I had shuffled it all to the back of my mind in favor of Punter PTSD (PPTSD?). My dreams last night were basically this on repeat:
On Dec. 27, 2017, we saw the Jordan Shrugs game of college football punting.
Eight of his 11, 73 percent, were downed inside the 10. This genuinely may have been the best punting game of the last 10 years in college football, and I’m not sure it was close.
The Longhorns not only punted 11 times but also went three-and-out six times. That all but guarantees you a field position disadvantage, and for a team that drove more than 50 yards just twice all night, it all but guarantees defeat.
Texas won by 17.
We can talk about all the other things that obviously made a difference in this game, from fumbles, to penalties (and whether certain penalties should or shouldn’t have been called), to the offensive line’s worst performance since Purdue, to whatever else. Dickson was by far the most important player in this game, and with a replacement-level punter, you can make a very good case that the Longhorns lose.
But they didn’t. And life goes on. And it has no impact on 2018 or beyond.
Some other thoughts:
2. You’re not really still mad about Tom Herman’s antics are you?
Herman’s a pretty unique guy and one of the most impressive big-moment motivators in college football. At both Houston and Texas, his teams have performed insanely well as underdogs, and when you watch him, you can kind of understand why: he’s able to act like his players just enough to earn their trust. He is forever a cocky 20-year old at heart.
This has served him well and will probably continue to. It also means he can act like a douchebag from time to time.
Here is Texas coach, Tom Herman and QB Sam Ehlinger mocking Drew Lock's touchdown celebration from earlier in the game. Absolute trash. pic.twitter.com/slE3uDJYhS— Missouri Sports (@MizzouSports1) December 28, 2017
That appears to be Herman mocking Drew Lock’s touchdown celebration from earlier in the game. Pretty douchey!
I just don’t have the energy to get pissed off about stuff like this anymore. If you do, I commend you. I kind of wish I did. But the whole arena of “things you enjoy when it’s your guy doing it but seethe with rage about when their guy does it” is just exhausting after a while. It was every bit as tacky as everyone says, and in a rather self-defeating way — congrats, dude, for clinching a 7-6 record at one of the richest programs in the country. You should definitely celebrate by mocking your opponent. One of the coaches (non-Mizzou, to be clear) I talk to pretty regularly was appalled by it this morning because it’s not how you’re supposed to carry yourself in the profession.
Again, I agree with all of that. I had also completely forgotten this happened when I woke up this morning, only to find that we were all even madder about it in the a.m. Again, congrats if you have the energy for such a thing. But I threw away my clutching pearls a long time ago, and I feel much healthier because of it.
3. #DLineZou came through
Texas was able to find more rushing success on the edge than I anticipated, but really, there were only a few solid rushing plays when all was said and done. UT’s Daniel Young and Kyle Porter combined to rush 23 times for just 78 yards, and not even including two sacks, QBs Sam Ehlinger and Shane Buechele managed just 42 yards in 12 carries; you’ll take that every time.
Mizzou’s defensive front was wonderfully disruptive all night ... at least after the first couple of possessions. The Tigers recorded 11 tackles for loss, and only two were sacks. Eight different MU defenders had at least one TFL, and a ninth (Tre Williams) was credited with a QB hurry. Everybody from stalwarts Marcell Frazier and Terry Beckner Jr. (combined: 2.5 TFLs and two hurries) to lesser-knowns like Williams and A.J. Logan made plays in the backfield.
The best Mizzou performance of the night, however, belonged to Jordan Harold. The walk-on-turned-captain was never known as much of a play-maker; in the first 24 games of his Tiger career, he had only 6.5 TFLs. He had 3.5 on Wednesday. He was brilliant. What a way to go out.
By the way, though Texas’ offense wasn’t all that great in 2017, only TCU held the Horns to a lower yards per play average than Missouri. The defense very, very much did its part.
4. Cracking open the playbook
Another blurb from this morning’s SBN piece:
Missouri scored touchdowns on two of its first three drives that began outside of its 10. But the third such drive didn't take place until the beginning of the second half. Interim offensive coordinator Joe Jon Finley stayed incredibly conservative when Missouri was backed up, and it made at least a little sense — the Tigers have a pretty good punter (Corey Fatony), and he and head coach Barry Odom probably believed they’d actually be able to flip the field.
Dickson made sure that wasn’t the case. Mizzou began one drive all night beyond its 30. Texas had eight.
There is no doubt that coaches play things a little closer to the vest near their own goal line. You want to avoid disaster, and you want to avoid giving your opponent the biggest gift in football, easy points. I get it. And against a mortal punter, maybe Missouri eventually does flip the field in its favor and open up the playbook.
Finley’s play-calling was drastically conservative, however, and the Mizzou offensive line couldn’t find any run-blocking advantages until the second half, when the burlier Larry Rountree III began carrying more than Ish Witter.
Again, if Texas has something less than the greatest punting performance in 10 years, then maybe this works out alright. But all six of Missouri’s three-and-outs took place on drives that began inside the 20. Granted, with fewer fumbles/better turnovers luck, maybe that doesn’t end up mattering. Maybe Missouri eventually scores enough to win anyway. But Mizzou spent more than half the game playing from someone else’s playbook. That’s a shame.
5. Oh, Ish
Harold and Frazier’s last game on the defensive front was productive and exciting. J’Mon Moore had a decent game, catching five balls for 65 yards. Anthony Sherrils had a huge pass breakup and played a solid role in Texas averaging just 5.0 yards per pass attempt (including sacks).
Missouri didn’t have many senior starters at the end of the year, and most of them posted somewhere between neutral and good performances. Sadly, Witter did not.
Witter did score one of Missouri’s two touchdowns, but he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and suffered a costly drop early in the game. He also chose a terrible time to commit his first fumble of the season.
Mizzou had stabilized in the field position battle and looked like it was driving to tie the game in the second quarter when he was stripped from behind by P.J. Locke III. The ball bounced perfectly into Anthony Wheeler’s hands, and the linebacker returned it 38 yards for a score. That was a seven- to 14-point swing in a game that was still within seven points at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
Bowl games are final impressions, but they’re also just bowl games. Witter’s poor performance last night doesn’t change the role he had in assuring that Missouri made a bowl at all. The Tigers were 1-5 and facing the loss of Damarea Crockett, so Witter spent the last half of his senior season playing like Crockett. During Mizzou’s six-game winning streak, he rushed 115 times for 685 yards and five touchdowns. He had a touchdown reception, as well.
His 216-yard performance against Tennessee was incredible, and Mizzou fans got a sustained glimpse of all the “he does everything right behind the scenes” gushing we constantly heard from coaches. He was brilliant in pass protection. He almost never fumbled. He was incredible, no matter what happened in Houston.
6. Life goes on
I know it would have been a lot of fun to beat Texas, especially in Texas. But Missouri’s had pretty good fortune in bowls of late; the Tigers had won six of their last nine bowls before Wednesday. It was their turn to lose one. It was their turn to fall victim to an incredible performance (albeit by a punter), and it was their turn to suffer some downright appalling turnovers luck. It happens. It’s football.
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that while Mizzou hasn’t had that many bowl losses to deal with of late, the responses to losses have been great. In 1998, Mizzou responded to a Holiday Bowl loss with their best season in 20 years. In 2006, the Tigers responded to a Sun Bowl loss with their best (or maybe second-best) season ever. In 2010, they responded to a Texas Bowl loss with a 10-win bounceback.
Sure, this is a small sample, and we’ll skip right over 2004 (they responded to an Independence Bowl loss by putting together one of the most below-expectation performances in recent memory). But it’s at least a reminder that life goes on, and nothing that happened last night will impact what happens moving forward. Missouri is still a team that found itself over the last half of the season and now stands to return a vast majority of its two-deep. Sorry your Texas co-worker was able to razz you at work this morning. We’ll all move on soon enough.