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Football Film Room: A Cross Examination of Mizzou’s Defense vs Missouri State

Blown coverages, missed tackles and misreads were mainly responsible for the Tiger’s defensive woes.

Missouri State v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Missouri gave up six touchdowns and 492 yards to an FCS opponent last weekend so obviously there’s been discussion among fans as to what exactly was responsible for the defensive breakdowns.

With regard to the scheme vs talent debate, defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross answered some questions after practice this week:

“For what the opposing team was doing, a lot of misdirection, fly sweep — it kind of neutralized what our guys did up front. When they went to pass we obviously got pressure on them. So, I think a lot of it had to do with the opposing scheme, not so much what we do. We’re telling our guys to tee off and get off the ball. They're not reading at all any more - they're getting off the ball and playing up the field. Hopefully this week that’ll show up a little bit more — they’ll be a more conventional offense "

Let’s take a look at some of the significant plays and try and see what went wrong.

First Quarter

Missouri State motions receiver Malik Earl across the formation and instead of defending the outer-most threat DeMarkus Acy bites on the inside route dragging him toward two linebackers already in underneath coverage, leaving the tight end open in the flat. Jordan Ulmer forces him out of bounds after a first down. This was the first hint of how lost some players were just a few plays into the game.

Just a few plays later we see Missouri State exploit the size difference between their tight end and Missouri’s corners. Acy gets matched up against a bigger TE releasing on a skinny post and lets him get inside leverage in the redzone. Jordan Ulmer bits on the outside sweep fake and Acy is left with no help over the middle. Touchdown.

The next touchdown was the 75 yard run. Missouri State ran a lot of pre-snap motion in the first half to great success.

Anthony Sherrils followed the pre-snap motion across Missouri State’s formation instead of handing off the job to Jordan Ulmer who was coming downhill to cover, coincidentally taking him out of the play as well. When the ball was snapped, Sherrils was actually directly in front of Terez Hall who filled the inside gap before realizing the play was going to the space Sherrils had just vacated. Cale Garrett nearly made a play in the backfield but alas — an untouched 75 yard touchdown run.

It’s a bit easier to see when the SEC Network showed the high-angle replay:

Missouri’s second long touchdown run also came as a result of pre-snap motion. The 35 yard run started with Cam Hilton following the slot receiver across the formation. When the ball is snapped the defensive line appears to stunt into the run but the A-gap is wide open due to Eric Beisel biting hard to the wrong side leaving Kaleb Prewett and Anthony Hines to take on blocks from linemen moving to the second level. The rest was a footrace. Touchdown.

Second Quarter

Missouri State took advantage of more miscommunication and blown coverages to set up a fourth touchdown when TE Erik Furmanek runs free down the sideline after DeMarkus Acy and Cam Hilton both try to come up and play the underneath slot receiver.

Then probably the biggest mistake. On 3rd down with 24 yards to go, QB Peyton Huslig fakes the handoff and fired a missile to Malik Earl who slipped the tackle and avoided the big hit from Anthony Hines before taking it to the house. Earl finished the game with 8 catches, 163 yards and a touchdown.

Fourth Quarter

For their last touchdown, Missouri State ran a naked bootleg toward Acy’s side of the field, then threw the two point conversion at him. He was called for pass interference but they declined the penalty because the attempt was successful. This was the only Bears score in the second half.

DeMarkus Acy spoke with the media Tuesday,

"We've got to bounce back against South Carolina and show ‘em why we're one of the top defenses in the nation.”

Acy attributed the Tigers’ poor first-half performance to a bad week of practice,

“A lack of focus, a whole lot of stuff was tied into it. We feel like we didn’t have that good a practice anyway that last week — felt like guys were just going through the motions.”

D. Acy 9/5/17

Missouri defensive back DeMarkus Acy on the Tigers Struggles vs Missouri State

Posted by Rock M Nation on Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Few Words On Thrown Turnovers

Josh Heupel and Barry Odom praised Drew Lock this week for throwing the ball away at one point last weekend, but I wanted to highlight his interception for the opposite reason. It should never have been attempted.

Lock wasn't even throwing to his tallest or favorite receiver here. Floyd is about the same size as Johnson (~5'9) and the throw is into double coverage. Three things standout here:

  1. He forced an unnecessary pass into double coverage
  2. He had an open receiver to his right that would have had a first down
  3. This feels like the same play we’ve seen him make before when under pressure

Lock may have thrown the ball away on some other play, but it feels like he’s still got that gunslinger mentality to force passes into tight windows, for better or worse.

The highlight of Missouri State’s interception however, was all around glorious.

  1. Terry Beckner got push despite basically being held by the center (who lost his helmet)
  2. Brandon Lee cleanly hit the QB exposed outside the pocket — the hits add up later
  3. Logan Cheadle made a nice play on the ball while it was in the air for an interception

One of the things that Missouri’s defense simply must be able to do is cause turnovers this year. It might be the only way the Tigers can “break serve” and allow their offense to gain an advantage.

NOTE: I’ve been told I’m very good at putting words on a page and chewing bubble gum and it looks like I’m fresh out of metaphors to mix. In this space I’m aiming to take an amateur examination of Mizzou football plays to see why they did or didn’t work. I’m not doing this because I hate you, your favorite player or your son — Feel free to let me know where I’m wrong in the comments.