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A Fan’s Notes: A Close Loss in Athens

Notes, thoughts, and observations from halfway across the country on coming up short against the Death Star.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 04 Missouri at Georgia Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Are you pleased with Missouri’s performance in Athens? I am. I am satisfied. Sure, I am disappointed with the result; that big man interception is one for the annals, and there could have been cleaner play.

But the expectations for Missouri football do not include knocking off the two-time defending champs in their own backyard. It is not remotely disappointing to lose that game, even if it stung in the moment.

In fact, the competitiveness of this team, and the way they answered Georgia touchdowns and prevented a runaway, make me proud. It gives me more hope for the remaining three games, and those are the games that will answer the questions around our expectations.

Last year’s game against Georgia was close, famously so. It was mentioned multiple times by local and national media in the lead-up to this game. I am sure both coaches referred to it liberally – for opposite reasons. But that game was about Georgia: the road Dawgs slept walked through through three quarters, then stretched their muscles to dispatch the Tigers. The final win expectancy according to collegefootballdata? Georgia, 100%.

This year’s game was about Missouri. The Tiger running game was better than the Georgia front. The school of D-Line Zou played like it, harassing Carson Beck into his most uncomfortable day of the year. The win expectancy was Missouri, 57%.

Kirby Smart has built an absolute Death Star in Athens. He recruits his ass off, his coaching staff is immaculate, and his team is physical and talented. On the field, they do it all right. It takes a great, one in a million, to blow up a Death Star. Mizzou didn’t have that Saturday, even if for a few minutes you allowed yourself to close your eyes and think they might.

So yes, the result stings. But there are very few college programs where only win-loss results can matter. The rest of us have to find a rational place in expectations, and in process. And right now, the process has been set to go ahead and smash the season’s expectations.

I’ve written it before: Missouri had four wins on their schedule, four coin flips, and four likely losses. Hold serve – note: Eli’s teams have pretty much always held serve – and get three out of four coin flips, and you have the best record of the Drink era. And if you could manage to sweep the games against peers? Steal one of the upsets? Now we’re cooking.

One upset has been stolen; the final opportunity comes this week and it looks a lot more manageable than it did in August. After that come two coin flips that now look like wins. Follow through, and you’ve won ten games for the first time in a decade. That interception into Stackhouse’s prodigious girth will always be a painful memory. But even in the course of failing to achieve the impossible, the Tigers showed what has become possible.

  • In both of Missouri’s two losses to powerhouse teams, the opponent slowed down Luther Burden dramatically in the second half. LSU had a unicorn on defense in Harold Perkins, and used him in coverage to slow down Burden. Georgia has an excellent batch of cover players – probably the best in the country – and that group, along with Burden’s ankle injury, slowed down our blue-chip chip purveyor. Part of Luther’s continued growth to end this season and into next will be dealing with physicality and finishing tough contests. The fully-realized version of this talented player is going to be so, so good.
  • I don’t understand why there seemed to be so much controversy around the reviewed OPI on twitter from Missouri fans. That seemed like a false flag hubbub to me. Mizzou fans we’ve been screwed righteously plenty of times, no need to create one when there isn’t one.
  • What’s the deal with kickoffs? Through the LSU game, only six out of Mevis’ 38 kicks were returned. In the three games since, eight of 14 have been returned. South Carolina wasn’t good enough to take advantage of this – average starting field position after kickoffs at the 22.7 – but Kentucky and Georgia both started at the 30 on average after a kickoff. Why? Is Mevis hurting, or is this a new coverage strategy? If it’s the latter, it is not working; and if it is the former, certainly there is another specialist on the roster who can put the ball through the end zone.
  • Oh my god, that Marquis Johnson gaffe. That can’t happen. And Connor Tollison still somehow snaps early a few times a game?? There are a few matchups Missouri was able to exploit against Georgia, but “team discipline” is absolutely not one of them.
  • Cody Schrader absolutely is that dude. Also very happy to see Darius Robinson and Ennis Rakestraw recovering from the nagging injuries that were hampering them earlier in the season. Robinson was a force today, and it’s no coincidence that the defense has played its best ball in recent weeks as he has ronuded into shape.