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Five Takeaways from Mizzou’s 34-27 win against Memphis

It wasn’t pretty, but a win is a win.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 23 Memphis at Missouri

So, on a scale of 1-10, how would you describe your level of anxiety in that game against Memphis? It’s OK if your answer is on the higher end of the scale. It’s completely rational, in fact. Nothing about that game was particularly fun. All’s well that ends well, and I’ve been saying all week that this was another “pass-fail” test for Mizzou. The Tigers passed the test. But, hot damn, that was quite a frustrating game to watch as a fan.

Alright, enough of my preamble. Let’s get to the takeaways.

1) Missouri officially has a passing game to fear:

Brady Cook had zero career 300-yard performances prior to last week. He has now achieved the feat in back-to-back games. After struggling to throw deep last season and the first two weeks of this season, he finished this game 6-for-7 on throws that traveled at least 15 yards down the field, racking up a total of 193 yards. Not bad for a quarterback many wanted to personally drive off campus as recently as a couple weeks ago. But he’s not alone in being worthy of praise after that game.

The Tigers’ offense put together a (mostly) solid performance all the way around. The running game finally got going. Luther Burden III finished with 177 receiving yards, the most by a Mizzou wide receiver in a regular season game against an FBS opponent since J’Mon Moore finished with 196 yards against Georgia in 2016. Mookie Cooper came up with a few big grabs. Theo Wease Jr. had a nice touchdown. Marquis Johnson once again came down with a game-changing touchdown. The offensive line allowed just two sacks.

It wasn’t perfect. But overall, a strong performance with more than enough explosive plays to carry the day.

2) Missouri’s defensive effort will probably go overlooked in that win:

Alright, yes, the last drive was a bad look. Memphis traveled 75 yards on eight plays to bring the game within a touchdown. No excuses. Gotta get a stop in that spot. But Memphis gained 324 yards on 68 plays (4.77 yards per play) prior to that final drive. That’s one hell of a game. Even including the final drive, Memphis finished the game with a 25 percent offensive success rate. Their success came on big plays (11 explosive plays for 222 yards) and success on third/fourth down (7-for-18 on third down, 3-for-4 on fourth down). Yes, that counts. It matters. But it’s typically not something that is as sustainable over the long haul as a high success rate.

Missouri has to get the third down defense figured out. The explosives need to get under control. Those two issues are somewhat correlated, with the blitzes not getting home as often as they did a year ago. If you’re going to blitz, it has to be effective. Far too often over this season, that hasn’t taken place. If the pass rush starts getting home, the defense’s issues start to go away. We’ll see if they can get it going against Vanderbilt.

3) There were too many mental mistakes in that game

Missouri finished the day 0-for-8 on third downs. The Tigers settled for field goals from inside the Memphis 15-yard line on multiple occasions. Cody Schrader fumbled the ball on the Tigers’ own 10-yard line which almost directly led to a Memphis touchdown. The penalties were once again a problem, finishing the day with four offensive penalties; two holds and two false starts (there was also the Burden unnecessary roughness). A penalty took away what should have been a successful (and awesome!) onside kick to open the game.

The defense missed tackles left and right. There were multiple occasions in which there were clear coverage busts.

The goal for this team has shifted. At the beginning of the season, I was hoping for eight wins. The conference seems weaker, and the team appears to have a higher upside than many of us — including myself — were anticipating. So, nitpicking is a must. This team has to get its mental mistakes figured out if it’s going to have a chance to have a special season. It’s possible to beat Memphis with this many mental breakdowns. The same can not be said about beating the likes of LSU or Georgia, and it’ll make things more difficult than it needs to be against the likes of Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee or Arkansas.

4) Can we please not schedule another game at The Dome?

I totally understand why Missouri decided to move this game from Memphis to St. Louis. Scheduling a “neutral site” game instead of a true road game is a win. And I want to credit the fans who were in attendance at the game. It seemed like it was generally a solid atmosphere, all things considered.

But that turf was barely fit for football games when the Rams played in The Dome. Getting tackled on that turf is painful. The playing surface simply isn’t the same quality that these players play on during the regular season in the SEC. I lost count of how many Missouri players left the game due to injury.

Playing in St. Louis is a smart idea. There’s a natural recruiting base in the city, and many of the top players on the team are from the area. That’s all well and good. But playing at The Dome is probably not the way to do it in the future. CityPark is a great stadium that would make for an awesome football atmosphere if the timing can be worked out with City SC. Playing at Busch Stadium would be amazing if it would be possible.

Again, I understand why this game had to be played at The Dome. Playing in St. Louis this year and beyond is admirable. But let’s try to avoid playing another game at The Dome if possible in the future.

5) That was a pass/fail game, and Missouri passed:

I think a lot of the coverage coming off of this game will be skewed negative. I get it. It was an ugly football game coming off one of the biggest Mizzou wins over the past decade. But the truth of the matter is Missouri is now 4-0 for the first time since 2013. The Tigers will be significant favorites next weekend at Vanderbilt with the chance to host LSU at home in week six in what would be the biggest Mizzou game in a decade. Nobody asks at the end of the season how you won your games. They just ask how many you won. The Tigers were on the wrong side of a whole lot of one-score games over the past couple seasons. They’re finally finding themselves on the winning side of the ledger.

A win is a win is a win. The Tigers won. That’s worth celebrating.