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A Fan’s Notes: Taking Care of Business

Notes, thoughts, and observations from halfway across the country on a solid effort against an underrated Memphis outfit

NCAA Football: Memphis at Missouri Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t perfect, but it wasn’t a nailbiter either. Missouri handled Memphis for an easy win, and never really needed to shift into high-gear. They left some yards and points on the table, and have some things they need to clean up. But it was never a real sweat, either.

It is a sign of the team’s talent and depth that they are able to do that. It is a sign of their potential that they can play their B-game against a top-40 team and still win by a comfortable margin.

It is also a sign of future losses when the talent margins get slimmer (or into the red) coming up in conference play, if they can not clean things up and play more sound football. O-Line penalties continue to be a worry, as is the tackling. Why do they struggle to force teams off the field so much on third and fourth down?

One of the early Football Outsiders discoveries was that good defenses that struggled on third downs generally found positive regression would come their way. That is encouraging. But there are matchup things that worry me, too: a lack of great pass-rushing edges means Blake Baker often has to bring extra rushers on passing downs, meaning teams can convert third-and-longs. Injuries to cornerbacks Ennis Rakestraw and Dreyden Norwood hurt their ability to cover a pretty good group of Memphis skill players on the money downs.

I’m a little angsty about these problems, but I think they are fixable. I’m not annoyed, I’m not ticked off. Our own podcast boi Nate Edwards said it best on Rock M Radio, that Eli Drinkwitz is in the perfect spot for a coach: owning an undefeated record, but with a team playing with obvious holes that the coaching staff can use to motivate guys and keep the team focused. You don’t want the “something to prove” mantra to become a “hey, we did it!” cheer even before Halloween.

Some other thoughts…

  • Very cool for the St Louis guys on the roster to play in their hometown. Luther Burden and Brady Cook clearly relished the opportunity. That said, I’m not sure I need to see another game on that turf, in the interest of self-preservation.
  • The Luther Burden breakout season continues to amaze. Last year it was easy to yell that he wasn’t getting the ball enough, but truth be told, he wasn’t a complete player last year. He really only won on gadget and side-to-side plays. He was not a deep threat, he rarely won over the middle, and he struggled to get releases on the perimeter against SEC defensive backs. The year of development has been amazing. He’s making plays down the field, he’s making tough catches over the middle, he’s finding ways to get open, and he’s letting plays develop in front of him. It took a year, but he’s the complete package.
  • Speaking of second-year breakouts, Daylan Carnell is a star. Like Burden, this was easy for the discerning Missouri viewer to see coming, but I’m still savoring it. There was no worry that the rangy ballhawk would stuff the stat-sheet with more opportunities, but I was worried about how he would do playing in the box. Martez Manuel had his struggles in coverage at the STAR position, but he was always a solid pass rusher and physical near the line of scrimmage.

Case in point: last year Manuel got 41 opportunities to rush the passer, and generated pressures on 11 of them (29%). Carnell rushed the passer 24 times, and only generated one pressure (4!). So far in 2023, Baker has sent Carnell after the quarterback 20 times, and he’s already generated eight pressures, good for 40%. He earned three of those pressures this week against Memphis. Carnell has made a positive impact in an area of the game that was a weakness for him last season.

  • That game was weirdly bizarre, and aesthetically unpleasing. Memphis’ weird gray uniforms on the weird gray grass. The camera angle was cutting off the receivers near the bottom of the picture. The announcer kept calling Missouri’s defensive coordinator “Blake Barker.” The minimal injury announcements or updates. Just a strange broadcast.
  • I think you can survive Vanderbilt and get some guys healthy. Ennis Rakestraw might be a tough miss because Vanderbilt’s best unit is wide receiver, but the defensive line can miss a day of Darius Robinson, I believe. Survive and advance.
  • I think Memphis will make that win look better as the season goes along. They are a real contender in the AAC and should play in their conference championship game. They will probably finish top-40 in SP+. We will look back and Missouri had a comfortable win over them in a neutral site missing a few stars and playing a second-tier effort. Pretty good.