1. Deep thoughts
Usually, the nuance comes. I'll pick up on little, individually successful or unsuccessful matchups. Or maybe a unit's success or lack thereof is different than in previous weeks, even if story lines remain similar.
But Florida's win over Missouri on Saturday night lacked nuance. It was hard to look for shades of gray -- Mizzou's defense was quite a bit better than Florida's offense (especially after the first quarter), and Florida's defense was much, much better than Missouri's offense (especially after the first drive). Offense bad, defense good: the story of 2015.
Florida ended up winning because the Gators had two successful drives before the Mizzou D took over, and Missouri's offense managed only one. Jalen Tabor's pick six in the third quarter merely finished off what we already saw coming. Missouri simply had no idea how to move the ball on Florida, and it was hard to come up with recommendations from the stands.
2. Give it to #32
Well, the Tigers probably could have gotten Russell Hansbrough more involved, I guess. It appeared his touches were still limited, which is usually based on how good/healthy he looked in practice this week (since a good portion of your snap count is determined well before Saturday with this staff), but he did damage with the touches he had.
His nine carries gained 74 yards, while 11 from Ish Witter gained just 39. Even including his non-success in the passing game (two targets, one catch, one yard), 11 plays involving Hansbrough still averaged 6.8 yards, and plays not involving Russ averaged 3.4.
Granted, most of the damage Hansbrough did was in a vacuum -- his 23-yard run late in the first quarter dug Mizzou out of a field position hole but did little else, and he had three carries for 36 yards in the fourth quarter, with Mizzou down 18.
Still, this was perhaps a good sign for the last six games of the year. Russ looked like Russ for the first time all season, and with a healthy Hansbrough and this defense, I'm confident that Mizzou finds two more wins on the schedule and goes bowling. That's been my lone goal for a couple of weeks now. If Hansbrough gets to where he can handle 15-25 touches, as we expected him to heading into the year, then Drew Lock is dealing with far fewer second-and-10s; Witter's five first-down carries gained just nine yards, while Hansbrough's five gained 21. That can add up.
Hansbrough aside, the main issue with Missouri's offense was one of talent -- the Tigers' offensive players didn't have as much of it as the Florida defenders opposite them. Florida's defensive line was better than Mizzou's offensive line. Florida's defensive backs were better than Missouri's receivers.
Without Hansbrough carrying 25 times, Mizzou was forced to look to freshmen and sophomores who just aren't quite ready yet. We began to see Witter's potential against South Carolina, and I still think Nate Brown could be a Bud Sasser clone by 2017. But Witter wasn't ready to do much against Florida's front, and Brown was swallowed whole, just like Sasser probably would have been if asked to play a huge role against this defensive backfield in 2012.
Part of being a developer of talent more than a recruiter is that you're aiming for three- and four-year improvement over immediate success. Because of the double-dip in attrition following 2013 and 2014, and because of Hansbrough's injury and slow recovery, Missouri's been forced to ask too many guys to contribute before they're ready this year. And they weren't ready for Florida, probably the best defense remaining on the schedule.
3. This is the pass defense we expected to see in 2015
There's no question that, when Florida built the early 11-point lead and Missouri proved that it probably wasn't going to figure out how to score 11 more points, the Gators' offense likely shifted into a lower gear. No need for risk at that point -- the only way Florida was going to allow enough points to lose was by handing the Mizzou offense good field position. So they were content to play it safe and punt. In their last 11 drives, they punted eight times and scored zero points.
Still, there was also little sign that Florida was going to be able to move the ball even if it needed to. After Kelvin Taylor's first nine carries gained a solid 46 yards, his final 19 gained just 53. And after Will Grier started the game 3-for-4 for 39 yards, he finished 17-for-29 for 169 and four sacks. Average yards per pass attempt (inc. sacks) for the night: 5.1. Considering what Grier did to the Ole Miss defense last week, that's fantastic.
Aarion Penton had three breakups to only 1.5 tackles, a sign that Florida had both little interest and little success in throwing toward him. And while Demarcus Robinson had a decent game -- 10 targets, 6 catches, 79 yards -- nobody else did. Florida had a little success with the tight ends, but the 23 passes that weren't toward Robinson gained just 129 yards, and five different Tigers finished with a sack: Walter Brady, Charles Harris, Terry Beckner Jr., Kentrell Brothers, and Donavin Newsom.
The Mizzou pass defense hasn't been anywhere close to bad this year, but last night confirmed what we thought was an awfully high ceiling for the unit. In fact, it might have been even higher than we expected, considering we weren't sure how the pass rush would perform with so many new contributors. There aren't a ton of good passing offenses remaining on the schedule, and Missouri will have a defensive advantage over most of the remaining offenses overall.
4. Youth movement
If you've been reading Rock M for long enough, you probably know how my brain operates after losses: I reflexively start looking to next year. Even if there's still plenty to play for, I can't stop my brain from going there.
But the future is just smacking you in the face with this team, and it has especially done so over the last couple of weeks. Just look at who/what is scheduled to return in 2016 and beyond.
- 100% of passing yards from the last two weeks scheduled to be back in 2016 and 2017
- 64% of rushing yards against South Carolina and 39% against Florida will be back in 2016 and 2017.
- 79% of receiving yards against South Carolina and 68% against Florida will be back in 2016 and 2017.
- 66% of tackles against South Carolina and 72% against Florida will be back in 2016, 29% and 36% (respectively) in 2017.
- 79% of tackles for loss against South Carolina and 89% against Florida will be back in 2016, 50% and 44% in 2017.
Between Harris, Beckner, Brady, etc., the defensive line is set for the next two seasons. The linebacking corps will lose Brothers but return Michael Scherer and Newsom. Cornerback in 2016 is set with Penton, John Gibson (who I thought was strong last night), Logan Cheadle, Anthony Hines, and company. Anthony Sherrils and Thomas Wilson are both sophomores at safety.
You can maybe see a little bit of a timing issue here, with Missouri scheduled to lose quite a few key players following 2016 (Penton, Scherer, Newsom, Josh Augusta) and maybe the offense not peaking again until 2017. Regardless, rarely can you see this far into the future with a team that still brings quite a few strengths (most of them defensive) to the table.
Obviously there's still plenty of work to be done in 2015. Mizzou is still a healthy 4-2 and could see plenty of success if the offense continues to grow (or resumes growth, I guess). But it's a pretty fun secondary game to see a good play and so frequently say "That guy's a freshman/sophomore!" This isn't quite a 2009-level youth movement, but it's close. With Gary Pinkel, that tends to shape up well for the future.