Atmosphere (Literally and Figuratively)
This is the way Gary's career ends: not with a bang but a whimper. The one and a half teams that actually came to play the game seemed to be overshadowed by the entirety of Coach Pinkel's legacy, the utter futility of his last season, the immediacy of his and his player's support for the recent protests, and the cold. The crowd was largely lethargic under their blankets, even for the senior send-offs. Even Leftwich's late catch, Lock's late TD, and Reese's two-point conversion catch didn't seem to register with the rapidly dwindling crowd.
I would have liked to see Coach Pinkel get a more fitting send-off. Sadly, the season, the social climate, and the weather didn't play along. In retrospect, he could have rode off into the sunset after 2013 or 2014, and that would have been more fair. But life, and particular cancer, isn't fair. Hopefully, in a few years, a Mizzou team on its way to a national championship can bring Gary, now fully in remission, out for a victory lap at halftime to the raucous applause of a packed house, to take credit for the rock-solid foundation he built where previously there had only been quicksand.
Coaching & Play-Calling
As usual, the defense, as a whole, played spectacularly, despite the offense and special teams reliably putting them in difficult situations (or, more accurately, the same difficult situation over and over). Along with fighting fatigue, the defense struggled somewhat against Tennessee's ball fakes and misdirection: Tennessee regularly showed the potential for a hand-off to a man on jet motion, a hand-off to Hurd, or a keep by Dobbs on the same play, and it wasn't unusual to see one or two defenders chasing a fake. I'm not sure that's a solvable problem; one of our defense's greatest strengths is it's aggressiveness and disruptiveness, and they have the speed to make up for mistakes, so I'm not sure playing more of a read-and-react style would even be desirable.
If this game was death by slow slicing, Arkansas will be that much worse. Our offense is all too eager to give the ball back, and Arkansas is all too eager to soak up time of possession and wear defenses down. Unless Odom is prepared to play that 5-5-1 for an entire game, we should probably just start hoping for that pity bowl invite.
I'm the conductor (if not the engineer) on the Odom hype train, so I'd be perfectly happy if he were our head coach, with Kuligowski as the defensive coordinator, next year.
We get everyone back from this year, and Brantley from last year. We've spent the last couple years saying "Kul will get the next guys ready to play." Now he just has to make the same guys even better, if such a thing is possible.
Kentrell and Green will be notable loses, but there's promise in the pipeline. Scherer returns to kick ass and chew bubblegum, if not at the same time. If the formula holds, Newsom, a solid performer in the expanded Sam role this year, will slide over to Will, and the next man up will step in at Sam. Burkett looks like the early leader there, but it could just as easily be Lee or Hall. Next year's defensive line should make all of their jobs substantially easier.
We lose Dennis and Simon. I constantly struggle to evaluate our defensive backs, because the defensive line consistently keeps them from being in coverage very long. With the exception of E. J. going all Gandalf against Mike Evans (who was a solid 7" taller than him) while Manziel bought time with his legs, our DBs rarely display the ability to be a true shut-down player, because they rarely have to be. This is a good problem to have. Consequently, I'm optimistic that the next guys up will fill their roles ably.
Coaching & Play-Calling
The playbook is never the right size. If you make it too big, if you try to do too much, you don't have enough practice time to drill everything to perfection, and you end up with a log of plays you can't execute. If you make it too small, your players may know exactly what they're supposed to do on a given play, but it's all for naught because the other team knows that out of personnel X and formation Y, particularly on down and distance Z, there are only 1 or 2 plays you might be running.
Mizzou suffers from that latter problem. To some degree, this is forgivable. The quarterback and receivers are young, the OL has been helpless, and the defense has been stout. About all that can be reasonably asked of the offense at this point is to go three and out rather than turning the ball over. Even that seems to be asking too much at times.
Tennessee consistently seemed to be in Mizzou's huddle. Runs, as they've been all season, were largely smothered. Screens and passes to the boundary were gobbled up. Aside from one notable exception, receivers didn't appear to get open downfield.
At one point in the second half, eager to go home, my wife said, "we could save time if every time Mizzou gets the ball, we just run 1:30 off the clock and give them the ball back at midfield." She wasn't wrong.
I'm out of ideas. Pinkel's What We Do would say that in the off-season we'll recommit ourselves to the details and come back stronger. But Pinkel will be gone, and given the almost historical ineptitude of the offense, particularly given the incredible experience along the offensive line, I'm increasingly convinced that a change needs to be made. I'm not sure if it's a Ricker problem or a Henson problem; but it's a problem that needs to be solved before next season.
McGovern, McNulty, Boehm, Hall, Chappell: 5 graduating linemen with a combined 12 letters. Part of me wants to say they deserved better than this season, and part of me wants to say they had every opportunity to earn better. I skew toward the former, however, because I find it exceptionally hard to believe that four guys that played on the 2014 line (including two guys that played on the 2013 line and have an excellent chance of playing on Sundays) suddenly forgot how to block, particularly McNulty, who finds himself buried at third string after starting 10 games last year.
Next year doesn't provide much reason for hope, barring a coaching change: only Crawford and Abeln return with starting experience, without a clear leader like Boehm.
At last father time robs us of the last head on 2013's three-headed monster, as well as a walk-on wonder from Westran. I'm cautiously pessimistic for Steward's return. An injury that lingers for a year before surgery, and still isn't healed a year later doesn't seem likely to be healed 2 years later. I has high hopes, however, for Abbington and Witter. It's easy to forget, in retrospect, that Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy both suffered from a similar propensity to bounce runs to the outside rather than cut back and take what was there early in their careers. For a player that's always been able to outrun everyone else on the field, patience, anticipation and vision can be the hardest things to learn. I have faith that Brian Jones will work similar magic on Abbington and Witter.
We lose Leftwich, but no one else. I have high hopes for next year's receiving corps. Moore, Hall, Brown, Dilosa, and Blair are all listed at 6'3" and at or near 200 lbs, and none will be older than a junior. There also seems to be a similar M.O.: fast, but struggle to get separation and prone to dropping catchable balls. Tell me if you've heard that before. We only need 3 of them to have the kind of emergence DGB had from '12 to '13 or Sasser had from '13 to '14 to put defenses in a very unfortunate situation.
I'm struggling to suppress a voice in my head that says that the Drew Lock that played Saturday has regressed from the Drew Lock that played a series in relief of Mauk early in the season. There's enough other variables to explain it away: the early season Lock was playing against lesser competition, was probably running a limited number of scripted plays, and was probably playing against defenses tailored to stop Mauk, not him. That said, that Lock patiently went through his reads, threw on time, and threw the ball to where the receiver was supposed to be, or hung in the pocket and took a sack. He certainly didn't seem the kind of player that throws interceptions directly to cornerbacks on broken run plays out of sheer panic. Hopefully I'm wrong, and hopefully another year of experience works wonders for his poise and confidence.
I think I'll miss Baggett more because it seems like he's been around forever than for anything he did on the field. Has he lived down the great CLANK of '13? Maybe. On the plus side, we return Fatony and the majority of our revolving door of returners. Strange that I'm just now wondering why we never tried Witter back there. That actually seems like a good way to use his skillset.
Who even coaches our special teams, anyway?
PI and defensive holding were called... somewhat inconsistently, from my point of view. I probably didn't effect the outcome of the game, or even the final score.