1. Mississippi State's biggest strength this year is depth in the passing game. We knew that coming in -- MSU ranks 65th in Rushing S&P+ but 11th in Passing S&P+ -- and we saw its effects on Thursday night.
Even against a pretty good Mizzou secondary, the Bulldogs were able to pick out matchups they liked and exploit them. That often meant "Find Fred Ross and throw him the ball," but DeRunnya Wilson had success down the sideline, both Fred Brown and Darrion Hutcherson had at least one 20+ yard catch, and MSU ended up with six guys with at least two catches. Mizzou's offense, meanwhile, had two such players, and one of them was Emanuel Hall, who had all three of his receptions in one fourth-quarter drive.
Logan Cheadle has been earning more and more playing time at cornerback for Mizzou, but MSU found him physically outmatched on a couple of occasions and took advantage. Aside from dump-offs, Dak Prescott didn't appear interested in testing Aarion Penton all that much, but he had enough quality elsewhere to find receivers in space. The good news, as it were, is that none of the three remaining opponents have either Prescott at QB or a receiving corps this deep.
This isn't an indictment of Mizzou's secondary so much as it's a reminder what a nice, deep receiving corps can do for you. Mizzou had one in 2013 and will have one again one day ... but quite obviously doesn't have one this year.
2. From a havoc standpoint, Mizzou matched MSU. The Tigers ended up with 11 tackles for loss, five passes defensed, and three forced fumbles in 77 plays. MSU ended up with 11 TFLs, 6 PDs, and one forced fumble in 71. Havoc rate for both teams: 25%.
One of the main differences was that two of MSU's six PDs were interceptions. Mizzou had a couple of excellent chances at INTs but couldn't reel them in. And when your offense is still struggling -- despite that late 72-yard run by Tyler Hunt, Mizzou still averaged only 4.5 yards per play, which is absolutely improvement and still quite depressing -- you rue every missed chance. Mizzou recovered three of the game's four fumbles and blocked a punt but still needed more breaks. And power to MSU for keeping its head and making the plays to win the game in the second half. Among other things, we saw the difference between having a freshman QB and a senior QB last night.
3. Drew Lock made a lot of mistakes. He's still a freshman, and he's got a wretched line in front of him (and few receivers open), but there were quite a few occasions last night when I couldn't even figure out what he was seeing. Quickly and decisively throwing into double coverage. Staring down receivers and throwing to them even though they didn't even start out open. And ... whatever happened on that early-third quarter interception.
Rolling right after he got chased out of the pocket (at least two linemen committed dramatic holds and still couldn't actually keep Lock protected for more than about a second and a half), Lock fired downfield, and I assumed he was throwing the ball away, but it stayed in bounds for the easiest pick of Kivon Coleman's life.
Drew Lock said his 3rd qtr INT was "me trying to make something out of nothing" and "being an ignorant 18 year old."— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 6, 2015
Lock: "I made a horrible play. I knew I made a horrible play. We all knew I made a horrible play."— Gabe DeArmond (@GabeDeArmond) November 6, 2015
This is the downside to playing a true freshman without giving him the necessary tools. Five games ago, I called for Lock to begin starting over Maty Mauk because Mauk had completely lost the plot and played like a freshman against Kentucky. (Mauk would then get himself suspended and hint at personal problems that were likely affecting his level of play, among other things.)
One of the primary objections to the thought of Lock playing was that he might get David Carr'd (or Blaine Gabbert'd) -- his development would get thrown off by a lack of support from the players around him. That was an obvious danger, but I thought if Mauk wasn't actually distinguishing himself as better than the freshman, you might as well play the freshman.
I'm not going to say his development has obviously been stunted, or that he's been ruined by the experience, or anything like that. He's got at least two more years to develop, and you need quite a few hands to count true-freshman QBs in this sport who looked lost, then developed into quality starters. (To name one: Georgia's Matt Stafford completed just 53 percent of his passes with seven TDs, 13 INTs, and only a 109 passer rating, and that was with a much better supporting cast. The next year, his rating was 129; the year after: 154.)
Still, it's a concern. In Lock's fifth start, he made more decision-making mistakes than he had in any game yet. His passing game supporting cast once again did him no favors, but ... it's a concern until he proves it's not.
4. My goodness, pass protection was a nightmare. Run blocking was still inconsistent -- even though Russell Hansbrough and Ish Witter combined to actually average 5 yards per carry for the first time in ~13 years (give or take), there were still lots of stuffs there, too. But you could actually see progress in the run department. MSU's pass rush, which hasn't been incredibly amazing this year, was able to immediately generate pressure on Lock; it was like every pass attempt was on a passing down, even when it wasn't.
On Missouri's second snap, Lock threw a simple, quick pass to Nate Brown, but in what seemed like about a one-step delay, with Lock in shotgun, MSU was able to get pressure on him. That's ridiculous. And on the third play, it was a team picture in the Mizzou backfield. To say the least, that set a tone, one that continued through Mizzou's last drive, when Tyler Hunt briefly became super-human, and Mizzou's line prevented points regardless.
Hunt's 72-yard run (which included almost no blocking) set Mizzou up inside the MSU 30, and a pass interference penalty gave Mizzou the ball at the MSU 2. Mizzou then committed an illegal formation penalty. Then Lock got sacked. Then, after Hunt got back to the MSU 7, Mitch Hall committed a false start. That meant third-and-goal from the 12 ... and eventually no points.
It's not surprising when a bad line doesn't suddenly become good. But because of the makeup of the line, this awful unit hangs like a dark cloud only not over this season, but next season. Mizzou will have to replace four starters and five of its top six. And while a) things can't get much worse (hooray!) and b) experience might not actually matter like we think up front, the simple fact is that probably four of next year's starters haven't been deemed good enough to crack this awful lineup this year. (But I'll stop there since we've talked about this for most of the last month, and since I have a 'looking toward 2016' post to finish at some point in the coming days.)
5. I'm still assuming there's a reason why Tyler Hunt doesn't get more touches. He now has Missouri's three longest plays from scrimmage, and yesterday's big gainer was an incredible one-man effort.
72 yard run from Tyler Hunt pic.twitter.com/rb9dLWoX3e
— Rock 〽️ Nation (@rockmnation) November 6, 2015
Now, Mizzou's other running backs looked pretty good yesterday, too. Ish Witter was as quick and decisive as we've seen him, and while Russell Hansbrough often had defenders on him the moment he got the ball, he looked like Russ again. Still, for a team desperate for big plays, Hunt has provided some but still only has 20 carries and five receptions, fewer than three touches per game.
While there are plenty of reasons to question any coaching staff, I still assume there's a reason for this. Either he's not a very good practice guy, or he's not a very good blocker. That's usually the case -- Mizzou's coaches don't have a vested interest in tamping down their own potential, so if he's not getting more snaps, one should probably assume there's a thought process behind it.
But ... damn. Hunt isn't the most agile guy in the world, but he has 340 yards in 25 touches. As a random comparison, Witter has 512 yards ... in 113 touches.
Side note: I get far too much enjoyment out of Grumpy Gary. Pinkel gets so cranky and defensive when talking to the media after losses. He just wants to say "Things are bad, and we're going to try to fix them. Goodbye." But he can't, and he knows it, and it makes him gruff.
Still, this is pretty impressive defensiveness, even for him.
Pinkel says he finds it curious we ask about Tyler Hunt after a 72-yard run but not before. That's not my recollection.— David Morrison (@DavidCMorrison) November 6, 2015
Yeaaaaaaah. I seem to recall Hunt being a pretty popular topic after the SEMO and UConn games, too.
6. I think I disagreed with more decisions last night than I have in quite a while. I haven't been particularly mean or nice regarding offensive coordinator Josh Henson this year, simply because when your line is this bad, and the components of your passing game are this young, and your best player (Hansbrough) is hurt for most of the year, there are no good plays to call. While I have plenty of questions about Henson, it hasn't been my top concern.
But wow, do I have some questions regarding last night. Like, why, after MSU opened the second half with a score, and after Mizzou actually established a run game in the second quarter, did you come out passing at all? Why give Lock an opportunity to throw the heinous pick he threw when it appears you might actually be able to run the ball a bit? At times, it felt like Mizzou was attempting balance for balance's sake, even though the run was working reasonably well and the passing game was proving it had no hope. I understand why you want to strive for balance, but you also have to acknowledge the reality of the situation.
And while we're asking questions (more for PInkel than Henson): why not kick the field goal on fourth-and-5 from the MSU 22 when you're down three possessions with 11 minutes left? And if you're going to go for it ... why in the world are you going to run an option with Lock? I loved that type of call when James Franklin was the QB, but James Franklin's not the QB.
And why not challenge two potentially awful calls: 1) the backwards pass that Dak Prescott threw when he got lit up by Charles Harris (it very much looked like a backwards pass, which would have resulted in a 10-yard loss instead of an incomplete pass -- those 10 yards would have come in handy considering MSU ended up making a 36-yard field goal), and 2) the potentially bad spot Mizzou received when Russell Hansbrough appeared to rush for 13 yards on third-and-13. Pinkel's usually pretty quick to challenge those things, but both remained unchallenged. Obviously those two calls don't make up an 18-point difference, but considering Mizzou had two scoring opportunities in the fourth quarter, the context of those two drives might have been totally different.
7. Special teams was ... a draw? Mizzou blocked a punt, and Andrew Baggett nailed a 35-yard field goal in the middle of an incredible downpour. Meanwhile, kick returns were still an outright nightmare, and MSU's Brandon Holloway was able to break a long kick return after muffing the catch. I guess that's pretty even?