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Missouri football in 2016: A work in progress

Optimism is good, but realism is… well, real.

Drew Lock
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

After two weeks of encouraging football against Georgia and Delaware State, Mizzou players and fans were eager to march into Death Valley and claim the statement win that (probably) should have been theirs two weeks ago in Columbia. With LSU seemingly reeling from the firing of Les Miles and an offense gone stagnant, this should have been Missouri’s chance at a road upset.

Those hopes quickly disintegrated as LSU proceeded to run over, around and through Mizzou on the way to a 42-7 drubbing that was really only close in the first quarter – and barely at that.

Here are 5 takeaways from the loss.

1. One shot, one opportunity…and letting it slip

One of the keys to a Mizzou victory would be to stifle whatever energy LSU had right away and get them playing discouraged. And the chances were there right off the bat. The Mizzou D made a few stops. Corey Fatony put Mizzou in advantageous field position, giving the offense short fields to start with. And Mizzou did have a couple of encouraging drives going at first.

But a few key plays turned the tide from what was Mizzou’s biggest chance of setting the tone. Donavin Newsom dropped an easy interception that would have put Mizzou in FG range. Chris Black slipped and dropped a third down pass that would have given the offense some momentum. And Drew Lock killed a drive by releasing his inner Maty Mauk and lobbing a back-footed rainbow to an LSU defender. All these plays – on their reverse outcomes – could have changed the whole dynamic of the game.

2. The best defense is a good…

While LSU set records offensively, Mizzou’s offense played offensively. (zing)

Mizzou has erased the apathy of last season largely on the arm of Drew Lock and the air raid style of play Josh Heupel has brought to town. But Saturday showed Mizzou’s offense might still be in the early phases of development. It’s good enough to hang 79 on a bad FCS team, but it still can’t quite match up with elite defenses.

Mizzou’s wide receivers were rarely open, and when they were they were either dropping a good pass or watching it sail over their head. The latter probably stems from the fact Drew Lock actually had to worry about getting hit. LSU’s pass rush was a different animal than Mizzou had seen, and while 2 sacks isn’t the worst thing in the world, Lock was constantly getting hurried and hit.

Why was Lock getting hit so much? Because of the continued lack of run game. LSU never really seemed threatened by the combination of Ish Witter and Damarea Crockett, and they never really became a big part of the plan, especially after Mizzou got down. Slinging the ball all over the field is fine to win many games, but it won’t work against the cream of the crop.

Damarea Crockett
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)

3. Ed Orgeron

I think it seemed pretty obvious from the outset that Mizzou did not expect LSU to come out playing with as much passion as they did. Or at least, they struggled to match it. It’s a fair assumption to make – Les Miles, the tenured, fun, mostly successful figure all of them had come to play for was gone. It’s easy to think they would come in a little sluggish.

But that wasn’t the case, and Mizzou didn’t know how to adjust to it. Ed Orgeron got LSU ready to play, and from the first whistle they looked faster, more determined and more excited to play football. That’s a combination of credit to Orgeron for getting his players ready, and criticism of Odom and his staff for not adequately preparing his players for an embarrassed LSU squad looking to redeem itself for getting its coach fired.

4. An embarrassment of riches

I’m referring, of course, to LSU’s immense wells of talent. Any Mizzou fan can admit it would be nice to have a player like Leonard Fournette go down to an injury, and then replace him with another 5-star recruit (Guice) and a 4-star waiting as the third-stringer (Williams). As fun as the Charles Harris, train-up-a-2-star stories are, sometimes Mizzou is going to be outmatched in terms of pure athleticism and football talent.

The talent disparity becomes especially evident when you’ve got an offensive squad as young as Mizzou. It’s easy to consider this played a huge factor when an offense as confident as this one got shell-shocked like it did. It’s harder to reckon with on the defensive side.

5. Lowering the bar

In the Georgia takeaways post last year, I wrote about how youth probably shouldn’t be looked at as an excuse for losing games. I still don’t think it should, but it should set an appropriate barometer for how this team performs on the season.

I still don’t think six to seven wins is out of the question, especially with Arkansas coming to Columbia, and the weaknesses of Tennessee and Florida on full display. There’s no way Mizzou can’t grab one of those three games. But after a hard-fought effort against a good-not-great Georgia team and a beat-down against a very, very bad Delaware State, I think Mizzou fans were riding a little high.

The preview post Bill put up had a poll where the 62% of fans voted Mizzou would win by 1 or 2 scores. Optimism is good, but realism is… well, real.

Mizzou is a young, exciting team that is on the cusp of being good, but is probably still in the average to slightly above average range. There are kinks in the offense that need to be worked out (#CROCKETTFORSTARTER2016), and the defense is obviously still adjusting to a new scheme. With more work, this team can get to 6 or 7 wins and a winnable bowl game. That’s a major improvement from last year I think anyone will take. But it’s probably fair to say they won’t be walking away with wins against teams like LSU until at least next year.

See y’all in two weeks!


Interesting tweet here.