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WVU 26, Missouri 11: Tigers leave Morgantown with hope on offense and plenty of red flags

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Links and reflections from Missouri's 26-11 loss to West Virginia.

1. One upset bid down, a few more to go

Heading into the season, I looked at Missouri's schedule in basically four chunks: the first four games (with two likely wins and two likely losses), the next two (with two tough road trips), the next four (with four exceedingly winnable games), and the last two (with two more likely losses/upset bids).

How much has changed after one weekend?

  • 2-2 is still the most likely outcome for Act I. EMU whomped Mississippi Valley State, which is basically the EMU of FCS. (We were joking on Friday night in our SB Nation Slack room that this was almost literally the worst matchup you could come up with involving an FBS team.) The Eagles certainly looked good against MVSU, but Mizzou is not MVSU. Georgia looked inconsistent but strong against UNC, so that still looks like a likely loss.
  • Mizzou's odds of an upset have perhaps improved for Act II (at LSU and at Florida, neither of whom looked very good on Saturday), but 0-2 is still the most likely outcome.
  • Of the four opponents in the "exceedingly winnable" category, Kentucky and Vanderbilt looked even worse than I imagined they would, MTSU was fine against a cupcake, and South Carolina showed some defensive potential against Vanderbilt. This still looks like three wins and a tossup to me.
  • Neither Tennessee nor Arkansas looked the part in narrow wins over Appalachian State and Louisiana Tech, respectively. Both ASU and Tech are strong mid-majors, but I expected quite a bit from the Vols and Hogs. You never want to read too much from a season opener, but this is like Act II -- 0-2 is still perhaps likely, but less likely than before.

Of course ... everything I just said is based on what we might now think of as Mizzou's potential. We know the Tiger defense has more potential than we saw on Saturday because we saw it last year; meanwhile, we saw drastic potential in Mizzou's second- and fourth-quarter offensive performances, but Q1 and Q3 were nightmarish. If the reality turns out to be that Mizzou's defensive line has become mediocre, and Q1/Q3 is a more accurate depiction of what we'll see week to week, then the Tigers odds of anything good aren't as high. But I'm an optimist, so I'll lean on the potential.

The Trib: Mountaineers beat Tigers in Odom's head coaching debut

Post-Dispatch: West Virginia pummels Tigers in Odom's debut

Scout.com: Missouri Loses Season Opener At West Virginia

2. Lock + Zanders

I was basically on radio silence during the game, partially because I like it that way and partially because I had fallen way behind on the DVR. (5-year olds are jerks sometimes.) So I wasn't around to see the reactions of Mizzou fans to certain events.

Watching the game in peace, I basically had one qualm with Missouri's handling of the Lock-Zanders rotation, and that was when Mizzou brought Zanders in on the Tigers' third drive of the second quarter. Mizzou had second-and-10 from the WVU 41, and Lock was in the middle of a pretty good quarter. I kind of hated that Zanders was brought in, but mostly because it was second-and-10. To me, it really only makes sense to bring in a mobile QB (and while they let Zanders throw the ball, he still had seven rushes to two passes) on first-and-10 or in relative short yardage. Bringing him onto the field for two passing downs was just strange.

This seemed to become a thing for Mizzou fans after the game. I didn't hate that it killed Lock's rhythm or whatever -- he'd been pretty good for a few drives at that point, and the Tigers had just fallen behind schedule. But it did Zanders absolutely no favors. I don't really think it killed whatever rhythm Lock had -- two zero-yard rushes killed the next drive, then, to me, halftime was far more of a rhythm killer than this.

Otherwise, I thought the rotation was fine. And Zanders really can scoot. The question moving forward is what's going to happen now that there's film. They didn't ask Zanders to do a whole lot of different things, and his success as a change-of-pace guy will depend on varying the script a bit more.

By the way, I'm not sure I've ever seen quarter-to-quarter splits like this from a quarterback.

  • Drew Lock, Q1: 3-for-8, 11 yards (passer rating: 49.1)
  • Drew Lock Q2: 8-for-14, 141 yards (141.7)
  • Drew Lock, Q3: 3-for-10, 11 yards (39.2)
  • Drew Lock, Q4: 9-for-19, 117 yards, 1 TD (116.5, 160.7 over the first 12 passes)

This really was a "see whatever you want to see" situation.

The Trib: Missouri leans on Lock, with Zanders offering relief

KC Star: MU notes: Marvin Zanders sees action at quarterback

Post-Dispatch: Mizzou notes: Zanders sees action as backup QB

The Missourian: Quarterbacks Lock and Zanders show glimpses of potential in Missouri loss

3. Spoiler alert

I can already tell you one of the major focuses of Tuesday's Beyond the Box Score piece for MU-WVU: finishing drives. Holy crap, did this cost Mizzou.

Obviously, order of success matters. That West Virginia scored 26 of the first 29 points meant that headline writers had the opportunity to use words like "pummels" in their game summary headlines. But lost in that deficit is this: In terms of scoring opportunities (first downs inside the opponent's 40), WVU created six ... and Mizzou created six. The team that finished drives, won.

  • Q1 Opportunities: WVU 2, MU 0
    Q1 Points: WVU 10, MU 0
  • Q2 Opportunities: MU 3, WVU 1
    Q2 Points: MU 3, WVU 3
  • Q3 Opportunities: WVU 2, MU 0
    Q3 Points: WVU 10, MU 0
  • Q4 Opportunities: MU 3, WVU 1
    Q4 Points: MU 8, WVU 3
  • Total Opportunities: WVU 6, MU 6
    Points Per Opportunity: WVU 4.3, MU 1.8

If each team scored touchdowns on each opportunity, you'd have basically been looking at a game that was 14-0 WVU after one quarter, 21-21 after two, 35-21 WVU after three, and 42-42 after four. But while WVU left 16 points on the board, Mizzou left an incredible 35. Six opportunities produced three field goal attempts (two missed), a fumble, a touchdown, and a turnover on downs.

Mizzou had one of the worst drive-finishing offenses in the country last year, and while we saw plenty of potential overall (to the point where I think we can safely say the Tigers will grade out quite a bit better, top to bottom), they were every bit as awful at finishing drives with the ball in the end zone. If Mizzou wants to bowl, that must change. In fact, it's probably the single most important thing that has to change.

ZouNation (David Morrison): Positives and Negatives From MU's Season-Opening Loss to West Virginia

PowerMizzou: Offense better, not good enough

PowerMizzou: Grading the Tigers

KC Star: Game report: West Virginia 26, Missouri 11

The Missourian: Missouri offense shows signs of improvement in loss to West Virginia

4. Oh no, the kicking game

While the biggest onus of drive-finishing improvement is on the actual offense, Mizzou still lost six points due to the kicking game. You never know what a freshman kicker is capable of, even a really well-touted one. And while we could find out later that we were overreacting to Tucker McCann's 1-for-3 performance -- the chip shot miss was bad, but the 42-yarder was partially blocked -- place-kicking is officially an issue until proven otherwise.

PowerMizzou: Mizzou 3-2-1: West Virginia

To be fair, Tucker McCann is a freshman. He was in high school a year ago. And no matter how hard you try, you can't simulate trying a field goal in front of 60,000 people....58,000 of whom hope you fail. McCann missed a chip shot field goal wide left on a snap hook. He missed another one wide from 42 yards. The one he made wasn't exactly beautiful. He also punched a low-line drive on a kickoff that led to West Virginia starting a drive beyond it's 40-yard line. Odom expressed unwavering confidence in the the true freshman.

"I trust him, I believe in him, I've seen him do it in practice," Odom said. "By the time he leaves Mizzou, we'll write a lot of stories about him because he's going to make some big-time kicks. It's different for him out there first time out. I've got confidence in him."

5. Oh no, the defense?

I'm going to give Charles Harris, Rickey Hatley, Terry Beckner Jr., and company the benefit of the doubt for now ... but only for now. That was a disappointing line performance.

The Trib: Notebook: Mountaineers' patchwork offensive line keeps Harris in check

6. Hope and whatnot

KC Star (Sam Mellinger): Mizzou football’s loss, hope and subtle concerns

The Trib (Joe Walljasper): Tigers look like a fixer-upper for Odom

Post-Dispatch (Hochman): Despite loss, Mizzou has reasons to be optimistic