After taking a few hours to digest Missouri’s 37-30 overtime loss last Friday night, I come away being more encouraged than discouraged.
The offense was very encouraging and much improved, looking ten times better than it did a week prior in a lackluster 17-6 win over visiting Miami (OH), mostly because of the play of quarterback James Franklin.
Cheers: Sophomore quarterback James Franklin accounted for 403 yards of offense in only his second career start in his first road start in a hostile environment against a very good team. Not bad. And all without a starting left tackle, center, the top two running backs, number-2 wide receiver and a shuffled offensive line. A good rebound from a lackluster debut against Miami (OH). I was critical of Franklin last week, but have nothing but praise for him this week. If Missouri can get this play from him on a regular basis, then the Tigers will be in most games. If you told me Missouri would score 30 points in Tempe, I’d certainly told you Missouri would leave with a win.
Sophomore running back Henry Josey: Josey had a monster game, gaining 145 yards in just 11 touches and looked GREAT in the open field, making people miss and blowing past defenders with his speed. Following De’Vion Moore’s injury on his first carry, Josey instantly became the Tigers feature back and did not disappoint. Will he get more carries Saturday night against Western Illinois? And can Josey handle 15-20 carries a game? Rumors have it, that wide receiver TJ Moe will see some time in the backfield. Redshirt sophomore Greg White, Missouri’s only other scholarship running back, will certainly get some carries this week. I thought he would get carries last week in Tempe, but head coach Gray Pinkel said that he did not want to give White his first carries in such a hostile environment. Don’t be surprised to see 255-pound fullback Jared Culver get some carries.
Other bright spots include sophomore wide receivers Marcus Lucas (4 catches for 84 yards, including a 49-yarder, and drew a pass interference) and L’Damian Washington (TD). Washington started one game last year, then fell off and rarely played. Lucas had a lot of hype around him last year when he played as a true freshman but didn’t see much time and caught just five passes. Lucas started his second straight game in the spot of injured Jerrel Jackson. Jackson was in uniform Friday, but did not play. He will start Saturday against Western Illinois. Lucas will still get plenty of time.
Anytime a team loses there are some things to be discouraged about.
Jeers: The defense. The defense was supposed to be the strength, but it was a weakness on Friday. Amazingly, though, senior outside linebacker Zavier Gooden still managed to get Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week even though the defense gave up 37 points and 492 yards. There was little pass rush and the defense registered one sack, by Gooden, and Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler had all day in the pocket. The secondary can’t defend forever. Speaking of the secondary, Kip Edwards got burned terribly for a 60-yard TD on the first play after Missouri tied the game 10-10. After Missouri tied the game 16-16, E.J. Gaines got lost in the end zone on a wide-receiver reverse pass. In most cases, it was quick passes from Osweiler, or the secondary had to defend for too long. On passing downs, the Tigers tried to disguise their coverage to confuse Osweiler, but it seems they ended up confusing themselves.
On the bright side, the Tigers rush defense was stout once again, allowing just 106 yards.
Franklin played a great game. Pinkel said Franklin is “going to be a special one.” He may be right. There were no signs of this in week 1, when Franklin passed for just 129 yards and had 203 total yards, but he was STUD on Friday.
Franklin had 403 total yards with 3 TD (2 pass, 1 rush), no turnovers, directed an offense that gained 501 total yards while bringing the Tigers back three different times, including erasing a 30-16 fourth quarter deficit and setting up the Tigers for a potential game-winning field goal
Franklin carried the ball more than I would have liked (27 times for 84 yards), but he did have some big runs, including the first TD of the game that tied the game at 10-10, and a third down and 16, 22-yard run when the Tigers were backed up at their own 9-yard-line on the same drive and an 18-yard run on the their second drive to set up Grant Ressel’s first field goal and the Tigers first score of the game. Only 15 of his runs were “designed.”
Speaking of passing downs, Franklin made big play after big play in “passing downs.” In addition to his 22-yard run, Franklin hit Lucas on a 49-yard pass down to the 1-yard line and a 22-yard pass down to the 2-yard line, both setting up touchdowns. He also hit Michael Gene for 16 yards on a third and 14 and on a fourth and goal TD to tie the game at 30-30.
Franklin struggled some on sideline routes like he did a week ago, and there is much criticism on Franklin putting “too much” touch on the ball, but he was once again brilliant over the middle and deep. He did miss TJ Moe WIDE OPEN over the middle a few times, but I am not going to nitpick a ton after his efforts in his first road start.
Running Backs: A
Henry Josey had a great game. The speedy sophomore was spectacular in the open field and credit to the coaches for getting him the ball in space. Josey gained 94 yards on the ground in just nine carries and added 51 more yards in just two catches. Josey is the Tigers biggest homerun threat out of the backfield, and is just one of two remaining healthy running backs on scholarship. He will be leaned on heavily the next two weeks. Can Josey handle the workload?
De’Vion Moore suffered a high ankle sprain on his first carry (4 yards).
Wide Receivers: B+
Sophomores Marcus Lucas (4-84) and L’Damian Washington (3-39, 1 TD) had breakout games, Moe led the team in catches (6) again and senior Wes Kemp had two third and long catches to keep drives alive, but the Tigers someone who is a risk to take it to the house every time they touch the ball, ala Jeremy Maclin or Danario Alexander.
Jackson’s return from injury should help. He has shown flashes of his post-catch skills in the past, Oklahoma last year, and Colorado in 2009. Lucas was compared to Alexander in preseason practice, and Franklin looks for him in clutch situations. Lucas caught a game-clinching TD in week 1’s 17-6 win over Miami, and three of his four catches Friday were on third down. Can he become this threat?
Moe is great after the catch, but is more of a possession receiver, but he does have the ability, with the game, and potentially season-saving “Moe Miracle” catch and run to beat San Diego State in the final seconds last season. Can Moe turn into this much-needed threat?
And where has Michael Egnew been? He did have two HUGE catches Friday, but the 2010 All-American and Mackey Award winner has just 5 catches for 39 yards in two games.
Offensive Line: B+
Take away the terrible snapping of Jayson Palmgren in the first half, and the line deserves an A. They protected Franklin all night long and presented Josey with great opportunities. Tiger running backs totaled 9.8 yards per carry (10-98) and averaged 4.9 yards for the game (37-182). Franklin did not get sacked, and all of this without starting center Travis Ruth (who will return this week, but not start), left tackle Elvis Fisher out for the year, left guard Palmgren playing center and a right tackle playing left guard. Ruth’s return next week could do wonders for the line as Palmgren was rolling snaps to Franklin in the second half. Is it possible Ruth isn’t starting because the staff likes Jack Meiners at tackle?
Defensive Line: C
Missouri’s front four struggled to put pressure on the 6-8 Osweiler. Nose tackle Dominique Hamilton made some noise a few times in the backfield and had a sack nullified with a personal foul facemask. Sheldon Richardson made a few plays late in the game and starting tackle Terrell Resonno was invisible. Brayden Burnett, making his first start at defensive end in Jacques Smith absence (dislocated elbow) struggled and lost the starting spot to Michael Sam. Brad Madison was consistently getting double-teamed and/or held on the other side.
This unit simply has to be better. Remember when the defensive line was considered MU’s deepest AND best unit?
Despite giving up 37 points and 492 yards, senior linebacker Zavier Gooden still was named Big 12’s Defensive Player of the Week, registering 11 tackles and a sack. He and fellow linebacker, sophomore Andrew Wilson (starting in place of Will Ebner in the middle) were all over the field and combined for 18 tackles.
The secondary looked awful. Some of that has to be put on the lack of pass rush. Edwards got torched on a double move, and Gaines, who is considered best lockdown corner MU has had in 10 years, looked completely lost on receiver junior Jamal Miles TD pass in the third quarter. Miles also caught two TD passes and Aaron Pflugrad was open all night long, catching 8 passes for 160 yards and two TD’s. It’s going to be a long year if the secondary plays like this with the caliber of offenses still on the slate for the Tigers this year. Arizona State’s offense is good, but not this good.
Special Teams: B
Grant Ressel, one of the NCAA’s most consistent kickers of all time, had missed just three career field goal’s entering the game, but missed two, including a potential 49-yard game-winner at the end of regulation. He also missed a long 54-yard to end the first half. Both were plenty long, just wide left. Ressel did hit three other field goal’s including a 47-yarder. There is a little bit of controversy around the end of game miss, but we’ll talk about that in the coach section.
Punter Trey Barrow boomed a 75-yard punt inside the Arizona State five-yard line and averaged 60 yards a punt for the game.
Pinkel is under huge criticism for calling two timeouts in secession before Ressel’s potential game-winner, virtually icing his own kicker. Ressel thought it was laughable when asked if he was iced. Pinkel said, “He was not iced, we told him before he went out there that we were going to call two timeouts, that he wasn’t going to kick.
So, was he iced? Pinkel wanted to try and get Arizona State to jump offside to get a closer kick. But why not just call a run play on third down and get closer? Pinkel called back-to-back pass plays on first and second down that gained no yards and almost resulted on a pick-6 interception. And why is he calling plays toward the sideline when they have two timeouts left to use and Franklin is clearly great over the middle? With two timeouts left, Missouri could have ran the ball, either with Franklin or Josey, and gotten closer for an easier kick. The decision not to run was more crucial than calling the timeouts, in my opinion.
But that is not all. Trailing 23-16 in the fourth quarter, Missouri got a stop on third down, setting up a fourth and two, but instead Pinkel accepts a penalty, giving the Sun Devils another crack at third down. Osweiler zips a 15-yard pass for a first down and they score three plays later to go up by two touchdowns. Its possible Arizona State goes for it on fourth and 2. More than likely, up 7, they would have elected to kick the field goal. Isn’t 26-16 better than 30-16?
Twice Missouri had fourth and goals inside the 2-yard line, and both times Pinkel elected to kick the field goal. On the road, I say go for the touchdowns, but each time it was crucial to get points, down 7-0 and down 16-13. This is an alarming trend for Pinkel. On fourth-and-2 or less inside the redzone, Mizzou went for 83% of the time in 2006, 67% in 2007, 60% in 2008, 57% in 2009 and 40% in 2010. Something to keep an eye on
And what can we say about his stubbornness at the goalline in these situations? Pinkel has adapted, and goes under center with Franklin and he uses Culver as a fullback, but he lines Culver up on the wing like an H-Back.
Missouri looked much better on Friday. Pinkel had the players ready to play and the game plan was fine. I would have liked to have seen a few more touches for Josey, a few less runs for Franklin, but you cant complain about a quarterback wanting the ball in his hands, because winners always do. Or what about the coaching decisions that cost Missouri points?