It’s been more than a year since Missouri left the Big 12 for greener pastures and the SEC, but you will be seeing plenty of Big 12-esque football this year.
Not much of a litmus test per say, but the offense has looked really good and there is little concern here – minus some struggles from the offensive line. Defensively? Well, that’s another story.
After looking porous for 20 minutes against FCS Murray St. in last week’s 58-14 win, defensive coordinator Dave Steckel got in their ass and they dominated the rest of the game. Today, Steckel never got his message across, but the defense – who was awful for three quarters – stopped the Rockets on the final three possessions to help close out the 38-23 win. It is clearly going to be a bend but don’t break-type defense for the Tigers this year, and they did that today. At least they have forced some turnovers – picking off three passes today and six now on the year, just one less than all of last season.
James Franklin threw for 212 yards and a score and rushed for 77 more yards – 67 in the second half including 3-4 huge runs and a fourth down conversion – on 17 carries to pace the Tigers offense.
“James (Franklin) is playing like you’d expect a fourth-year player to play,” head coach Gary Pinkel said after the game.
Wide receiver L’Damian Washington – who caught Franklin’s first three passes for 51 yards added his own thoughts, “when Franklin was injured, people saying he’s not really a tough guy…OBVIOUSLY he’s a tough guy.”
Franklin displayed that when he turned back the clock and into Frank the Tank of old with some powerful runs in the second half, including two different times on an answering drive after Toledo had pulled within 24-23. On the Tigers two scoring drives after Toledo pulled within one, Franklin ran six times for 51 yards, including a 21-yarder where he plowed over a Toledo defender at the 1-yard line to set up Henry Josey’s second of two TD’s.
“Don’t think just cause we on the sidelines we ain’t watching,” defensive end Kony Ealy said. “It’s no surprise he’s gonna run over somebody. They call him Frank the Tank and they don’t call him that for nothing.”
Franklin did his damage in the first half through the air – 13-18, 178 yards with his only score – then took to the ground in the second half as Henson tried to keep the Tigers (2-0), who relied on the pass for most of the game. But, the pass was there all day and the Tigers could have exploited it.
Maty Mauk played on the second drive of the second quarter after Franklin threw his pick (which Pinkel said slipped out if his sweaty hands, for what it is worth). It was by design, pre-planned, and Pinkel said after the game Mauk will get the first drive of the second quarter (like Chase Daniel did when Brad Smith was a senior) and was sacked twice, once for 15 yards as he ran backwards – something he could have got away with in high school. I am not sold on Mauk getting a pre-determined series, but it is what Pinkel does and if he thinks Mauk is next year’s starter, it is good to get him some experience playing meaningful downs.
Russell Hansbrough, who rushed for 104 yards on just eight carries and two scores last week, ran for 13 yards on the first play of the game, but struggled for the rest of the game as did his Henry Josey. There was little room for the two to run most of the time. Josey had a pair of TD runs that totaled three yards (the first capping off Missouri’s opening 8-play, 75-yard drive, the second putting Missouri up 31-23 on the last play of the third quarter after Missouri had ran just three plays all quarter prior to the drive) and at one point had five carries for six yards with the two scores. He finished upped his total with 18 yards on five carries on the final drive of the game, where the Tigers ran it 13 straight times before kneeling on the victory at the 7-yard line. Hansbrough finished with 10 for 31. Third-teamer Marcus Murphy (8 for 56 and a TD for the second straight game), plus a very successful speed option and Franklin were Missouri’s successes on the ground. Murphy’s wrapped up the scoring with an 8-yard run as the Tigers outscored the Rockets (0-2) 7-0 in the final quarter. What is better than two good backs? Three. It’s a good problem to have and the luxury of three good backs is riding the hot hand. Josey will have the most carries Hansbrough will see plenty too, as he is the Tigers second option, but today Murphy was the best option in the second half because of his straight ahead running, opposed to Murphy and Josey’s dancing around routine. Murphy certainly provided a spark to the offense and complimented Franklin’s running.
Missouri had an advantage on the outside with their big receivers against Toledo’s smallish corners, but did not attack it as much as I would have liked to seen. Dorial Green Beckham had an advantage all day long, and had his first TD of the season and 51 yards on five catches. Washington had hauled in the first three passes of the game, and caught two more to total 5-78. With the game tied 3-3, Levi Copelin hauled in a 52-yard bomb on the second drive to set up Josey’s first score. Marcus Lucas negated a would-be nice Franklin throw down the sideline in fourth quarter by bobbling the ball as he went out of bounds, and tight end Eric Waters did the same on a deep out route two plays later (for the record, I thought both were catches), but for the most part this group did a good job. Missouri did not throw the ball much in the second half.
The line struggled to open up some running holes and allowed four sacks in a six-drop back span, but protected Franklin for the most part the rest of the game. Some of that had to do with Toledo dropping 7-8 guys in coverage. The running game should have been there, but Mizzou averaged just 3.7 yards per carry (47-172). Had huge holes against FCS, I expected more against a Toledo defense that was expected to be soft, but they did some work with just three and four man fronts. Line has to get better.
It was a shaky day for this bunch, but when it mattered, they got the job done with three straight stops to end the game. This squad made some big momentum-changing plays – the INT at the end of the first half when Toledo QB Terrance Owens and the Rockets were confused with the Missouri defense being in a zone instead of man and threw one up to grabs and EJ Gaines deflected it into the arms of safety Matt White to allow the Tigers to go into the locker room up 17-9, Markus Golden with Toledo driving on the opening drive of the second half was credited with a sack and strip pick then raced 70 yards for a score showing off his running back speed (he was a RB going into JUCO) in a weird play where Owens basically just lost the ball, and then third safety Ian Simon iced the game with an athletic pick with 5 minutes, 35 second remaining – but really struggled for most of the game. Toledo had not scored a touchdown through six quarters, then scored two in the third quarter Running back David Fluellen had 100 yards rushing and receiving – and that’s not a good thing for a defense. Golden has one of the two sacks from the DE’s this year and it wasn’t even really a sack. The defensive tackles were non-factors and were dominated at the line of scrimmage. Makes you wonder what will happen to them against more physical lines like they will see in the SEC?
The linebackers were OK. Andrew Wilson made a huge hit that forced a drop with Missouri up 24-9 near midfield that would have forced a punt. Instead it was 15 yards and an ejection – Missouri’s first victim of the new targeting rule. Now, Wilson will, by rule, will also have to miss the first half of Missouri’s next game – at Indiana – Sept. 21. It seemed as if he did not lead with his crown, but used his arms, but Pinkel said it was the right call.
It was a huge momentum swing and Owens scored on a 4-yard run one minute later to make it 24-16 with 9:53 remaining in the third quarter. A kick return past midfield set up the possession and also took momentum away that Missouri had gained from the Gooden return.
The defense then struggled to get Toledo off the field. Franklin and the Missouri offense then went three and out after a failed QB sneak on third and one and Owens hit Alonzo Russell on a 41-yard score to cut it to 24-23 on the ensuing drive. Toledo 17 plays for 160 yards and two TD’s in the quarter to Missouri’s three for nine before Franklin led a scoring drive to make it 31-23 to end the third. When Missouri took over with four minutes left in the quarter, they had not had the ball for one minute of game time in the quarter. The linebackers were burned time and time again on the dump off to Fluellen. They could have run that play all day.
“We didn’t cover it and if I had to answer for it, pal, we would have gotten it fixed quicker,” Pinkel declared in postgame.
It is apparent that Missouri does not trust any of its secondary besides lockdown corner EJ Gaines as far as everyone else plays off the ball to keep everything in front of them. Other corner Randy Ponder had a decent game and made some nice plays. They improved from week one and did not give up a big play besides, no surprise here, a blown coverage on Russell’s TD by White.
Murphy has not got much going in the return game and has flirted with disaster several times on rolling punts. Baggett has been GREAT at producing touchback after touchback and made his one FG attempt this week. The punting game, has not been good. Toledo also had two long returns. This unit has to get better. Baggett needs to keep kicking it through the end zone, because, our coverage units are average at best.
There were some issues, but Pinkel and Henson did well. Dave Steckel’s defensive scheme seems to mimic what he did against Big 12 offenses. Everything worked. I feel a lot better with the staff than I did a year ago. Pinkel went for it on fourth and three from the 37 up 31-23 with a Franklin keeper on the speed option. The 10-play, 3-minute drive ended with Murphy’s 8-yard TD run.
- Missouri used the empty backfield for the first this season with back-to-back plays to end the first drive of the game and did so a few other times throughout the game.
- The celebration penalty – which resulted in a Toledo kick return past midfield instead of a Baggett touchback like normal – on Golden’s INT return was just hideous. “You know how are, we don’t show boat or anything like that,” Pinkel agreed. “We’re gonna get that reviewed. I would think that would be called one out of 100 times.” Maybe we should return to the business-like post-touchdown handshake of the Chase Daniel era.
- Missouri never trailed, leading 3-0, 10-3, 10-6, 10-9, 17-9, 24-9, 24-23 before scoring the final 14 points of the game.
- The yardage totals between the two teams differed by nine feet. Turnovers hurt both teams, but hurt Toledo far more. I think the stats show that Toledo was a good bit better than the Tigers on first down, how good Mizzou was in a number of situations, especially 3rd downs and how Toledo was a little more explosive, but the fourth quarter was ultimately their undoing.
- “Bottom line its called football and you have to execute and make plays,” Pinkel said.
- Game time temp was 95 degrees and it was 150 on the field at kickoff, 135 by games end.
- Mizzou played a lot of players (and, according to the participation report, WR J’Mon Moore had his redshirt torn off…will have to see if that is actually the case) and that is a good thing, as the depth helped Missouri late as Toledo had a lot of defensive players with their hands on their knees. We may need some of that depth as a couple of people are banged, notably Mad Max Copeland and Gaines. Not a terrible time for a week off. In addition, Pinkel announced that corner Ernest Payton tore his ACL in practice during the week. Payton played the third most snaps out of any corner in Week 1.
- Franklin’s second quarter interception was his first in 99 attempts dating back to last season.
- If you I thought the no-backs, James Franklin-draw days were done. You thought wrong. The Franklin-centric offense from 2011 returned in the second half because that is what Missouri needed to win the game. So far this year, Franklin has 23 carries for 121 yards. Last year? 88-122.
- Missouri got killed in field position. Toledo started four drives in Missouri territory – scoring just six points in the first half in three possessions and a TD in the third quarter on their only try. The Tigers best field position came on their final two drives following a 9-yard Toledo punt and the Simon INT.
MUtigers.com: Franklin leads Tigers to first 2-0 record in three years
MUtigers.com: Mizzou/Toledo Post-Game Notes
MUtigers.com: Mizzou/Toledo Post-Game Quotes
The Trib (Behind the Stripes): Tigers withstand rally and hold off Toledo
The Missourian: Franklin does not listen to Pinkel, beats Toledo
The Missourian: Golden Opportunity to defeat Toledo
KC Star: Mizzou pulls away for win
KC Star: MU-Toledo game report
KC Star: Injuries starting to pile up for Mizzou
Post-Dispatch: Tigers survive scare
PowerMizzou: Feeling Bullish
PowerMizzou: Flags, new rules bite Tigers