Mizzou grinds out a dominating 31-3 win over Tennessee

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Many wondered how Missouri would respond to its gut-wrenching, heart-breaking loss to South Carolina. Many said Missouri, somehow, would have a letdown after a loss – too many emotional games in a row.

All those people were wrong – and like I had said all week, there was no reason to worry about Tennessee, now 4-5, 1-4 SEC.

“I trust these kids,” head coach Gary Pinkel said after the win. “I was confident we would bounce back. When you get in November ‘my bad’ doesn’t work. You have to play your best football.”

Redshirt freshman Maty Mauk gave us reasons to worry with his 0-for-4 passing start, but after that, Missouri answered mine – and everyone else’s – call to run the ball. And, run, run, run, they did, rushing for 339 yards, the most in a conference game since 469 in 2003, when Brad Smith ran wild against Texas Tech. Here is a reminder of how awesome that game was:

The run opened up the passing game, where Mauk threw three first half TD’s to three different receivers as Missouri opened up a 24-3 lead.

After both teams traded two empty possessions to start the game, Mauk FINALLY completed his first pass and Missouri moved the chains after facing a first and 20 and then got in a groove with a bunch of short, quick routes, shaking off a L’Damian Washington dropped TD to hit Dorial Green-Beckham on a 10-yard tunnel screen ala the Dave Christensen days, where he caught in on the left side of the field and reversed all the way across the field into the endzone. After a 24-yard Andrew Baggett FG made it 10-0 with 6:08 remaining in the first half, EJ Gaines picked off a Joshua Dobbs pass with an assist from defensive end Kony Ealy, returning it to the 26-yard line, where, the next play Mauk hit a WIDE OPEN (I cant really do it justice for how open he was) L’Damian Washington with a 26-yard TD and it was 17-0. Tennessee answered with a FG, Mauk hit Marcus Lucas with a BOMB over the top for 40 yards with a beautiful ball and it was 24-3 with 1:55 remaining in the half.

Russell Hansbrough raced up the middle for a 26-yard score on the first possession of the second half to put the nail in the coffin, as Missouri pretty much ran out the clock the rest of the way.

8-1 (4-1), still in first in the SEC East, controls its destiny. Win three games, and they can punch a ticket to Atlanta. The rest of the division is as follows: South Carolina 5-2, Georgia 4-2, Florida 3-3, Tennessee 1-4, Vandy 1-4, Kentucky 0-4.

Now, it is off to Lexington, Kentucky for an 11 am kickoff on ESPNU against Kentucky (2-6, 0-4) with a chance to head into the bye at 9-1. Will James Franklin be back driving the bus, or will it be Maty Mauk, again?

“I think he’s going to be very close next week,” Pinkel said of Franklin’s status. “We think it’s very possible he’ll be ready.”

***

Quarterback

The question all week was would James Franklin start? Would James Franklin play? He did dress out, and was first in the warm-up and stretch lines – usually an indication that you’re starting, but took warm-up snaps from backup center Brad McNaulty. He wound up being an emergency only QB, but was prepared to paly as Pinkel told Mauk that he was on a short leash, “We kind of scared him a little bit. If anything got fuzzy, he was out of there.”

It looked like Missouri would need him in the early going, but Mauk, after his rough 0-4 start and three punts in the first four drives, Mauk got going on the third dive, finding DGB IN THE OPEN FIELD FINALLY on a 10-yard tunnel screen to put Missouri up 7-0 where Missouri leaned on the run and quick, short passes. Four of Mauk’s first five completions were wide receiver screens. He still finished less than 50% (12-25) and has just one game at 50% this year (18-36 in his first start against Florida) and is completing just 48% of his passes this year, but he was SIGNIFICANTLY better in the second quarter than he was in the previous five quarters. In the second half, he threw just five passes, completing three.

Oh, he also led Missouri in rushing with 113 yards on 13 carries – becoming the first QB since James Franklin himself in the 2011 Independence Bowl. He had some designed runs in the second half, but a lot of his damage came on straight ahead runs on scrambles in the first half.

“A couple of times the backers would blitz, and I am obviously not going to stand back there and take a shot,” Mauk said. “It was the time to get out and run, and I got what I could get and got down. Whatever we needed to do, that was my focus.”

His passing numbers may have been down, but there is nothing wrong with 277 yards of offense.

Mauk is a loose-cannon gunslinger, but the way he played in the second quarter sure was exciting, and he showed glimpses of amazing. Still wants the HR too much, but, he was better at taking what is there this week. Have a good backup quarterback is important, but especially so in the SEC, and Missouri has a quarterback besides James Franklin that can win it a game…something it didn’t have last year.

“Having very little to no drop off between your two quarterbacks – that  “ Pinkel said. “I feel fortunate that Maty’s done a good job. What’s helped Maty, without question, is we’ve been, up front we’re playing really, really well. The offensive line, that helps him. The receiver corps is intact. Everybody’s intact around him, which allows him a much better shot at being successful than some of the problems we’ve had in the past.”

Running Backs

Sure, a quarterback led the team in rushing, but this group was still really good – like they have been all year. The running back trio of Henry Josey (16-74), Hansbrough, who was limited to just four carries a week ago in the South Carolina loss (7-61-1) and Marcus Murphy (8-44) combined for 179 yards on 31 carries. In all, seven Tigers carried the ball, and it was great to see Morgan Steward (6-32) and Greg White (3-11) get the rock in non-mop-up time. The five Missouri RB’s averaged 5.6 yards per carry in 40 attempts (222 yards). Hansbrough’s 26-yard scamper was the Tigers only rushing TD, ironically.

Wide Receivers

Three different Tigers had touchdowns, and there is just one drop by the group this week. DBG was finally unleashed in the open field, Marcus Lucas burned the coverage for a 40-yard score and led the team with 75 yards, and L’Damian Washington, who dropped a would-be TD on a perfectly thrown ball from Mauk on a post route on the same drive that DGB found the endzone, beat busted coverage for a 26-yard score in the back of the endzone with NO ONE in sight to cap-off a 1-play drive to give Missouri a 24-3 lead. Missouri threw just five, safe passes in the second half.

Offensive Line

Easy breakdown of the offensive line. Anytime, you run for 300+ yards, it’s a GREAT day. Also, Mauk wasn’t pressured, for the most part, and had just one negative play. The big ugly’s (and the five, long-hair, don’t care white boys really are ugly) deserve a pat on the back. Justin Britt, who earned SEC offensive lineman of the week, was the leader of the pack, where he graded out at 94-percent with five knockdown blocks, three pancake blocks and two cut blocks, while at the same time surrendering no quarterback sacks or pressures.

“He is really standing out. Often offensive linemen can stand out, but he has been blowing people up to the sidelines. He is just a very, very talented player,” Pinkel said of Britt, who is coming off a knee injury.  “He’s playing at a whole different level since he’s been here. He’s very, very talented athlete.“

Defense

Missouri’s defense was phenomenal, as they shut down the Tennessee ground game and turned them into a one-dimensional passing team – and they were not very good at that either. Freshman Joshua Dobbs struggled in his first career start, throwing two picks and fumbling away another possession after running for a first down. He finished 26-of-42 for 240 yards and like Mauk, he also led his team in rushing (7-45).

The defense extended its already-NCAA record of consecutive games with a turnover to 39 and the two picks (EJ Gaines and Braylon Webb) give Missouri 17 on the year now, tied for best in FBS, and 10 more than last year. TEN. Already. Missouri is also third nationally in turnover margin and four in turnovers gained.

Speaking of Gaines, he has to be up there as one of the best run-supporting corners in the country. It was his first game back after a 2 ½-game absence with a quadriceps injury. He tied for the team lead with six tackles, five solo, one for loss and an that interception – that he returned for 15 yards.

Up front, Kony Ealy registered 1.5 tackles for loss and hit Dobbs’ arm on a hurry that led to an easy interception for Gaines. One play later, it was 17-0 and the game was over.

Special Teams

Andrew Baggett made a chip shot and…wait for it…missed a chip shot, this time a 29-yarder – also off the left upright. We thought he was a concern early in the season and that he may eventually cost Mizzou a game, then he made all five kicks, tying a school record against Florida. Since, he is 2-for-5 – with two misses inside 29 yards.

“That’s a lonely position,” Pinkel said.

Punter Christian Brisner dropped a snap backed up on his own goalline, but avoided disaster by STILL getting the punt off.

Coaching

Missouri could not let South Carolina beat them twice. Pinkel and company had the team more than ready for a bounce back game – their most dominant game of the season. Pinkel and OC Dave Henson left the foot on the gas, then coasted over the last quarter and a half with a dominant, grinding ground game.

***

Etc.

  • Pinkel did all the coach speak he could do in regards to Kentucky this weekend, but this is not a good team and it should be an easy win for Missouri. The Wildcats played Louisville close for a half but their only two wins are against winless Miami (OH) (0-8) and 48-14 over FCS Alabama St. on Saturday. Like last week, James Franklin is listed third on the depth chart and listed as questionable. He will be evaluated by team doctors on Thursday and a decision will be made on his playing status…the question really is, is it even worth is for Franklin to play Saturday, barring emergency?
  • Tennessee had 24 four or five star players on their roster. Missouri had seven. And Tennessee was no match for Missouri.
  • This team seems so much less elite than 2007 Chase Daniel-led Missouri, but, statistically, it is the best offense Missouri has ever had…so far. After the 502 yards, Missouri is averaging exactly 500 yards per game. It has never been done before for entire season. The elite 2007 offense averaged 490.3. Missouri has five games of 500+ yards already this year, the 2007 team had six for the season.
  • Mauk is 20% less accurate than Franklin, but he has made up for it some of it with his big play ability – he has 10 completions of 25+ yards in 92 attempts this season, James Franklin has the same number in 195 attempts and also averages the same yards per attempt (8.1) despite the not-so-good efficiency. “It’s only his third game,” Pinkel said. “Certainly, he’ll get better and better. He does make plays, we all know that.”
  • Missouri ran 48 plays in the first half, 2.83 plays a minute.
  • Tennessee converted its first third down attempt of the game, then went one for its next 12.
  • Missouri began three straight possessions from its own 1, 1 and 8-yard lines at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth – not the ideal conditions for an offense. They also began a possession at their own 2 in the second quarter and were killed in field position all night, but they overcame. Tennessee had eight possessions in Missouri territory, but came away with just the lone FG.
  • The 339 yards were the most for Missouri against a FBS team this year. Its previous high was 280 at Indiana. Their season-high was 358 against FCS Murray St. in the season opener.
  • Backup DT Marvin Foster – part of the rotation – will miss the rest of the season with a torn tricep. His surgery schedule for Sunday evening, will be his third of his career.
  • Some great stuff from Mad Max Copeland: “James has kind of a calming presence in the pocket. I can kind of step up the craziness. But Maty’s got plenty of craziness so I have to step up the calmness, which I’m not very good at so I’m working at it. In that way, we have kind of adjusted.” … “That’s what we get paid to do, is to move people. When we don’t do that well, we want to make sure we redeem ourselves.” … “I may nor be good-looking or smell to great, but, I am a warrior.” … “Dogs won’t let me pet them. And, it’s a damn shame, because I like dogs.”
  • Tennessee came in as the least penalized team in the SEC, but had 10 penalties for 70 yards. CROWD NOISE.
  • L’Damian Washington is 10th Tiger with 9 TD receptions in a season and the first since Danario Alexander in 2010.
  • Missouri’s rushing attack (339) outgained Tennessee’s entire offense (334). Missouri’s 197 first-half rushing yards were more than Tennessee’s 181 TOTAL yards. The Tigers averaged seven yards per carry on 28 first half runs.
  • Tennessee was MAMMOTH up front and Missouri simply dominated – on both sides – at the line of scrimmage.
  • A year ago, Mizzou’s defense gave up 30 or more points six times. Through nine games this year, opponents have yet to eclipse that mark once.
  • Marcus Lucas has 221 yards on 13 catches the last three weeks.
  • Missouri, again, won the toss and took the ball first. It is the eighth time in nine games. Missouri lost the one game it did not win the toss.
  • Mauk, as he started 0-4, has completed just four of his last 15 passes. Later, Mauk was just 5-13 before heating up. Two of his next three completions went to the house.
  • After DGB’s TD, he had three career catches against Tennessee – all touchdowns.
  • Remember that time Tennessee offensive lineman Antonio Richardson said, “we will beat Missouri, I promise you that?” That was cute.
  • And, just for fun: Missouri has a Big 12 win more recently then kansASS, a Big Ten win more recently than Illinois and a Pac 12 win more recently than Colorado. Boom.

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