Yeah, Missouri’s That Good
By Paul Myerberg // Oct 24, 2010
Forget the question mark. Missouri is as good as some believed, as good as fans hoped, good enough to become more than just a passing fad, an undefeated team feasting on inferior opposition. You could have used that excuse prior to Saturday, when Missouri was still a relative unknown. Not anymore, not after the Tigers manhandled a leading national title contender with the help of a ground-chewing offense, the best defense in recent program history and the best home crowd yet seen in the 2010 season. That same home crowd might be tearing down Columbia, Mo., but they’ve earned it.
Game balls abound, befitting the happy results. There’s the Faurot Field crowd: loud, intense and involved for 60 minutes. Fans with ticket stubs to last night’s game should eat — and drink — for free until school resumes Monday morning. Compare last night’s crowd with the scene at Lincoln the previous Saturday, when Nebraska hosted Texas in a similarly meaningful game, and we have a clear winner: Missouri.
Then there’s the offense. Before getting too far, however, it is important to point out that Oklahoma’s defense is not what most — including myself — thought it would be. The defensive line sorely misses Gerald McCoy, as expected. The front four was largely unable to get pressure on Blaine Gabbert, though this is also due to Missouri’s quick-hitting pass game: Gabbert, well-versed in this system, was delivering the ball on time and with accuracy.
Gabbert had his 2009 season slightly derailed by an early-season ankle injury, which hampered his play for much of Big 12 play. Now healthy, by and large, he’s beginning to show the talent that made him such a well-regarded recruit. He’s developed a rapport with both Wes Kemp and Jerrell Jackson, with the latter setting new career-bests in receptions (9) and receiving yards (139) in the win.
The most amazing statistic from last night? That the Missouri offense, despite huddling so infrequently, throughly dominated the time of possession: the Tigers held onto the ball for 38:26, thanks to near perfect play both through the air and on the ground. Speaking of the running game, wasn’t Missouri supposed to struggle without Derrick Washington, the would-be starter no longer on the team?
The defense also deserves credit in this regard. Not just for the three forced turnovers, but for how it bottled up DeMarco Murray, effectively ending his Heisman campaign; Murray ended the night with less than 50 yards rushing, though he did tie for the team lead with eight receptions. The defense forced Landry Jones to win the game: he couldn’t.
Perhaps the Tigers don’t have the nation’s second-best defense — it entered the game second nationally in scoring. They do have a top 10 defense, it seems, with more speed and better technique than any Missouri defense I’ve ever seen. For all the success of the offense, the defense was the big story last night: if you can man up against Oklahoma’s passing attack, you can stop anybody. You taking notes, Nebraska?
Finally, let’s acknowledge the always-underrated coaching of Gary Pinkel. Perhaps it’s because he’s been at Missouri as long as he had — a decade now, believe it or not. Pinkel doesn’t receive the national acclaim he deserves, even if he’s brought a program lacking in historical pride through three different incarnations of success: teams led by Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert.
This team looks like his best: yes, better than the Daniel-led 2007 team that was jobbed out of a B.C.S. berth. That team, if you remember correctly, couldn’t hang with Oklahoma — not by a long shot. Neither could the 2008 Tigers. The 2010 Tigers, on the other hand, can do more than just run with the Sooners: they can run them off the field, out of the stadium, back to Oklahoma with their tail between their legs.
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