On Saturday evening, the Missouri Tigers steamrolled the McNeese State Cowboys 50-6, taking care of business on both sides of the football. On defense, the Tigers produced five turnovers, a blocked punt, and a safety. Offensively, the Tigers had 438 yards of total offense on the game, including 245 yards passing, and 193 yards rushing.
"You know, I thought it was a focused effort," said Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, talking about how his team played on Saturday. "That's kind of what I was looking for................ I thought we were very focused and I thought we played hard and we were playing our 'A' game. That's really what our goal was, to play our best. We had a lot of players in and it was good."
Starting QB Blaine Gabbert opened the game by completing his first 15 passes, on his way to a record-setting day, as he broke the Missouri school record for completion percentage in a game, with his 26 of 31 (83.9%) effort. Gabbert broke Chase Daniel's previous record of 83.8%, set against Colorado in 2008. Through Missouri's first two games, Gabbert has completed 60 of 79 (76%) for 501 yards and 3 TDs, without an INT. Gabbert stood strong in the pocket, and picked the McNeese State secondary apart. About the only negative from the junior QB's performance was the sack he took, instead of getting rid of the fotball.
Freshman TB Henry Josey rushed for 112 yards and 3 TDs, on just 7 carries (16 yds./carry).
"I guess I was just feeling it tonight," said Josey afterwards. "I was reading what the offensive line was doing in practice and just went from there tonight."
"I scanned my front and I knew the blocking scheme that my offensive line was doing," continued Josey, describing his 62-yard TD run. "I knew there would be a cutback lane. I saw the hole open and I just hit it, and took off running."
Freshman QB James Franklin rushed for his first TD as a Missouri Tiger. It was a night of firsts, as several Missouri players saw action, and gained experience.
There were several defensive stars for the Tigers. Andrew Gachkar, Kevin Rutland, and Kenji Jackson each garnered interceptions, and Brad Madison picked up a QB sack, and forced a fumble. But the biggest defensive performance may have been by RSF DE Michael Sam, who was credited with a blocked punt, a QB sack, and a forced fumble, as he stripped the ball away from the Cowboy's QB in the end zone for a safety, the first of Sam's Missouri career.
"I think the most important thing is," concluded Coach Pinkel, "and I say this a number of times, redundant, but the kids keep getting better and better. I think we're a better football team today than we were last week and that's what we want to do."
This was a developmental game. Coach Pinkel was pleased with the way his team played. Lots of guys played. The team got better. The experience that James Franklin garnered, along with a modicum of success, in a performance that he himself rated a C+, is invaluable. Josey, Marcus Murphy, and E.J. Gaines have thrust themselves into the mix for increased playing time. L'Damian Washington and Rolandis Woodland, along with Marcus Lucas, each gained game experience. Add Washington, Brad Madison, and Michael Sam to the list of those who earned more opportunities with their performances on Saturday.
"There's nothing like experience, either," said Coach Pinkel. "You can talk about it all you want. But, you got to get out into the arena............... There were a lot of lessons learned, and a lot of good quality time there."
One thing we learned from this game is that the number of first-year players who will play versus those who will red-shirt became much more clear and established. Barring the unforeseen, it appears that Missouri will red-shirt three-quarters of the Tigers' much-heralded 2010 recruiting class. There are six true freshmen who have already played, including QB James Franklin, TB Henry Josey, TB Marcus Murphy, TE Eric Waters, WR Marcus Lucas, and CB E.J. Gaines. I think those six are the ones who will play this year. That allows seventeen red-shirt freshmen, plus junior Kenronte Walker, an additional year of preparation for next season.
In addition to the extensive game experience that many back-ups garnered, and the intra-squad competition and quality depth that's fostered by those afforded opportunities, there's another very encouraging aspect of team development that took place on Saturday evening. Leadership is emerging and becoming established on this team, and the team is developing a wide-spread team-oriented focus. This team is developing character, and a close-knit identity.
"I think the challenge is to get your team not to focus on who they're playing, but (to focus on) playing their best," summarized Coach Pinkel. "It sounds easy, but it is difficult. But, I think with the leadership of our team and the coaches, you know, this is about us............... It's about Missouri getting better as a football team. And, I think we improved from last week.
To be sure, McNeese State was overmatched, although as T.J. Moe pointed out, the Cowboys came in with a number 13 ranking in the FCS. So, they aren't a terrible team. The Tigers showed maturity and leadership in taking care of business, and because of that, were able to get invaluable experience, "in the arena", for a host of young players. Mark down this developmental game as a success.
A few back-up players played so well on Saturday that they have thrust themselves into the mix for more playing time. Michael Sam and Brad Madison have shown serious playmaking ability. Andrew Wilson performed very well in the middle, and threw down a challenge for increased playing time at the MLB position. Wilson has also become an excellent special teams player. E.J. Gaines played very well, and may have moved up on the depth chart.
On the offensive side, Henry Josey put in a serious bid, not only for increased playing time, but for consideration for the starting job. I already mentioned L'Damian Washington. His play, and the play of Rolandis Woodland, open up the possibility that Jerrell Jackson could split time between the X WR position and the H WR position, to give the Tigers' leading receiver, T.J. Moe, an occasional breather. The Tigers have eight relatively interchangeable offensive linemen, as Britt, Meiners, and Ruth continue to play at a level that is close to the starters.