On Saturday night in Columbia, the then #22/#24 Missouri Tigers (5-0, 1-0) pitched a 26-0 shutout over the Colorado Buffaloes (3-2, 0-1). On a night when the Missouri offense struggled, at times, and never really established much of a run game, the Tigers' defense held the Buffaloes to a mere 61 yards rushing on 26 attempts (2.3 yards/carry), more than 100 yards below their season average, and denied Colorado access to the end zone.
Missouri's special teams came up big, as well, contributing with a Grant Ressel 47-yard FG, a blocked punt, a blocked FG, and a successful fake punt that resulted in a 26-yard run for a first down by Trey Barrow. Barrow also backed the Buffs up when he punted one out of bounds at the two. Matt Grabner backed the Buffs up again when Zaviar Gooden downed his punt inside the CU 1 yard line, which resulted in a safety on Colorado's next play, as Tyler Hansen was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone. The only negative in the Tigers' special teams' play was, once again, the kick-off coverage, which was not very good.
But, the night belonged to the Missouri defense. The Tigers gave up yardage in the middle of the field, but repeatedly stiffened as Colorado approached scoring territory. Nickel-back Kip Edwards turned the Buffs away when he picked off a Cody Hawkins pass in the fourth quarter, and returned it 49 yards to the CU 32. Even when Colorado took over on the the Missouri 13 yard line, following a Blaine Gabbert fumble, the Tigers pushed the Buffaloes backward, and then blocked the FG attempt.
Afterwards, Coach Pinkel said that the shutout was meaningful.
"It's very difficult to get a shutout," said Coach Pinkel. "It was great to see our defense (get the shutout) at the end. That was real important to them, too.................... It's hard, but you also have to finish. Finish when you know that really the game is over, for the most part. Do you have something inside of you that really makes sure that you do your best to keep them out of the end zone? And, I was pleased with that."
There were numerous defensive stars. Jarrell Harrison led Missouri with 11 tackles, and Zaviar Gooden (2TFLs, 1 PBU, 1 QB sack) and Andrew Gachkar each registered eight tackles. Kip Edwards had 7 tackles and QB sack to go along with a PBU and and INT. Sophomores Gooden and Edwards probably played the best games of their short careers, which bodes well for Missouri, when so many young defenders are clearly improving. A trio of junior defensive linemen, Jacquies Smith, Dominique Hamilton, and Terrell Resonno, probably played the best games of their careers, as well. Smith had 2 TFLs and batted down 2 passes, and Resonno registered 6 tackles and a blocked kick.
Through 5 games, Missouri's defense has surrendered 11.2 points/game, which is top ten in the country, but the most exciting and encouraging aspect of the Tigers' defensive play is the improvement that we're seeing in their play. Missouri's playing a lot of players on defense, and many of them are young players who are making dramatic improvements, as they gain additional game experience. Afterward the game, a couple of veteran Tiger defenders talked about the shutout, and about getting better.
"We definitely didn't want to give (the shutout) up," said senior CB Carl Gettis. "On their last drive with two or three minutes left, we were saying we can't give up here. We had to put up a big stop and get this shut out. We really wanted that goose egg tonight................ We're going to watch some film Sunday and find out what we did wrong and correct our mistakes and get ready for Texas A&M."
"It's real sweet to come out here and basically dominate on defense," added Jacquies Smith. "We just have to go out there and work to get better and practice."
The story for Missouri on the offensive side of the ball is not as positive, yet the team is 5-0, and there's clearly a lot of room for improvement offensively. Consistency appears to be the elusive missing ingredient. Three TD drives of at least 70 yards, including a 15 play, 97 yard drive to essentially close out the first half, and put Missouri ahead 19-0 heading into the locker room, are definite positives.
Blaine Gabbert finished the day with a 59% completion rate, for over 11 yards/completion, and 2 TDs. But, if you extract the third quarter, in which Gabbert was clearly limited due to his injury, his numbers look much better, 65% completions, for over 12 yards/completion (7.9 yards/attempt), through the first half. After appearing to be flustered early, Gabbert looked good during the two long drives, setting up and getting the ball out quickly, and hanging in and completing passes in the face of the oncoming Colorado pass rush.
Another positive is the play of James Franklin, as he came in at the beginning of the 4th quarter, and engineered the TD drive that salted the game away. Franklin completed 75% of his passes for 11.7 yards/comletion, and a TD. He also threw his first career interception, a pass that he would later say that he knows he shouldn't have thrown.
Coach Pinkel said that he was "pleased with (Franklin's) progress", and indicated that he has confidence in the freshman. He also mentioned how Franklin provides different attributes, and can do different things.
After some inconsistent play by Missouri's receivers in earlier games, there was significant improvement in their play against Colorado. The starting outside receivers, Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, each had multiple receptions, and were factors in the passing game. And, Missouri made a lot of progress in cleaning up the debilitating penalties from the previous games.On the other side of the ledger however, Missouri struggled to get their running game untracked. Missouri persisted in the running game, true to their stated emphasis on running the football, but their 32 carries netted just 119 yards, an average of 3.7 yards/carry.
"Colorado is a good team," pointed out Missouri's senior center, Tim Barnes. "(They are) much improved from last year, and they came out and fought hard. Defensively, they had a pretty unique plan for us, and so we had to make quite a few adjustments on it."
After the game, both Coach Yost and Coach Pinkel stated that the Tigers "have to do a better job of running the football". Colorado did do some combination stunting and blitzing that gave the Tigers some trouble, especially early."We got to run the football," said Coach Pinkel. "But, we've got to give (Colorado) credit. We struggled a little bit up front in handling some of their stuff and finishing blocks. I've got to go back and see it, and evaluate it. But, they had a good plan and they did a good job."
The Tigers are 5-0, and they're going to go back to work on improving everything, especially the running game, and the kick coverage. It's exciting to watch this team continue to get better.