Game Week Preview: Missouri Tigers

The Missouri Tigers look to send their senior class out as winners as the Kansas State Wildcats come to the Zou

On Saturday (11:30 A.M., FSN) at Faurot Field, the #17 Missouri Tigers (7-2, 3-2) play host to the #24 Kansas State Wildcats (6-3, 3-3). Missouri is coming off of a very disappointing 24-17 loss at Texas Tech.

As the final home game of the season, it's Senior Day at Faurot, as well as the annual Blackout game, for which fans are encouraged to wear black. Good timing, since the weather forecast for Saturday includes a high temperature creeping up to near 50 degrees.

"I'm not much of the crying type," said 5th-year senior CB Kevin Rutland, talking about Senior Day. "So, I hope I don't cry. But, I know it will be a special moment, and I'll never forget it."

Here's the list of the 15 seniors on the team:

#62 C Tim Barnes

#43 S Tony Buhr

#98 DL Bart Coslet

#35 TB Matt Davis

#6 LB Andrew Gachkar

#19 CB Carl Gettis

#35 LB Jeff Gettys

#99 P Matt Grabner

#11 S Jarrell Harrison

#74 OL Kirk Lakebrink

#33 LB Luke Lambert

#7 CB Munir Prince

#20 CB Kevin Rutland

#88 H Forrest Shock

#9 S Jasper Simmons

All 15 are on pace to have graduated by next May. This senior class needs one more win this season to tie last year's senior class as the winningest in the history of the program (38), a record that, with two more wins this season, will have been re-established for the third straight season. Talk about state of the program!

According to the NCAA, Missouri's 7-2 record so far this season has been accomplished against the 5th strongest schedule in the country.

Missouri has struggled offensively the last two weeks, after turning in a trio of promising offensive performances. Junior QB Blaine Gabbert played abysmally in Lubbock, and he will need to bounce back against K-State.

On the season, Gabbert is 211-341-4 (62%) (10.4 yards/completion), with 12 TDs, for an average of 243.7 yards/game through the air, and a passer efficienct rating of 125.2. Missouri's running back by committee approach has resulted in Gabbert's 68 carries leading the team in individual rushing attempts. However, his 1.2 yards/carry is the lowest among Missouri's ball carriers. Of course, Gabbert's rushing total of 189 yards is offset by the loss of 107 yards on 14 sacks. So his actual rushing totals could be seen as 54 carries for 82 yards (1.52 yards/carry). That average per rushing attempt pales in comparison to those of Missouri's tailbacks, or to back-up QB, James Franklin, who has rushed the ball 14 times, including 4 straight QB sneaks, and a couple of kneel downs, for 78 yards (5.6 yards/carry). Yet, it's only fair to point out that Franklin's carries have come primarily against lesser teams, and that almost half of his rushing total came on a single 34-yard scamper.

Missouri's TBs, junior De'Vion Moore (5.8 yards/carry) (5 TDS), freshman Henry Josey (5.9 yards/carry) (4 TDs), sophomore Kendial Lawrence (6 yards/carry) (3 TDs), and freshman Marcus Murphy (9.4 yards/carry) (2 TDs), have collectively provided the Tigers with a very effective, though under utilized ground attack. The quartet has carried the football 187 times, for 1160 net rushing yards (6.2 yards/carry) and 14 rushing TDs, and an average of 128.9 yards/game on the ground.

Even a casual observer of college football can recognize that those rushing numbers tell the story of a very efficient running game. When Blaine Gabbert's not running the football, the Missouri rushing attack borders on exceptional. The problem has been the paucity of carries for Missouri's collective TB, just under 21 carries/game. Despite what has been cited as an area of emphasis since the start of the season, and despite what appears statistically to be an effective and improving running game, the Tigers have only run the ball on 42% of their offensive plays this season. And, the Tigers' TBs, who are collectively averaging over 6 yards/carry, have only carried the football on 29% of Missouri's offensive plays. Actually, the 6.2 yards/carry, and the 29% of the team's offensive plays, are essentially the same numbers as Oklahoma State's Kendall Hunter, the Big 12's leading rusher (3rd NCAA). For comparison, K-State's Daniel Thomas averages 5.1 yards/carry, and his rushing attempts have comprised 37% of the Wildcats' offensive plays.

Missouri's outside receivers, juniors Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, enjoyed great success during the Tigers' first three conference games, and when they were playing well, Missouri's passing game was very effective. But, the last two weeks, those two have struggled to catch the football, and their struggles have conjoined with Blaine Gabbert's struggles to produce futility in Missouri's passing game. Now is the time for these three juniors to consistently play to the level of their potential. Continued struggles by any of these three starters may be the signal that it's time for substitutions to be made. Talented freshmen, James Franklin and Marcus Lucas, stand at the ready.

"I think it was executuion," explained Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel, addressing the recent problems with the offense. "The thing about our offense, when you have one mistake by a particular player, it can affect the whole football play.................... Our offensive execution was very inconsistent. Sometimes it was the throw, or the route, or we dropped the football, or protection forced us to throw the ball quicker. A lot of things happened there. It was unfortunate because we had not been that inefficient in quite some time. So, we're going to work hard in practice to try and correct it."

"I've switched quarterbacks before," replied Coach Pinkel, in response to a question about possibly substituting for the QB. "In my career as a head coach for 20 years, I've done it a few times. If I think it's the right thing to do, I'll do it."

The Tigers lead the Big 12 in two important defensive statistics, scoring defense (16.33 points/game) (8th NCAA), and red zone defense (2nd NCAA). Missouri ranks 2nd in the Big 12 (20th NCAA) in pass efficiency defense, with a rating of 112.77. But, there's no question that the loss of Dominique Hamilton has left Missouri much more vulnerable to the inside run. And, I think it has hurt their pass rush a little. No knock on Hamilton's replacements, but they're not Hamilton, who is on his way to a career in the NFL. In addition, Missouri is banged up at the MLB position. Luke Lambert is out, and Will Ebner's been playing with a bad wheel. Andrew Wilson's been seeing more time in the middle, and the Tigers may need an extended effort from Wilson this week.

"Well, we've been banged up quite a bit," said Coach Pinkel, answering a question about the health of his defense. "We've had our share of (injuries)."

The Tigers are giving up 147.6 yards/game (4.11 yards/carry) on the ground, which is middle of the pack in the conference, and in the country.

This week, defending the run will be critically important.

Kick-off coverage has been the Tigers' lone weakness on special teams, and K-State has the number one kick return man in the country, so that's an area that Missouri will need to shore up this Saturday. Otherwise, the Tigers do a good job in the battle for field position, which will be hugely important against K-State. Senior punter Matt Grabner ranks 2nd in the Big 12 (6th NCAA) with 41 net yards/punt.

Both teams have performed well in the area of turnover margin. Kansas State is +7, and Missouri is +6, on the season.

Missouri Overall Team Statistics (as of Nov 07, 2010) All games

Team Statistics MU OPP

SCORING 277 147

Points Per Game 30.8 16.3

FIRST DOWNS 195 178

Rushing 66 67

Passing 117 95

Penalty 12 16

RUSHING YARDAGE 1371 1328

Yards gained rushing 1589 1590

Yards lost rushing 218 262

Rushing Attempts 285 323

Average Per Rush 4.8 4.1

Average Per Game 152.3 147.6

TDs Rushing 18 7

PASSING YARDAGE 2299 1985

Comp-Att-Int 222-355-5 202-338-12

Average Per Pass 6.5 5.9

Average Per Catch 10.4 9.8

Average Per Game 255.4 220.6

TDs Passing 13 11

TOTAL OFFENSE 3670 3313

Total Plays 640 661

Average Per Play 5.7 5.0

Average Per Game 407.8 368.1

KICK RETURNS: #-Yards 22-496 47-1083

PUNT RETURNS: #-Yards 23-149 18-78

INT RETURNS: #-Yards 12-270 5-40

KICK RETURN AVERAGE 22.5 23.0

PUNT RETURN AVERAGE 6.5 4.3

INT RETURN AVERAGE 22.5 8.0

FUMBLES-LOST 15-8 17-7

PENALTIES-Yards 54-497 64-490

PUNTS-Yards 50-2208 51-2046 Average Per Punt 44.2 40.1 Net punt average 41.0 36.4

TIME OF POSSESSION/Game 28:24 31:36

-DOWN Conversions 44/127 54/143 3rd-Down Pct 35% 38% 4TH-DOWN Conversions 4/8 5/15 4th-Down Pct 50% 33%

TOUCHDOWNS SCORED 33 18

FIELD GOALS-ATTEMPTS 15-17 8-15

RED-ZONE SCORES (33-37) 89% (14-25) 56%

RED-ZONE TOUCHDOWNS (20-37) 54% (10-25) 40%

PAT-ATTEMPTS (30-32) 94% (15-16) 94%Score by Quarters 1st 2nd 3rd 4th OT Total

Missouri 77 80 77 43 0 277

Opponents 44 34 34 35 0 147


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