On Saturday in Columbia, the #17 Missouri Tigers (8-2, 4-2) defeated the #24 Kansas State Wildcats (6-4, 3-4) by the final score of 38-28.
Following the debacle of last week's second straight loss, Coach Pinkel circled the wagons, and did some coaching. He coached his coaches, and he coached his players. With both middle linebackers sidelined, Dave Steckel improvised. RSF LB Andrew Wilson started in the middle, and played a little more than half of his team's defensive snaps. Wilson began the game a little tentatively, seemingly a little unsure of himself, but appeared to receive some coaching during the game, and played more aggressively as the game wore on. He finished with 7 total tackles. In an effort to provide some relief for Wilson, and to avoid asking too much of a young player, Coach Steckel moved senior SLB Andrew Gachkar into the middle for the remainder of Missouri's defensive plays, and had senior safety Jarrell Harrison lining up at Gachkar's SLB position.
Now, this isn't much different than what Missouri has done in passing situations. They routinely substitute a DB for their SLB on passing downs, but against K-State, Harrison lined up at SLB on running downs, too. And, his responsibilities were clearly that of the SLB in Missouri's base defense. Harrison's a big safety, and plays with a physical style, as do Missouri's other safeties, Jasper Simmons and Kenji Jackson. The Tigers kept Daniel Thomas in their sights all game, and at least made the great, future NFL back earn every one of his 66 yards. Those three safeties love to play the run, and all three had real good games against K-State.
The returning health of Aldon Smith allowed Coach Steckel to resume utilizing the All-American DE in a variety of ways, lining him up all across the line. Coach Steckel had Aldon line up at defensive tackle, next to Terrell Resonno, on the inside, as well as on the outside, at his usual DE position. In the 3rd quarter, when Smith burst through to alter the course of the game with his fumble-forcing sack of Kansas State QB, Carson Coffman, Aldon was lined up inside, as one of five defensive linemen, along with two defensive tackles, and two other defensive ends. This alignment left Aldon Smith singled up against K-State's left guard in what turned out for the Wildcats to be a game changing mismatch.
For the second straight week, true freshman CB E.J. Gaines played extensively, and well. Kansas State committed four turnovers in this game, three of which were forced. Twice, Jacquies Smith was johnny-on-the-spot, with fumble recoveries, and Carl Gettis and Brad Madison were alert to identify the fumblerewskie, and strip the ball-carrier. Then, there was Missouri's two LBs, Gachkar and Zaviar Gooden. They were each on the field for almost every snap, in addition to coverage teams, and they were both all over the field. Gooden just keep getting better and better.
I have the feeling that Coach Pinkel may have gotten more involved in the offense, in preparation for Kansas State. It certainly looked more diverse. And, Missouri ran the ball significantly more than they threw it, which is a departure from the status quo. There was substantially more utilization of the two-back sets, as well as the use of the wide-receiver sweeps with a TB in the backfield. But, perhaps Coach Pinkel's best coaching may have taken place at the QB position. The plan was for the Tigers to utilize true freshman, James Franklin, more than they did. He was weakened by a "viral infection", and Coach Pinkel explained later that they decided in-game to back off of playing Franklin as much as planned. Later, Coach Pinkel indicated that Franklin would continue to see more playing time going forward.
"We plan to use him a little bit more," Coach Pinkel said of Franklin. "He can do some things to help us."
Mid-week, Coach Pinkel met with Blaine Gabbert to talk to his junior QB, and to remind him that "he's good", and that he had played great, just three weeks ago, on the sport's biggest stage, in engineering the Tigers to a 36-27 win over Oklahoma. It's obvious that somewhere along the way, in preparation for Kansas State, that someone persuaded Gabbert to run the football. Gabbert looked like a different guy, as he made quick decisions in the running game, and ran confidently, and aggressively. Having an effective running QB upgrades this offense. It's an integral part of this offense, and it had been missing during much of the Blaine Gabbert era. As a result of the increased use of the running game, Gabbert had time to find open receivers, and even completed a deep throw, a 51-yarder to Rolandis Woodland, into the wind.
"We tried to utilize (Blaine) a little bit more," said Coach Pinkel. "It just makes it more difficult to stop our running game................. A lot of people take (Blaine) out of the equation, and we decided to put him back in."
During the previous two weeks, Missouri's outside receivers, especially Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, had played poorly, with several dropped passes. Against K-State, those two came to play! Jackson and Kemp each made tough catches on balls in traffic, and caught everything thrown their way. Blocking is an important aspect of playing wide receiver at Missouri, but catching the football is more important! Maybe someone pointed that out to those guys last week. Whether at QB, or WR, or at any position on the field, the specter of being replaced in the line-up, of losing a starting job, is an effective motivator and coaching tool.
This was a good win for this senior class, on Senior Day, to tie last year's senior class as the winningest in the history of the program (38). With one more victory this season, that record will have been re-established for the third straight season.
During the past 6 seasons, under Coach Pinkel, from 2005-2010, Missouri has thus far posted a 53-23 won-loss record, a winning percentage of 70%, which is equal to Missouri's winning percentage under Dan Devine, from 1958-1970. For the past 6 years, the Missouri Tigers have won like never before. And, they are on an upward trend!