On Saturday, the #14 Missouri Tigers (10-2, 6-2) reached the 10-win mark for the third time in four years by literally running roughshod, 35-7 over the Kansas Jayhawks (3-9, 1-7), in their annual border showdown at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. Missouri rushed for 218 yards (4.7 yards/carry) and 5 TDs against the Jayhawks.
The win over Kansas was emblematic of the new identity forged by this year's Tigers. This year's Missouri team has discovered its recipe for winning. The main ingredient, that was missing from recent editions, is a defense that keeps opponents off of the scoreboard. Coach Pinkel talked about how the play of his defense impacted that recipe for winning.
"The way our defense is going changes how we call plays, too," explained Coach Pinkel. "You get in the fourth quarter and it's different than what it was. Not that we'll ever not go back to the way it was before but when you know your defense is playing that well, you run the ball a little bit more, you use the clock a little bit more. The decisions I make as far as fourth down and those type of things, that changes everything. So that's pretty cool to have that. I thought we ran the ball real well today on offense. I thought at a real critical point in the game, when we got that turnover and they went down and scored I think in two gains against our defense, our offense went back out there and got the kickoff, and went down and scored. I thought that really was a great statement. But I certainly think, defensively we are playing great team defense. Our defense can run! At the very end, (I was) just watching these guys, and their speed and explosiveness, and their hitting. So, it's a great team and you have to have a special group of kids in your program to win 10 games."
On Saturday, Missouri held Kansas to 141 yards of total offense, and an average of 2.3 yards/play. And, the Tigers made life miserable for Kansas QB, Jordan Webb, sacking him 5 times, and intercepting him twice, before they knocked him out of the game, and intercepted his replacement.
Missouri did a good job on special teams, too, except for too many penalties, and the combination of Missouri's defense and special teams kept Kansas backed up all day. That's a big part of how this team wins, major ingredients in that recipe.
Against Kansas, Blaine Gabbert completed 62% of his passes, for an average of 11.2 yards/completion. Those numbers are not far off of Gabbert's season averages. What's different about this team this year, and especially the last three weeks, after Coach Pinkel and his staff adjusted how Missouri attacks the various "Double Eagle" schemes of which they've seen a steady diet this season, is that Missouri now runs the football. This team ran the ball real well against Kansas, and they've shown a renewed commitment to the run the past three weeks. Gabbert has improved in making reads in the running game, and has been an effective enough runner to keep the defense honest, or to burn them when they're not. On Saturday, Missouri ran the football on 64% of their offensive plays. Afterward, Blaine Gabbert's statements were revealing.
"They were giving us some different looks," said Gabbert. "They were dropping eight guys back into coverage, but they had no linebackers in the box, so we had to take advantage of our opportunities. I have to give all the credit in the world to our offensive line. They dominated today all four quarters."
Yeah. They did. Coach Pinkel thought so, too.
"I think they really did play well," began Coach Pinkel, speaking of the Tigers' offensive line. "You get those kind of yards, and certainly the running backs were good, and I think everybody had their share, and when executing, that's what happens. It's going to start up front, always. Those guys determine if we have the chance to run the ball."
So, there's the recipe. Play great defense, win the battle for field position, run the football, and as a result, throw the ball effectively. Take what the defense gives you. There's that part of this team's identity. Another part of their identity is the team chemistry, their togetherness.
To a man, after Saturday's victory over their rival, Kansas, and after their record-setting season, the Missouri players lamented their two earlier losses. This team knows they could have won 11, or 12, games. I think they believe they should have run the table. I'm in agreement with them.
But, not to dwell on what might have been.
"We're going to go to the bowl game," said a determined Andrew Gachkar. "And, try to get that 11th (win)."