Now that the Missouri Tigers' 2010 regular season is in the books, ShowMeMizzou takes a look at the season in review. With a 10-2 record, Missouri closes out the regular season with a #12 ranking in the BCS Standings, and await the disclosure this Sunday of their Bowl destination.
From fall camp, through the Arch Rivalry, through Gameday, and a break-through win over then #1 Oklahoma, through the disappointment of the road losses at Nebraska and at Texas Tech, to the domination of Kansas in the Border Showdown, this Missouri team has had its ups and downs. For Missouri's seniors, 40 wins over the last four seasons, made them the winningest senior class in the school's history, a record that has bee re-established for the third straight season. Coach Pinkel now owns three of the school's four 10-win seasons, and Missouri is well-positioned to be strong moving forward into 2011 and beyond.
Coach Pinkel continues to deflect credit for his team's success, preferring to praise his staff, and his players, for their dedication, and hard work, in building this program. It was a decade ago that Coach Pinkel took over the down-trodden Missouri football team, a job many of his friends warned him against accepting, calling it career suicide. Now, Missouri has just completed the most successful 6-year period in the school's history, and the football program has never been stronger. To further illustrate the current state of the program, consider that not only has Missouri just completed it's most successful four-year, five-year, and six-year runs, but three-fourths of Coach Pinkel's best recruiting class at Missouri, his 2010 class, red-shirted during the 2010 season. And, of the 58 players who regularly play, 50 of them are returning next season, and 27 of those 50 are either sophomores or freshmen, and that's not counting the 18 players who red-shirted.
This is the Golden Age of Missouri football. The program is at its historic pinnacle. But, I don't see this as the peak, rather the program's current high perch, as it ascends to even higher elevations.
During fall camp, I wrote that all of the pieces were in place, and that my biggest questions about this team lay in the realm of chemistry and leadership. At season's end, I consider this team to have exhibited solid leadership, and great chemistry. Entering the season, we pointed out that the Tigers were thin at only one position, defensive tackle, and could ill-afford to sustain an injury to one of their terrific junior DTs. It's not just a coincidence that both of Missouri's losses immediately followed the loss of Dominique Hamilton.
The loss of a trio of senior starters, Derrick Washington's dismissal from the team on the eve of the season-opener, Jasper Simmons' suspensions, and Luke Lambert's injuries, might have been debilitating to the team. I'm sure those losses had their impact, but it was hardly noticeable, as younger players stepped into the voids created, and played well.
As the season began, Missouri was not ranked, and many projected an 8 or 9 win season for the Tigers. I cringed at those suggestions, seeing that this team was capable of winning every Saturday, that they would rarely be the less talented team on the field, and that if they were, it would at least be close.
But, there were some unexpected lapses. The defense, stingy as they were, especially when teams got closer to pay dirt, gave up too many big plays, and it finally cost them in Lincoln. Or, maybe it was just that the Tigers hadn't learned how to handle success, and showed up in Lincoln riding on cloud nine. The debacle the following week cost Missouri a chance to play this Saturday for the conference championship. So, color me disappointed. And, if you listen to the players and coaches, they all feel the same way. As proud as everyone is of 10-2, everyone knows it should have been better. After the win over Kansas, Andrew Gachkar said that they should have won "at least 11" games.
Position by position, players stepped up, and performed well. Andrew Gachkar and Zaviar Gooden, who led the Tigers with 81 and 79 total tackles, respectively, got better week by week throughout the season. Jarrell Harrison and Kenji Jackson were brilliant. Kevin Rutland gave Missouri the best CB play of Coach Pinkel's tenure. Carl Gettis had the best season of his career. Missouri's defensive ends became the strength of the team, even absorbing Aldon Smith's broken leg. Brad Madison led the team, and was 4th in the conference, with 7.5 sacks. The Smiths, Aldon and Jacquies, each had 5.5 sacks on the season. And, Michael Sam proved to be a play maker, as well.
Missouri finished the regular season with the number one scoring defense in the conference (6th NCAA), allowing just 15.17 points/game on the season. The Tigers were the best in the country in red zone defense, allowing opponents who reached the red zone, to score a mere 55% of the time. Missouri finished tied with Oklahoma for the conference lead (13th NCAA) in turnover margin, at +0.92 turnovers/game.
On offense, the TB-by-commitee was brilliant, with their cumulative 1473 yards rushing, and 5.75 yards/carry. Missouri's offensive line played very well, at times, and are as responsible for the 10 wins as any unit on the team. The inside receiver duo, of Mackey Award Finalist, Michael Egnew, and T.J. Moe, were as brilliant as the outside receiver duo, of Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp, were disappointing. Egnew finished third in the conference (10th NCAA) in receptions, with 6.92 receptions/game. Moe was fourth in the conference (35th NCAA) in receiving yards (893 yards), and fifth in the Big 12 (19th NCAA) in receptions (6.42 receptions/game).
Blaine Gabbert played brilliantly during a two-game stretch in October, in wins over Texas A&M and Oklahoma, but was just as disappointing the following two weeks. He finished the season with a 62.2% completion rate and a passer efficiency rating of 126, which ranked 7th in the Big 12 (64th NCAA). Gabbert averaged 10.58 yards/completion, and did a good job of taking care of the ball in the passing game, where he threw an interception every 59.7 pass attempts, or just slightly more often than 1 INT for every two games. Missouri converted third downs at a rate of just over 37%, an unacceptably low level, that ranks 10th in the conference, and 81st in the country.
Gabbert improved over his sophomore year, but fell short of playing at the consistently high level which is expected of him. In fairness, when Gabbert's performance lagged, it was usually in conjunction with poor performances by his outside receivers, Jackson and Kemp. When that trio performed maximally, Missouri's offense was prolific! But, when they underperformed, which was too often, the Tigers struggled to score points.
As the season went along, more and more teams adopted a defensive scheme against Missouri that Coach Yost identifies as a "version of the Double Eagle", and the Tigers struggled against this hybrid defense, which is designed to defend spread offenses like the one that Missouri runs. The Tigers' came up with an answer for this defense, which was to run the football. A running QB is especially effective against this defense, and Gabbert became more effective in the run game. The big junior QB even led the Tigers in rushing in their win over Kansas State.
With the Missouri defense swarming quarterbacks (3.1 sacks/game) (1st Big 12, 7th NCAA), and denying access to pay dirt, and with a punter who ranks 12th in the country (4th Big 12) in net punting (38.9 yards/punt), Coach Pinkel decided to rely more on the running game, and by season's end, the Tigers had forged a new identity, and had found a new way to win football games. Missouri scored just over 30 points/game, but outscored their opponents 2 to 1.
As the Tigers await their Bowl assignment, they're busy at work putting the finishing touches on the 2011 recruiting class, and continuing to lay the ground work for what figures to be a critically important 2012 recruiting class. A strong finish for the Tigers will go a long way toward helping to attract the top in-state talent. And, as Gachkar expressed, this year's Tigers just need to get back to work, in preparation for their bowl game, with their sights set on getting that 11th win.