On Saturday (2:30 P.M., ABC), the Missouri Tigers (2-2, 0-1) travel to Manhattan to take on the #20/#21 Kansas State Wildcats (4-0,1-0). Missouri is coming in off of a bye week, after opening conference play with a 28-38 loss at Oklahoma.
"(Missouri) just gets better and better as they go along," said Kansas State Head Coach Bill Snyder, earlier this week, when speaking about the Missouri football program. "Missouri is really a very, very fine football team. They're very talented. Gary (Pinkel) and his assistant coaches do a great job ………………………………… (Missouri) is just talented and good. They play hard, and (they) play smart. They're going to be a force in this conference."
The bye week afforded Missouri the opportunity to get some more players healthy. TBs De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence are both practicing this week, and have been identified by Coach Pinkel as "questionable" for Saturday's game. From what I can tell, Moore is the closer of the two to being ready to play this week. LB Will Ebner remains sidelined.
"Our players are excited about getting going again (after the bye week)," said Coach Pinkel. "They want to get after it again, and go play a very good team, in Kansas State."
Through the first four starts of his career, James Franklin has posted a passer efficiency rating of 143.52, with a completion percentage of 61% (77-126-1), 7 TDs passing (7-1 TD-INT ratio), and is averaging 12.8 yards/completion, and 7.8 yards/pass attempt.
For perspective on Franklin's early passing numbers, a comparison to Chase Daniel's sophomore season reveals that in 2006, Daniel completed 63.5% of his pass attempts (287-452-10), and threw 28 TDs through 13 games, for a passer efficiency rating of 145.06, and an average of 12.3 yards/completion, and 7.8 yards/pass attempt.
Daniel holds the school's career records for passer efficiency (149.0), completion percentage (68%), yards/pass attempt (7.78), and total offense yards/play (6.8).
Franklin's going to have to pick it up, if he wants to catch Daniel in that last category, since he's a half a yard per play behind Daniel's school record pace in total offense yards/play. Through his first four starts, Franklin's averaging 6.3 yards/play in total offense. But, the sophomore QB is off to a good start in the passing game, as his 7.8 yards/pass attempt is on a school-record pace. Franklin's 311.2 yards/game of total offense ranks 6th in the Big 12.
Missouri leads the Big 12, and ranks 8th nationally, in rushing the football (253.2 yards/game).
Sophomore TB Henry Josey's 133.2 rushing yards/game ranks 10th in the conference in total offense, making the Tigers the only Big 12 team with two players ranked in the top 10 in the conference in total offense. Josey ranks 1st in the conference, and 6th nationally, in rushing yards/game, and his 12.4 yards/carry leads the nation! He's also averaging 13 yards/reception.
More touches may be on the way for Josey.
"Certainly Henry, from the standpoint of offensive touches," said Coach Pinkel, talking about getting Henry Josey more touches, "how many times you want him carrying the football, or catching the football, you know, getting it in his hands as many times as we can, that's probably wise to do."
Another player whom Coach Pinkel has identified as a target for more touches is senior TE Michael Egnew.
"I think we need to have (Egnew) touch the ball more," said Coach Pinkel. "A lot of times, his number's called, and he's covered, or because of the coverage, he's not in a position to be open. He's marked (by defenses), because of the success that he's had. Bottom line, we want him to touch the ball more. So, we've got to get it to him."
Junior WR T.J. Moe leads Missouri in receiving, with 5.8 receptions/game, and with 72.8 receiving yards/game, which are both good for 8th in the conference. Moe averages 12.7 yards/reception, which is very nearly Franklin's average per completion.
"We certainly want those guys (Josey, Egnew, and Moe) to touch the football a lot," explained Coach Pinkel. "But, we also want to pass it around . I think you're a better pass offense when the ball is distributed."
The Tigers are distributing the football to several receivers on the outside, including a pair of sophomores, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who are averaging 18.6 yards/reception and 17.3 yards/reception, respectively.
"Talent," replied Coach Snyder, when asked what he thinks of when he looks at Missouri's offense. "A very fine offensive line. A running back that averages a million yards a carry. A very talented quarterback that can do so many things. He's very, very capable in the quarterback run game, you know, all those read plays, and still be able to throw the ball around as well as he does. And a tight end, who I know hasn't caught quite as many as he did last year, but is extremely effective. You have to account for him, as you do their very talented wide receivers. Their young wide receiver (T.J.) Moe, whom I have always had great respect for, he's such a competitive guy. (They're) a very balanced offensive football team. They do a lot of things; 500+ yards against Oklahoma kind of gives you an idea."
For the first time in about five years, Missouri is experiencing some difficulties in kicking field goals. For really the first time in his career, senior Grant Ressel has struggled, missing more field goals already this season than he had previously in his career. Coach Pinkel called Ressel a "great kicker", and said that they're going to have to help Ressel, maybe by trying to get him a little closer.
"We'll work through this," said Coach Pinkel, referring of his senior kicker. "We've got a lot of games left. We need to get him back. He'll come out of this."
Through four games, Missouri ranks 4th in the Big 12 in total defense (349.5 yards/game) and in scoring defense (20.2 points/game). The Tigers are 2nd in the conference, and 16th nationally, in rushing defense (87 yards/game).
"Missouri, obviously, has been tremendous against the run," said Coach Snyder, whose team has run the football on more than two-thirds of their offensive plays this season. "So, we've got our hands full there."
Missouri's success against the run starts up front, where the Tigers line is anchored by a pair of fifth-year seniors, in DTs Dominique Hamilton and Terrell Resonno. Hamilton has 20 tackles, and Resonno has 13 tackles, through Missouri's first four games, which is great production from the interior of the line. Missouri has been playing six DTs in the early going, and the second-teamers, junior Sheldon Richardson and RSF Lucas Vincent, have both been very productive, as well.
The Tigers DEs haven't been as productive, and there's quite a bit of room for improvement in their play. Junior Brad Madison does have 10 tackles, including 6 TFLs, and 3 QB sacks, on the season, and sophomores Brayden Burnett (8 tackles, 3 TFLs, 2.5 sacks) and Michael Sam (6 tackles) have made some plays, as well. But, Missouri's DEs haven't been able to apply a consistent pass rush, and that has been a factor in too many big pass plays. Senior DE Jacquies Smith came back for the Oklahoma game, and he should be near to full speed against K-State.
For Missouri, the linebacking trio of sophomore Andrew Wilson (25 tackles), senior Luke Lambert (24 tackles), and junior Zaviar Gooden (22 tackles) are the Tigers' leading tacklers. Against K-State, they'll each be making a lot more stops, hopefully close to the line of scrimmage.
Earlier this week, Coach Pinkel talked about how important it is against K-State to try to get them into third-and-long. He also said that is very difficult to do.
Led by senior safety Kenji Jackson and sophomore corner E.J. Gaines, the Missouri secondary needs to bounce back from the losses at ASU and OU, and keep everything in front of them at Kansas State. Junior Kip Edwards appears to be back at full speed now, and that will be a big help. Jackson has to make sure that K-State doesn't get behind the Tigers for big plays off of the play-action pass.
"The only way we've got a chance to win this game, is to play our very best," said Coach Pinkel. "And, that's what we're trying to do. That's what we do all of the time. That never changes. Our goal is to get our football team to play their best football game, and to compete. Then we'll see where it goes."
"All I do is try to focus on trying to get our team to play our best," continued Coach Pinkel. "We've had a couple of good practices already. Now, we're in normal game week for us, and we just want to give our greatest effort. And hopefully, we can do that."