On Saturday (1:00 P.M.), the Missouri Tigers (2-3, 0-2) play host to the Iowa State Cyclones (3-2, 0-2) in Big 12 action, as part of Missouri's Centennial Homecoming Celebration. Iowa State comes in off of a 26-49 loss at Baylor. Each team is looking for its first conference win, and a hard-fought battle is expected. Earlier this week, Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel talked about getting his team back on the winning track.
"Our league is as good as it's ever been, this year," said Coach Pinkel. "But still, it's about how we play. And, we're not playing well as a football team."
"There are reasons why you win and reasons why you lose," explained Coach Pinkel. "You win because you practice well, because you prepare right, and because in the last 48 hours, you get yourself mentally in a position to play your best……………………………………….. It's not complex how you win and lose games."
Missouri is averaging 32.2 points/game, and are second in the Big 12 in rushing, but their offense has been inconsistent, and the passing game has not been up to par.
"From an offensive standpoint, we're not consistent enough," said Coach Pinkel, who identified critical penalties and negative yardage plays as contributing to the Tigers' problems on offense. "The inconsistency of our offense has really hurt us……………………………………. When we go three and out, three and out, three and out, it puts tremendous stress on your defense, and also in field position."
The inconsistency of the offense is a unit-wide phenomenon. Everyone involved, from the coaches to every player at every position is responsible, and everyone needs to perform better.
As the focus of the offense, sophomore QB James Franklin has to play better. Completing more passes, and making better decisions, are two things that Franklin cited earlier this week, as ways that he needs to improve his play. Still, Iowa State Head Coach Paul Rhoads considers defending Franklin to be very challenging.
"(James Franklin) is a huge threat! The QB run game is an extra gap," explained Coach Rhoads. "It's undoubtedly an advantage for offensive football teams. Any time that you scheme up stopping the run, traditionally speaking, you're stopping a TB, a FB, a one-back system. It's not the QB included in there that you're stopping, because an extra gap is created when they're able to use running backs as either decoys, or as lead blockers. Any time the QB is part of the run game, which Franklin certainly is, it present problems for your defense."
Through five games, Franklin is completing 59.6% of his pass attempts, which isn't good enough to make Missouri's spread offense work. His passer efficiency rating of 134.0 ranks ninth in the Big 12. Franklin's 12.5 yards/completion is very good, but because he's not completing a high enough percentage, that reflects in his 7.4 yards/attempt, which isn't quite what it needs to be.
"In our offense, we need the consistency at (the QB) position," said Coach Pinkel, while also pointing out that Franklin is capable. "We always have. We always will. If you play QB at the University of Missouri, that's what's required."
Through five games, Missouri's starting TB, Henry Josey, leads the Big 12 in rushing, with 10.7 yards/carry, and 117.6 rushing yards/game, despite averaging just 11 carries/game.
"Everybody wants to see Henry (Josey) touch the ball more," said Coach Pinkel, who this week identified 15-20 touches a game as ideal for Josey. "Obviously, he's been making some big plays. We're not going to be doing running back by committee. There's no question about that."
Franklin could use some help at the receiver position. Inexplicably, Missouri continues to leave their young playmaking WRs on the sideline.
Two of those young playmakers, L'Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas, who are averaging 18.6 yards/reception, and 17.3 yards/reception, respectively, weren't even thrown to during the Tigers' loss at Kansas State. And, Bud Sasser and Jimmie Hunt, whom many observers consider to be stars-in-waiting, remain on the sidelines. Several observers have noted that stretching the field would open things up underneath for Missouri, and would actually improve Franklin's completion percentage.
While there are more personnel moves that need to be made, some needed personnel moves have been made. The place-kicking job has been opened up to competition this week, with a kick-off being conducted between Grant Ressel and Trey Barrow. Some other changes have been made in the secondary, most notably where RSF safety Braylon Webb will start ahead of Matt White. And, the Tigers are again shifting people around on the offensive line due to injuries. At this writing, it's not known whether Austin Wuebbels and Travis Ruth will play against Iowa State. Those will likely be game day decisions.
Missouri is giving up 21 points/game, which ranks third in the Big 12 in scoring defense. The Tigers are also fourth in the conference in total defense, and they're holding opponents to 4.9 yards/play, which ranks third in the conference. The Tigers are holding opponents to 2.7 yards/rushing attempt, which ranks second in the Big 12. Missouri has given up too many big pass plays, which is of a particular concern in the pass-happy Big 12.
Missouri is led in tackles by their three starting LBs, specifically sophomore Andrew Wilson, who is seventh in the conference with 7.6 tackles/game, senior Luke Lambert, with 5.8 tackles/game, and junior Zaviar Gooden, with 5.6 tackles/game. Lambert (5 TFLs) and Wilson (4 TFLs) are also among the league leaders in tackles-for-loss.
A pair of Missouri DEs, junior Brad Madison (3 sacks, 6 TFLs) and sophomore Brayden Burnett (2.5 sacks) are also among the league leaders in sacks, and TFLs. Senior DE Jacquies Smith is coming off of his best game of the season, after coming back from an injury.
On the inside, junior Sheldon Richardson has moved into a co-starter role, along with Dominique Hamilton. Coach Pinkel indicated that Richardson, Hamilton, and senior DT Terrell Resonno are all playing very well. Hamilton is having a very productive season, with 24 tackles through the first five games.
Through his first five starts, sophomore CB E.J. Gaines has established himself as Missouri's top corner. He's Missouri's fourth-leading tackler, with 26 tackles, including 2.5 TFLs, to go along with 3 pass break-ups, and an interception. After missing two games, due to injury, and playing in one he probably shouldn't have, junior CB Kip Edwards is getting back into the swing of things, with 16 tackles, and an interception, on the season.
Senior safety Kenji Jackson has garnered 22 tackles this season, and like Edwards and Gaines, has also come up with an interception. Jackson will have a new running mate this week, as Webb gets his first start. I'm excited to see Webb get the opportunity.
At 2-3, the Tigers find themselves in a hole, and they're trying to dig themselves out.
"To say that this game is important is an understatement," said Coach Pinkel, who seemed to be drawing a line in the sand for his team.
"We've created this situation. Now, we've got to battle, and fight through it, and that's what we'll do. We're going to do our best to get that done."