In going over Missouri’s first-ever SEC win, a 33-10 victory over Kentucky, there were three things that really stood out: Sheldon Richardson and the Missouri defense, Kendial Lawence and the Missouri running game, and James Franklin.
I think this is Missouri’s best defense under Coach Pinkel, and Sheldon Richardson is a very big part of that. His 5 tackles against Kentucky gives him a team-leading 57 total tackles for the season. Let that sink in for a minute. When was the last time a defensive tackle led the Tigers in tackles? Sheldon’s team lead may not hold up, as Will Ebner is just 2 tackles behind Richardson for the season, and Richardson is likely to see more and more double-teams. But Richardson is playing at a level that we haven’t seen in a defensive lineman at Missouri since Justin Smith. Unlike Justin Smith, Richardson is not alone. Matt Hoch had a good game against Kentucky. So did Kony Ealy. E.J. Gaines scored on the fumble along the sideline, and he should have had an interception, as well. Kip Edwards was playing well before he went out.
Franklin’s mere presence on the field appeared to elevate the play, even the body language, of his teammates on both sides of the football. Missouri’s offensive line blocked better when Franklin was on the field. A big reason for that is that Franklin is advanced enough in his pre-snap reads that he is able to make the line calls, and make sure that the offensive line has everyone blocked. Removing the guess work for Missouri’s inexperienced interior offensive linemen paid dividends in Missouri’s run game, which was especially effective during the game’s final five minutes when the Tigers played keep away from the Wildcats.
Another thing that was evident is that even on a bad wheel, Franklin is the more accurate passer among Missouri’s QBs. That’s not news to me since I watched all of Mizzou’s QBs in camp. Hopefully, this will put to rest any talk that someone other than Franklin should be playing QB for the Tigers. When he’s healthy, he’s by far Missouri’s best QB. IMO, Corbin Berkstresser has a long way to go to catch up to Franklin. I haven’t seen much of Maty Mauk since fall camp, but unless he’s corrected his throwing motion, I seriously doubt that he’s become a more accurate passer. During August, Mauk wasn’t even nearly as accurate as Berkstresser, although as I’ve previously reported, Mauk is the most mobile of Missouri’s current crop of QBs. If he can correct his throwing mechanics, and develop accuracy as a passer, Mauk has exciting potential as a serious dual threat. He’s the best running QB Missouri’s had since Brad Smith.
It was good to see Dorial Green-Beckham and Russell Hansbrough getting touches. On Kendial Lawrence’s 5-yard TD run, Evan Boehm drove his man all the way into the end zone. In my opinion, at this juncture, Boehm is clearly outperforming Max Copeland.
Mitch Morse and Brad McNulty split snaps against Kentucky. Morse continues to struggle with snapping the football. Handling the bad snaps is another thing that Franklin does better, even on a bad wheel.
Dropped passes are still a problem, especially for Marcus Lucas and T.J. Moe. IMO, Gahn McGaffie is out-performing Moe on the field, and Moe should be playing fewer snaps. DGB and Jimmie Hunt each need to see more of the field.
Also, for those clamoring for more of Jerod McGriff-Culver, I paid close attention to what he did on the field. My conclusion is that he’s probably playing too much. He’s big, but he’s not doing a good job of blocking. He misses more blocks than he makes, and he missed the tackle on Kentucky’s big kick return. I like the two-back sets that Missouri has utilized in the past, but I think that it should be Lawrence and Murphy, or Hansbrough, on the field when the Tigers go to that personnel package.
The Tigers used Eric Waters as an in-line blocker in short-yardage situations. Waters lined up tight with his hand on the ground, and he did a good job of blocking on the edge. Jimmie Hunt also does a very good job of blocking in those short-yardage situations, out of his slot position.
Brad Madison took over all of the long-snapping duties, and there were no bad snaps. Andrew Baggett has made good on 6 straight FGAs.
Murphy’s two muffs were just bad plays.
The staff made some subtle adjustments after Kentucky’s second possession, but it appeared to me that the Missouri defense just played better after those first two drives. Guys were winning more individual battles, taking better pursuit angles, getting more people to the football, and tackling better. It almost looked as if it took a couple of possessions for the Missouri defenders to figure it out.
It doesn’t get easier from here, but at least Missouri is back up to .500. The Tigers have one bad loss after enduring the loss of their starting QB and multiple losses along the offensive line, and playing against one of the tougher schedules in the country. Now that Franklin is back, hopefully he’ll return to full health and the Tigers can finish the season strong.