Grade: B+. From a yardage standpoint, Brad Smith's grade would be much lower. However, it's silly to grade a player on yardage when he was clearly being told not to turn the ball over by the coaching staff. Smith did a good job of making lemonade out of the lemon that was the offensive gameplan for this game. By several accounts, the Illinois defenders were calling out Missouri's plays at the line of scrimmage. Considering what his mandate was and that he was facing 8-9 defenders in the box routinely, Brad Smith played a heck of a good game. Smith didn't turn the ball over and he drove the team down the field on the critical fourth quarter drive when the chips were on the table.
Grade: B. Once again, you couldn't ask for more than what Zack Abron gave. The big man was playing hurt and it didn't help that he was running delays from 7 yards deep in the backfield. Abron's strength is running downhill. He is dynamite in the dive and trap game where he can get the hand off with a head of steam already up. Considering his physical condition, Abron did the best he could do and showed his true warrior mentality vs. Illinois. Damien Nash and Ty Roberson didn't get enough touches to warrant a grade.
Grade: Incomplete. Outlaw played pretty well, but dropped one key pass. Coffey and Omboga each snagged a pass, but they didn't get their number called nearly often enough. Missouri made a token effort to get their wide receivers involved in the offense vs. Illinois. The middle of the field was tested twice. Once it turned into a touchdown to JD McCoy, and once Marcus James almost got decapitated by an overzealous Illinois defensive back (no call was made).
For the first time since Joe Close played at Missouri, the tight ends seemed to be featured more than the WRs. McCoy caught the TD pass and Victor Sesay caught two slip screens...you guessed it, in the flats. Sesay gave us a glimpse of the weapon he can become, but only if, like Abron, he is delivered the ball in stride...running up field.
Grade: A-(center and guards), C-(tackles). Smith made most of his yardage up the gut, running right behind his dominant center, AJ Ricker, and his three rotating guards. He also received virtually no pressure in the passing game from the middle of Illinois' defense. The tackles were a different story altogether. Scott Paffrath was beaten several times on speed rushes by Illinois' defensive ends. Paffrath found the bench for stretches of the second quarter. Rob Droege also had an uncharacteristicly bad game. Droege also fell prey to speed rushes and failed to hold downfield blocks that could have sprung longer runs by Smith and Abron.
Grade: B+. Okay, I was tempted to spring for the A-, but there were just too many yards surrendered on the ground by this unit. Still, the interior play of Ellison, Bell and Mosley was quite good. They collapsed the pocket on Illinois' backfield on several occasions and came up big on some critical short yardage downs.
The play of the defensive ends was quite good considering three first year players were manning these spots. Zach Ville was stout and held containment well on his strongside end. Fabian Bean played very well in his rotations. And Brian Smith caused his man to jump off sides at least 2-3 times. Smith caused one QB fumble and had one sack. He also hit the Illinois QB several times just as the ball was released, forcing Illinois to keep more protection around the pocket as the game went on. Missouri fans have to be pleased with what they saw from their new defensive line in this game.
Grade: C-. James Kinney and Brandon Barnes made tackles, but not enough of them were charge into the hole and stuff the running back at the point of attack. They also gave up far too much yardage in the short middle zone when Missouri went to their "bend, don't break defense". Give up 7 yards...fine. However, Illinois had free first downs given to them by simple release passes to their tight ends. First down...clock stops...drive continues. Missouri has other options at inside linebacker, and don't be surprised if some of those players are given more plays vs. Ball State. Somebody has to show some starch at this position for Mizzou!
Rover & Whip
Grade: A. Dedrick Harrington and Jason Simpson were EVERYWHERE! Harrington looked like the best player on the defense in his very first game. He stuffed runs. He caused fumbles in space. He covered tight ends effectively. Deke showed why he was so coveted coming out of Mexico High School two years ago. Simpson was a guided missle all day. He played with abandon and established himself as a fearless hitter in the defensive backfield. These two guys played very well!
Grade: B. Now I can hear you saying, "but Michael Harden played a great game...", and he did. Harden and Nino Williams really came to play vs. Illinois. However, Calvin Washington struggled at cornerback. It was just his first game starting at that position, so better days are ahead, but Washington simply must close the cushion more often than he did, especially when it was apparent that Illinois didn't have time to launch long passes or take seven-step drops. David Overstreet also played well during his rotations. As expected, Overstreet and Williams were on the field together during crunch time. Both showed the athletic ability and their willingness to hit anything that moves.
Grade: A. Brock Harvey was nothing short of special in this game. His seven punts consistently pinned Illinois back in their own territory, and forced the Illini to mount long drives to get into scoring range. Harvey was arguably the MVP of this game.
If not Harvey, you could make an argument for Michael Harden. Harden blocked a punt attempt, which was recovered by Derrick Ming inside Illinois' five yard line. Harden was all over the field making aggressive plays in this game. The blocked punt was the difference for Missouri.
No field goals were attempted by Mizzou, so no evaluation is offered of the kickers, other than to say that the kickoffs were deep and effective.
The long snapping was flawless.
The coverage teams did a nice job of not allowing Illinois' returners to shorten the field. Terrence Curry had several excellent plays on the coverage teams. We also like the breakout line up that Missouri's kick off teams use.
The receiving teams also played competently. Both Marcus James and Shirdonya Mitchell were sure handed and gave Missouri decent field position.
Grade: C-. This was one of the weakest offensive gameplans of the Pinkel era. If the staff wants to be conservative, fine. However, conservative gave way to predictable...very predictable.
It is a waste of talent to have three good receivers on the field and not use them any more than MU did.
Also, the use of Abron and Sesay was not well thought out. Both of these big men need to given the ball with a full head of stem...period.
There was no flexibility of thought in Missouri's approach, even in the second half. The "Pole Cat" or "Swinging Gate" was the lone exception, and even on that play, Brad Smith ran the ball.
Missouri's offense looks like the Brad Smith show, and even more pressure is put on him than used to be placed on Corby Jones in years past. Smith will really become a weapon when he ISN'T the entire attack, and when he can attack a defense that is trying to defend the rest of the offense attack.
Grade: B-. Matt Eberflus had his young group of players ready to play. Did they surrender a great deal of yardage? You bet. Did they surrender points? Not many. Mizzou's defenders covered better, tackled better and came in waves at Illinois' backfield this year. As this group matures, it could become a strength this year.
Grade: B. Pinkel lost the battles on Saturday, but won the war. In almost every possible statistical category, Missouri was outgained by Illinois. However, for the first time in the Pinkel era, a Missouri team that was outgained found a way to win. That is worth noting.
Also, while Pinkel turtled up on offense, you have to give him and his staff credit for teaching his team the little things: no fumbles, no interceptions, no off sides calls, no bad snaps... very, very few mistakes. That comes from good coaching and drilling.
You also have to give Pinkel and his staff credit for recruiting that group of athletes on the field. Missouri was also the faster of the two teams on that day. It's also been a long time since we've been able to say that!
Bottom Line: Missouri 1-0, Illinois 0-1.
On to Ball State!