On paper, it looks like one of Brad Smith's most efficient days, and it was close. He completed 26-of-33 passes for 236 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Panthers. But what the statistics don't show is the four or five deep passes where Smith completely missed wide-open receivers. Also, Marcus James, J.D. McCoy and Thomson Omboga made great catches on Smith's longest throws. None were right on the mark. And in the first half, Smith couldn't pull the offense together while struggling until the defense made a big play. But coming off a concussion and experimenting more with the pass offense, Smith still came through as expected. Riccio was effective in relief.
Running backs: B
That wasn't Oklahoma's defense out there. Zack Abron and Damien Nash could have gained a lot more than they did. It wasn't until late in the second half, when the undermanned Panther defense got worn down, that the big gains started coming. Also, Abron's fumble could have been costly in any other game. Abron was better at catching the ball.
Wide receivers: B+
These guys could have had a much bigger game had Smith found them on deep routes. Still, the receivers finally showed their depth. Sean Coffey made a Justin Gage-like catch for a touchdown, and Thomson Omboga seems to be the Tigers' best route-runner, especially since he clearly doesn't mind going through the middle. It wasn't until the second half that a receiver made a mistake, when DeQuincy Howard fumbled in the red zone.
Offensive line: C
There simply weren't enough holes for the running game. The offensive line should have dominated on Saturday, and instead they were only average at best against a much worse team. However, to be fair, they didn't give up a sack and Smith did have enough time to wait for deep routes. Then again, Smith helped them out with some smart throwaways and escaping the pocket.
Defensive line: A-
The so-called worst part of the defense keeps having the best games out there. The Tigers had four sacks and batted down three balls. They also only held the Panthers to 67 yards rushing. Brian Smith has now had a sack in every game.
There was too much open up the middle on Saturday to give out an A here, but once again, James Kinney and Brandon Barned led the team in tackles. They each a tackle for loss. Both combined on a sack as well and Barnes batted a ball down. Henry Sweat and Derrick Ming were good as backups.
Understandably, the Tigers played to keep the ball in front of them after they went ahead, but there is still a lot of cushion out there for receivers to get open. Jason Simpson and Dedrick Harrington were good on blitzes and stopping the run, and Michael Harden's interception was definitely impressive. But Andy Vincent still completed 23-of-36 passes, which seems like too much.
Special teams: B+
The special teams unit can blame Mike Matheny for falling short of an A. Matheny missed a field goal and an extra point. Coach Gary Pinkel will be the first to say missed extra points are absolutely unacceptable. But other than Matheny, these guys were good. Brock Harvey was good except for one punt he put into the end zone, and the coverage teams were great. Josh Hibbetts should be the Big 12 special teams player of the week for his two blocked punts and a touchdown, and Michael Harden forced the fumble on the botched field goal. This unit gave the Tigers great field position all day.
It's Gary Pinkel's responsibility, not the defense's, to get the Tigers going early. What was going on for the first 25 minutes? The Tigers couldn't get anything going whatsoever. If this had been Nebraska or Oklahoma, the Tigers would have been in a big hole by the time they started getting going. These slow starts can't keep happening. With that said, Pinkel did the right thing to start opening up the offense. And he also made good adjustments in special teams coverage. It will be hard to say how well he has these guys playing until Kansas, if not Nebraska, so for now, we'll still give him the benefit of the doubt.