Take away some overthrown passes in the first half, and Brad Smith played almost the perfect game on Sunday. He completed 22-of-32 yards for 192 yards and three touchdowns. He ran for 136 yards. He even laid out a nice block. With this game, you have to think Smith has more ability to completely take over a game than any other quarterback in the Big 12, if not the nation. He was unstoppable once Gary Pinkel took the leash off in the second half. Everyone in the stadium, including the Blue Raiders' defense, knew the two-point conversion and the winning touchdown were going to Smith, but he still had little problem getting in. When Missouri goes to a bowl game or even more, the Tigers will be able to look back at what Smith did in this game to save the season. And oh yeah, Smith has yet to throw an interception.
Running backs: B+
Zack Abron went from not playing to having a career day. His 64-yard run in the second quarter was a career-long, and he had 138 yards on only 18 carries. He had several good cuts, but he relied on the power running that has put him where he is in Missouri's record books. Damien Nash could not break free on his nine carries, which only went for 24 yards.
What happened to your hands, Sean Coffey? Coffey dropped two passes he certainly should have caught, one on an important third down. Omboga also had a drop, although he did have several other good catches. Darius Outlaw's touchdown catch was the most impressive catch of the season so far. That's the kind of catch Outlaw needs to get him going.
Offensive line: B+
Everyone has been ragging on these guys, but on Saturday, two Tigers rushed for more than 100 yards, and Brad Smith wasn't sacked once. And let's be honest: Smith shouldn't get all the credit for going in untouched for those touchdown runs. There was some great blocking. Yet there were times when it seems the line couldn't get the push it should, especially on Nash's runs.
Defensive line: C-
You won't be seeing any stories about the great Missouri defense this week. Middle Tennessee completely dominated the line of scrimmage. The Tigers had absolutely no push except for the two sacks. They gave up 197 yards rushing, and it seemed at times that the Blue Raiders could do whatever they want. Andrico Hines had plenty of time all day to pass.
Here are the Tigers' leading tacklers: Calvin Washington and Jason Simpson. When your secondary has the top two tacklers against a team that ran the ball 56 times, the linebackers did not get the job done. After the Blue Raiders' running backs broke through the line, the linebackers were not there to stop them.
OK, it's third and 27 for Middle Tennessee with a minute left in the first half. Whatever you do, don't let them get 27 yards. Yet Jerrin Holt was wide open 29 yards downfield, and six plays later, the Blue Raiders scored on a 21-yard passing touchdown, and a nine-point lead at the half gets cut to two. It was that kind of day for the secondary. There were so many wide-open receivers in the middle of the zone. It seems Nino Williams and David Overstreet still have a lot of adjusting to do to free safety as to when they can move up on a receiver in the zone, and when they can't.
Special teams: C+
Mike Matheny is lucky he got a chance to redeem himself with the winning extra point, because it might have saved his job. He had an extra point blocked, and then another was partially blocked but still went through. Then even worse, he kicked two kickoffs out of bounds. This from a guy that has been booting them out of the end zone. This guy is going to cost the Tigers a game someday if he keeps this up.
Brock Harvey picked many bad times for bad punts that gave the Blue Raiders good field position, but he had two good punts inside the 20. Marcus James had a good 36-yard punt return, but the Tigers couldn't sway the game with a blocked kick.
Gary Pinkel saved the game and the season by opening up Brad Smith in the second half. The fourth-quarter play calling was excellent. But two things: first, if Pinkel was so impressed by what he saw from the Blue Raiders on film, as he said Monday, why isn't Zack Abron in right away. The Tigers again started slowly. Second, Pinkel simply didn't have these guys as fired up as Middle Tennessee Andy McCollum prepared his team. He never fixed the defense, which got worse as the game went on. However, give credit to Pinkel for the way the team reacted at the end. He's right: two years ago or last year, Missouri goes to Kansas 3-1.