Grading the Tigers: Arkansas State

Missouri's season opener went about as expected. The Tigers' opponent, overmatched Sun Belt Conference member Arkansas State, put up a fight but never really was in the game. The Tigers' performances were up and down; inside, get a look at how we rate Missouri's first action of 2004.

Offense: Overall grade A-

Passing game: This is perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the season opener. Junior QB Brad Smith was effective moving the ball with his arm, a trait that has been missing much of his first two seasons. He even had several accurate downfield passes, including two for scores of 35 yards or more. Although the extreme amount of youth on the Arkansas State defense--especially in the secondary--cannot be ignored, Missouri fans should be pleased with this performance. Grade: A-

Rushing game: Another strong performance here. Junior Damien Nash and freshman Marcus Woods split the carries, with Woods getting most of his touches late in the game. Nash showed an ability to both run around and over defenders, breaking a handful of tackles and finding the end zone twice on his way to a career high rushing total. Woods had a few big gains, but could not punch the ball in from short yardage on Missouri's final drive, forcing a field goal and breaking the hearts of gamblers everywhere. Smith provided the electric results that have become commonplace for him; the coaching staff should be encouraged that the offense scored 52 points and Smith only had to rush the ball six times. His 34-yard score on a designed draw in the second quarter was drawn up to perfection. Grade: A

Quarterbacks: Smith wound up four yards short of another effort of 300 total yards. He completed 14-of-22 attempts, showing good poise and effective reads. His one bad throw of the game resulted in an interception, the second turnover in as many plays for the Missouri offense in the first half. Only picking up 72 yards on the ground is a little disappointing for Smith, but his 12-yards per carry average is impressive. Sophomore QB Brandon Coleman looked comfortable running the offense late in the game. He completed both of his attempts and even scrambled for a first down. As noted above, the offense could not reach the end zone in his possession, but it was impressive nonetheless. Grade: B+

Tailbacks: A strong effort from both backs. Nash and Woods combined for 191 rushing yards and appeared to perform well in their blocking duties. Neither caught a pass, but there were few opportunities for that, as Smith looked downfield almost all game. If Nash had garnered another 10 carries, he would have surpassed the 200-yard mark. Woods fumbled on his first collegiate carry but fared well afterward. Senior Beau Viehmann had one touch as the second-team back in the fourth quarter, solidifying him as the No. 3 back and exposing the role (or lack thereof) that freshman Tony Temple will play this year. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers: Junior Sean Coffey had a breakout night, but the rest of the group was mostly invisible. Coffey set a career high with 113 yards, needing only five receptions to get there. He showed an ability to create separation all night but made a few nice catches on the sideline, as well. He was Smith's most effective option to move the chains in the first half. Fellow starters senior Thomson Omboga and sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu were quiet until the second half. Ek finished with two grabs for 17 yards, but Omboga's only reception, a bubble screen, earned him a loss of four yards. Missouri will need more production from these two in the future. True freshman William Franklin made a seven-yard reception late in the fourth quarter, burning his redshirt. Freshman Jason Ray also grabbed one pass, for three yards. Grade: B-

Tight ends: The multifaceted attacked of freshman Martin Rucker and senior Victor Sesay was very impressive. Rucker was wide open on the sideline for his first catch and touchdown, a 24-yard score, on the opening drive of his first career game. He was not heard from again but fared well as a blocker, often lining up as an H-back. Sesay had a spectacular game, perhaps exhibiting a little fire after losing his starting job to Rucker on Monday. He finished with 80 yards on four catches, including a 35-yard scoring grab. Missouri will be very successful if it can find plays that employ Rucker, Sesay, Coffey and Ekwerekwu as passing threats. Grade: A+

Offensive line: The ragtag group fared well in its first effort. The two redshirt freshmen--C Adam Spieker and T Tyler Luellen--did not look out of place. There were no issues with the center-quarterback exchange and Luellen looked comfortable against the smaller ASU pass rush. The Indians only had two tackles for loss (Missouri had eight), a sack and the Omboga bubble screen. The pass protection was good all night long, as Smith had forever to find Rucker for his touchdown catch. It was a great first effort, albeit against an experienced and undersized ASU defense. Grade: A-

Defense: Overall grade D+

Passing defense: The good news: they allowed just 20 points. The bad news: they surrendered 438 yards of total offense. This is the most pressing concern coming out of the win. The Missouri defense seemed to show too much respect for an inexperienced offense, allowing quarterbacks Nick Noce and Devin Hollins to pick the Tigers apart. Often employing a loose Cover 2 zone, the ASU receivers were able to find holes and, for the most part, hang onto the balls thrown their way. Noce looked nothing like a passer who threw seven interceptions to no touchdowns last year and Hollins fared well, too. The pair combined for 350 yards on 26-of-37 passing. This kind of effort will not be enough against middle-of-the-road Big 12 Conference opponents, let alone the upper echelon. Grade: D

Rushing defense: The Indians split the carries over a handful of backs, meaning no one player had a great statistical effort. TB Shermar Bracey finished as the team leader, gaining 49 yards on 11 carries. The team finished with 88 yards on 36 attempts, an average of just 2.4 yards per carry. This is what the veteran Missouri defense should do against a team like ASU, so there is nothing to get excited about just yet. Grade: B+

Defensive line: If the line had been able to pass rush better, the Missouri secondary would have looked a lot better. The Tigers recorded just one sack on the evening, a 10-yard loss by junior DT C.J. Mosley. The starters on the front four combined for 10 tackles. The best performance came from senior back-up DT Phil Pitts, who rumbled for a 49-yard touchdown after intercepting a Noce screen pass. Sophomore DE Xzavie Jackson also recovered a fumble for a touchback. Take out his effort, and it was a relatively bland performance from this group. Grade: B+

Linebackers: As usual, senior James Kinney made plays all over the field. He finished with just 4.5 tackles, but was a presence. Sophomore Dedrick Harrington had a quiet first night at middle linebacker, contributing just four assists. Reserve senior Henry Sweat had just as strong of a performance, recording two solo tackles and an assist. Sophomore David Richard fared well, recording three tackles, including half of a tackle for loss. Dropping into a 3-4 look on passing downs did not seem to help much, as the line could not get much pressure on the ASU quarterbacks. Grade: B-

Cornerbacks: This group gave the ASU receivers a nice cushion all evening long. The soft zone did not allow many downfield passes, but the Indians were able to convert several third-and-long situations that they should not have. The starting pair of junior A.J. Kincade and senior Shirdonya Mitchell was busy all evening, combining for 9.5 tackles, including one for loss. They only broke up one pass, a Kincade effort that should have been an interception. The reserves did not fare much better; Calvin Washington and Marcus King did not have much of an impact. Grade: D

Safeties: The starters were Missouri's leading tacklers with eight apiece, as junior Jason Simpson had six solos and assisted on four others, while senior Nino Williams had seven solos and two assists. Simpson was often brought into the box to blitz in obvious passing situations, bringing sophomore David Overstreet into the game as the other safety. This did not prove very effective; Simpson had 1.5 tackles for loss, but the Indians were able to move the ball downfield all game long. Overstreet had a strong effort, recording four tackles and a pass break-up, but Missouri needs more from this group in the future. Grade: D

Special teams: Overall grade B+

Placekicking: Junior walk-on Joe Tantarelli had a strong first game, making all seven extra points he attempted and a field goal that was even shorter, from 17 yards on Missouri's last series. With the departure of Alex Pettersen, Tantarelli is the go-to guy. He proved why he won the job Saturday. Grade: A

Punting: We only had a brief glimpse of senior Brock Harvey, but it was a good one. The Tigers punted just once on the evening, but it was a good effort; Harvey booted it 37 yards, with a Tiger corralling the ball at the four-yard line. Grade: B+

Long snapper and holder: No complaints here. Smith had a strong evening as the holder, getting all of the balls down without a problem. Senior Zach Strom's snaps were accurate enough and the blocking during the extra point tries was adequate. Grade: A-

Returners: Not too many opportunities here. ASU pooched a few kicks, leading to a short return for LB Emmett Morris and a 22-yard effort for Mitchell. Both Mitchell and Omboga returned a punt, with Mitchell's 13-yard gain outclassing Omboga's four-yard effort. Grade: B

Coverage teams: This could be a concern. Since the Tigers were scoring all evening, the kick-off coverage team got quite a workout. They were not very impressive, allowing an average of 23.3 yards per return. The unit seemed to pick it up later in the game, pinning the Indians deep a few times. They were also aided by an ASU holding penalty, which buried the Indians inside their own 10-yard line. Still, this group needs to improve. Grade: C

There is certainly room for improvement, especially defensively, but this was a good opening game for the Tigers. The coaching staff now knows that the pass defense must improve, giving the team a focus during this short week of practice before traveling to Troy for Thursday night's contest. The offense should be tough to stop, as expected, but defensive concerns must take precedence at this point.

Final Grade: B-

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