Grading the Tigers: Troy

Few saw this coming. After exhibiting offensive dominance in the first eight minutes of the game, the Tigers were shut down by Troy for the rest of the contest. Check inside to see what kind of marks Missouri deserves after its first loss of 2004.

Offense: Overall grade D-

Passing game: Like almost every other aspect of the game, this looked great in the opening minutes. Junior QB Brad Smith completed nine of his first 10 passing attempts and the offense was humming without any resistance from the Troy defense. Then, it all changed. Trailing throughout the second half, Missouri was forced to focus on the passing game; the results were not pretty. Smith still completed more than half of his passes for the game, but he couldn't get the ball downfield when the Tigers needed it. None of Missouri's receivers had a break-out game, but that shouldn't have been a necessity to win. The tight ends turned in a good performance, but were forgotten in the second half. Grade: D-

Rushing game: This, too, showed potential early in the game. Junior Damien Nash had a handful of carries in each of Missouri's scoring drives, racking up 39 yards on Missouri's first two drives. Freshman Marcus Woods even got a few touches, and he looked capable, too. In the second half, it all fell apart. The backs, as a whole, were completely forgotten and struggled when they touched the ball. Even more, Smith only managed 31 yards on 16 rushing attempts, looking uncomfortable in the pocket and hesitant to use his best asset, his feet. It is unfair to give all the blame to the Tigers; the Troy front seven stiffened considerably after the first quarter. Still, if Missouri had stuck with the run in the second half, it might have managed a win. Grade: D

Quarterbacks: Trailing throughout the second half, Smith was forced to throw 46 times. That's never a good thing for the Missouri offense. He still managed 224 yards through the air, including a touchdown, but he threw two interceptions; both were tipped but were passes Smith should not have made. He looked uncomfortable in the pocket all evening, often succumbing to a Troy rush that took several seconds to reach him. The coaching staff has wanted to increase Smith's confidence in his arm, but there must come a time that Smith needs to do what he's most comfortable doing. Smith looked like a confused pocket passer against the Trojans. That's not the Brad Smith that earned Heisman consideration before the season. Grade: D-

Tailbacks: What looked to be a battle for the starting job during train camp is crystal clear now. Neither back had a strong evening, but Woods' fizzles compared to Nash's. The junior from St. Louis racked up 69 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries; the yards per carry (4.6) is average, but Nash turned in a handful of good runs. Woods, on the other hand, looked overmatched by a defensive front that was just as speedy as he is. Both backs fumbled in the contest; Nash lost his, while Smith fell on Woods'. (Nash fumbled again in the fourth quarter, but he was ruled down by contact.) Missouri needs a better performance from both backs, but Nash seemed to disappear when it counted in the second half. Grade: D+

Wide receivers: Thanks to the inflated number of pass attempts, all three starters made at least two catches. Senior Thomson Omboga, after managing one reception for a loss of four yards in the season opener, earned the most attention against Troy, pulling in six receptions for 64 yards. Junior Sean Coffey chipped in four for 35 yards, while sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu managed two for 25. That's almost 125 yards, a little less than you would expect from this threesome, but not much, in a typical game. This was no typical game, however. With as many chances as this group had, somebody should have stepped up and made some plays for his quarterback. We barely saw any of the second-string receivers against Troy; that could lead to a depth chart shake up next week. Grade: D+

Tight ends: Both freshman Martin Rucker and senior Victor Sesay had strong evenings. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they did almost all of their damage in the game's first eight minutes. Rucker had a nice gain for a first down to open the game, along with another long play in the fourth quarter. He finished with three grabs for 44 yards and looked to be Smith's preferred target late in the game. Sesay had five grabs for 34 yards and a touchdown. After the first few minutes, something changed. Either the Troy defense altered its focus so it could shut down these two or Smith just struggled to get the ball to them accurately. Either way, the outcome was not good. But this position really isn't to blame. Grade: B

Offensive line: This group is still a work-in-progress and it showed Thursday. The two redshirt freshmen--C Adam Spieker and T Tyler Luellen--each turned in an inconsistent performance. Spieker had a few bad snaps, but Smith was able to turn them both into positive gains. Luellen committed several false start penalties, exposing an experience to opposing crowds. He was replaced by Joel Clinger late in the game. Still, as a whole, the line was adequate, allowing just two sacks. Smith generally had enough time to go through his progressions and find an open receiver. The tailbacks were not too successful, but Troy has a strong front four. Missouri's athleticism should have allowed them to perform better than they did. Grade: C-

Defense: Overall grade B-

Pass defense: The sore spot in the season opener, this group was much improved against Troy. Missouri had three interceptions by three different cornerbacks; each of them athletic plays made on poor passes from Troy QB Aaron Leak. Leak had just 94 yards through the air and completed just seven passes. Unfortunately, the most important pass of the game wasn't thrown by Leak, but by WR Jason Samples, who found TB Jermaine Richardson for a 27-yard score on a trick play in the second quarter. On television, at least, the "trickeration" was obvious. Of course, defenders don't have the perspective that television views have, but they seemed to react to the play very slowly. Grade: B+

Rush defense: The final stats don't necessarily show it, but the defense was strong in this segment of the game, too. Troy TB DeWhitt Betterson finished with 93 yards on 21 carries and the Missouri defense slowed down the rushing game when it needed to. Of course, one play that statistically doesn't count as a rush exposed the troubles of this unit; the fumble return by Troy G Junior Louissaint was by far the game's longest run and the most perplexing event of the young college football season. The play itself could not have been drawn up any better; Missouri was just too slow to react and couldn't drag down Louissaint as he neared paydirt. Grade: B-

Defensive line: The front four dominated the Troy offensive line early, putting a clamp on the run and bothering Leak relentlessly. When Troy gained momentum after its trick play touchdown, the unit did not seem as aggressive and was pushed around at times by its opposing line. Still, it fared well. Two Tigers--senior end Zach Ville and junior tackle C.J. Mosley--recorded two sacks, while senior Atiyyah Ellison locked down the middle of the field. Sophomore Xzavie Jackson also made several important tackles. The line managed to slow down the Troy running game enough to force punts in the fourth quarter; it's not the defense's fault that the offense could not take advantage. Grade: B+

Linebackers: Sophomore David Richard was all over the place early, but he seemed to disappear as the game wore on. Senior Henry Sweat saw a lot of time as sophomore Dedrick Harrington's substitute, raising questions about how well Harrington has made the adjustment to his new position. Senior James Kinney turned in a typical performance. He absolutely hammered Leak just after the ball left his hand on the Trojans' third touchdown of the game. Kinney can only do so much on his own. Grade: C+

Cornerbacks: A marked improvement over last week's effort. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell and juniors A.J. Kincade and Marcus King all had interceptions and all were beneficial to the Tiger effort. (Mitchell's was on Troy's first play of the game and came with a lengthy return inside Troy territory. Kincade's leaping pick stopped a Troy drive and King's grab set the Tigers up deep in Trojan territory.) Mitchell was burned badly on Samples' touchdown catch, while Kincade showed a bewildering lack of speed as the last man back on Louissaint's touchdown rumble. He also went for the strip as Louissaint approached the goal line instead of trying to trip him up. If Kincade had been successful, he would have been a hero. He wasn't, and it looked ugly. Grade: C+

Safeties: This group had a quiet evening, which is usually a good thing. Neither senior Nino Williams nor junior Jason Simpson appeared to be involved in any of Troy's touchdown plays, but perhaps their absence is connected to the outcome. Samples said after the game that the coaches used the trick play because of the aggressiveness of the Missouri safeties. Sophomore David Overstreet had another strong effort off the bench. Grade: C+

Special teams: Overall grade C+

Placekicking: Junior Joe Tantarelli didn't get many chances. He hit both extra points, so he can't be penalized for the offense's struggles. Grade: A

Punting: Senior Brock Harvey had an up and down evening, booming some punts but coming up frighteningly short on others. He had a kick blocked in the third quarter; he appeared hesitant after that and might have rushed a few balls into the air. He still managed to average 45.3 yards a boot and cannot be blamed for the blocked punt. Grade: B+

Long snapper and holder: No complaints here. Harvey punted seven times and got received the ball true each time. Smith was fine in the few opportunities he had as the holder. Grade: A

Returners: One would have hoped for a decent return of one of Troy's many early punts, but it never came. Troy P Thomas Olmsted deserves most of the credit; he boomed his kicks deep and got some great bounces late in the game. Troy's kick-off after its go-ahead field goal late in the first half sailed out of bounds, giving the Tigers great field position. The coaching staff did not take advantage. Grade: C

Coverage teams: Troy had a few long kick-off returns early but the major concern is the blocked punt. Justin Scott completely missed his assignment on the play, allowing two Trojans easy access to Harvey. Big 12 Conference opponents will have more speed on specials teams than Troy does; this must not happen again. Grade: F

This was, of course, not how Tiger fans expected Missouri's first loss of the season to go. Visions of undefeated records heading into Austin danced in their heads before reality set in. Troy is a strong team that should roll through the Sun Belt, but the Trojans cannot match the talent and athleticism of the Missouri roster.

This team still has the talent to contend for the Big 12 North, but another effort like Thursday's will sink Missouri's season completely.

Final Grade: D-


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