Grading the Tigers: Ball State

It seemed like Missouri was trying to make up for a missed opportunity with a dominating effort against Ball State on Saturday. The Tigers romped to a 48-0 victory, but the game was over after the Tigers strung together four touchdowns on five second-quarter possessions. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after crushing the Cardinals.

Offense: Overall grade A-

Passing game: Three players threw passes Saturday. Freshman Chase Patton was not one of them, although he was dressed and ready to go on the sidelines if necessary.

Junior Brad Smith, sophomore Brandon Coleman and junior TB Damien Nash combined to go 21-of-36 for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Smith had a strong game, mostly thanks to the occasional scramble, finishing with 213 yards on 18-of-32 passes and two touchdowns. Coleman played almost all of the fourth quarter and threw his first career touchdown pass, to freshman WR William Franklin, for the Tigers' final tally. Nash completed a short pass to Smith on a tailback toss.

Nine players caught passes, including Nash, who became a dual threat out of the backfield. Junior WR Sean Coffey is developing into a go-to guy in the red zone and Franklin's TD catch--his first--was an athletic grab. There were few hiccups, with no interceptions and Smith not getting sacked all game. Ball State had little pass rush and inconsistent coverage. The Tigers took advantage. Grade: A

Rushing game: The Tigers racked up 203 yards on the ground, employing eight runners in the process. Smith had the biggest afternoon, finishing with 83 rushes on 10 carries. Nash got the bulk of the carries and managed 69 yards on 16 hauls.

The most intriguing performance was turned in by freshman TB Marcus Woods, who finished with 32 yards on four carries. Woods had the majority of the carries on Missouri's first touchdown drive, including a 30-yard jaunt to the sideline that almost became his first career touchdown. Nash punched it in for the game's first score, but it was an important showing nonetheless. Grade: A

Quarterbacks: Smith had a strong day, becoming a triple-threat of sorts with a five-yard reception to go with his usual strong passing and rushing efforts. He finished with 301 total yards, two touchdown passes and a rush for a score and looked much more comfortable in the pocket than he did against Troy. There are still concerns; Smith showed a lack of accuracy at times, but still exposed how well the Tigers can perform when he is unleashed. Coleman had a strong performance in the fourth quarter and might have rolled up another score if the coaches had not called off the dogs. Grade: A-

Tailbacks: Nash matched his season-low with 69 yards on the ground but still had a fantastic day. He finished with three touchdowns--two on the ground and one through the air. His second rushing TD came on fourth down, showing the coaching staff's trust in him in important situations. An offensive lineman could have scored his 43-yard receiving touchdown, as there was no Cardinal within 30 yards of him when he caught the ball. Woods had a strong series late in the first quarter, but the coaching staff seemed to forget about him after that. He seems to be hit and miss, able to break a rush for a huge gain or stumble on the feet of his offensive linemen. Fans were treated to junior TB Lee Ewigman's first carry of the season in the fourth quarter, an enjoyable sight for all involved. Grade: A-

Wide receivers: Franklin had the standout day, finishing with 76 yards and a touchdown on two grabs. Both catches were big; besides the touchdown, Franklin showed persistence and found an opening after Smith was nearly sacked, resulting in a 35-yard gain in the second quarter. Coffey continues to show off good hands, finishing with 52 yards and a touchdown on four grabs. The other starters, sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu and senior Thomson Omboga, combined for just three catches and 15 yards. Omboga had a great day returning punts, but he needs to become more of a presence offensively. The second-string got a lot of work, as Franklin, freshman Jason Ray and sophomore Andrew Hoskins received a multitude of snaps. Grade: B+

Tight ends: It was a slow day for this group, at least receiving-wise. Freshman Martin Rucker and senior Victor Sesay contributed more to the running game, chipping in just three catches for 45 yards, all by Sesay. Missouri threw downfield often, making the short pass to the tight end somewhat forgotten. Still, this is good production from this unit. Senior Clint Matthews also chipped in a fourth-quarter catch. Grade: B+

Offensive line: A great effort by this group, especially after it struggled at Troy. No Tiger was sacked on the day, but a handful of short (mostly screen) passes were snuffed out for negative yardage. That could be more of an issue of play design than pass blocking. Tony Clinker got the start but continues to split time with Tyler Luellen at tackle; both performed well against the Cardinals. The line combined for three penalties--two false starts and a hold--all of which came within a span of a few minutes late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. Grade: B+

Defense: Overall grade A

Pass defense: Ball State finished with 77 passing yards, just nine days after Missouri limited Troy's starting quarterback to 94 passing yards. In the past two games the Tigers have given up less than half of the passing yards they allowed in the season opener against Arkansas State (350 to 171). The turnaround is impressive and was aided by a few new faces Saturday. More on that later. The Tigers managed another interception, their fourth in two games. It was an impressive effort. Grade: A

Rush defense: Another strong effort, allowing 65 yards on 35 carries. That number is somewhat misleading, as three Missouri sacks cost Ball State 25 yards. Freshman Adell Givens showed flashes of brilliance, contributing 92 yards on 20 carries in his first career start, but the Missouri front four slowed him in the second half. The rest of the Cardinals contributed -27 yards. Grade: A

Defensive line: Senior tackle Phil Pitts got a lot of reps in the first half and a bunch of linemen played in the final minutes. Sophomore end Brian Smith was all over the field in the second half; he recorded a sack and had another taken away when a Cardinal lineman tackled him and drew a holding penalty. Senior end Zach Ville split a sack with junior safety Jason Simpson. The group gave the Cardinals fits all afternoon and was equally strong against both the run and the pass. Grade: A+

Linebackers: Senior Henry Sweat got a surprise start at the mike position, despite the fact that sophomore Dedrick Harrington topped the depth chart this week. Sweat had a great afternoon, finishing with three solo tackles and two assists. Harrington was strong in his stead, finishing with two solo tackles, five assists, a forced fumble and a sack. As usual, senior James Kinney led the team in tackles. Conversely, sophomore David Richard was nearly invisible; he did not record a tackle. As a whole, the group anchored the middle of the defense and shut down the intermediate passing game. Grade: B+

Cornerbacks: Another surprise here, as junior Marcus King replaced A.J. Kincade at one corner position. Nobody in this group had a standout afternoon, but the statistics speak for themselves, as the credit is spread around when a team pitches a shutout. Shirdonya Mitchell continues to have a strong senior season, limiting Dante Ridgeway, a likely NFL receiver, to five catches and 53 yards. Junior Calvin Washington saw a lot of time later in the game. Grade: A-

Safeties: It's always a good thing when your safeties don't do much, making Saturday a strong performance, as the starters combined for just three solo and four assisted tackles. Simpson continues to be used primarily to blitz, harkening back to his role as the whip in the old 4-2-5 set. He contributed half a sack Saturday. Senior Nino Williams continued his steady performance, finishing with two solo and two assisted tackles. Sophomore Brandon Massey recorded his first big play as a Tiger, intercepting a pass and returning it 13 yards in the fourth quarter. Sophomore David Overstreet makes plays every game. Grade: A-

Special teams: Overall grade B+

Placekicking: Junior Joe Tantarelli continues to be a revelation. He still has not missed a kick this season, improving to 3-of-3 on field goals and 15-of-15 on extra points after two three-pointers and six tries Saturday. His 38-yard field goal was his first attempt from more than 20 yards this year, so Tantarelli's max is still a question mark, but you cannot ask for more than he has given so far. Grade: A

Punting: An average day for senior Brock Harvey. He punted five times, averaging 41.6 yards, with two touchbacks. Harvey does not need to have a strong afternoon when the Tigers dominate as they did Saturday, so any strong contributions he provides are icing on the cake. Still, a little more length on his kicks would be good to see. Grade: B

Long snapper and holder: Again, no problems here. Brad Smith has been strong and senior Zach Strom continues to send good snaps behind him. Grade: A

Returners: Thanks to a strong Missouri defense, Omboga had plenty of opportunities to return a keep deep. He almost broke a couple of returns, but could not get the final block he needed to reach the end zone. He finished with 127 yards on six returns, an average of 21 yards, including a long of 49. Omboga may be the Tiger to break Missouri's remarkably long run without a return touchdown. Missouri's kick returners never got a chance to contribute; the Cardinals kicked off just once, a squib kick that was fielded by upman Marcus Bacon and returned eight yards. Grade: A-

Coverage teams: No punts were blocked, so things definitely improved from last week. The kickoff team got a lot of worked and performed very well, allowing a max return of 18 yards to Terry Moss. Ridgeway only got one opportunity to return a punt: he was dropped immediately for no gain. Kick-off specialist sophomore Adam Crossett had one kick sail out of bounds and almost sent the game-opening boot out as well, but he was adequate the rest of the time. Grade: B

This is more like it. Although Troy is a much better team than Ball State, the Tigers had the potential to do this to all of their nonconference opponents. The talent gap was fully exposed in this contest, as Ball State was smaller, slower and weaker than Missouri was.

It is impossible to ask for any more than a shutout from the defense, so that performance was fantastic, as the Cardinals' impressive punter got a heck of a workout Saturday afternoon. After a slow start, the offense was equally strong, especially in the second quarter, when it managed two touchdowns in 17 seconds. It is unfortunate that the Tigers have a bye week coming up; this is the kind of win that propels teams into strong conference-opening performances.

Final Grade: A-

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