What went right: nonconference play

An early bye week gave the Missouri coaching staff plenty of time to reflect on what their Tigers have done well, along with what didn't work so well. InsideMizzou takes a stab at the former, taking a look at a flourishing tailback and newfound depth in the secondary.

A 2-1 record before conference play was not what anybody connected to the Missouri football program expected. The Tigers set up one of the nation's easiest nonconference schedules, with two creampuffs at home and a non-BCS team on the road.

Troy's Trojans shattered Missouri's plans with a 24-14 upset win on Sept. 9, knocking the Tigers out of the rankings in a nationally televised shocker. Missouri rebounded with a trouncing of Ball State nine days later, but questions remain about the quality of the squad.

Still, some positives stood out. Here are a handful of them.

The running game, a question mark when the season opened, has been strong. Junior TB Damien Nash has totaled 264 yards on 46 attempts, a 5.7 yards per carry average, and five touchdowns. Nash's long run of the season is just 21 yards, but Missouri has other big-play threats on the roster.

Junior QB Brad Smith has been inconsistent, garnering just 36 yards on 15 carries against Troy but racking up 146 yards on 16 attempts in the other two games. That adds up to 182 yards and two touchdowns, a pace that will put Smith at just 667 yards for the season. That would be less than half of the 1,406 yards he managed last season, albeit in 13 games. Still, Smith remains a dual threat and will show that as the conference season progresses.

Freshman TB Marcus Woods has been an enigma. He was solid in the season opener against Arkansas State, finishing with 65 yards on 10 carries after fumbling on his first touch. He followed that performance with seven yards on six carries against Troy and 32 yards on four carries against Ball State, 30 of which came on a single run. Woods is a solid option when Nash needs a break, but he needs to hold onto the ball to gain the full confidence of the coaching staff.

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Missouri's scoring defense is tied for second in the Big 12 and is ranked 20th nationally at 14.7 points per game. The Tigers are tied with Oklahoma and trail just Texas, who has allowed 11 points per through its first three contests.

Of course, this stat must be taken with a grain of salt, since the Tigers have not exactly played top-flight competition yet. The pass defense was torn up by Arkansas State, as it allowed 350 yards through the air and 20 points. Troy used a few fluke plays to get to 24 points, but the Tigers must be proud of shutting out Ball State, as a whitewash is impressive, no matter the opponent.

Colorado presents a big test this weekend, as the Buffs racked up 586 yards of total offense against North Texas two weeks ago. Slowing down tailback Bobby Purify will be difficult, but this game is a good introduction to the rigors of conference play.

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The defensive line is the basis of the unit's strong play. The Tigers have managed eight sacks so far, with junior tackle C.J. Mosley and senior end Zach Ville, who both rank in the top five in the conference, accounting for five of those.

This group boasts a ton of experience and talent, with a handful of potential NFLers among them. Statistically, Mosley has made the biggest impact so far, but said earlier this month that opposing offensive lines have focused on senior tackle Atiyyah Ellison, allowing him to make so many plays. Ellison and Mosley are a pair of run-stuffers that can completely change a team's game plan.

The ends have been less consistent, but Ville and sophomore Xzavie Jackson have fared well. Last season's sack leader, sophomore Brian Smith, has just one this season since he has played sparingly. More from Jackson and Smith could make this unit dominant.

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The secondary has sprung to life after a disappointing season opener. The starting safeties, senior Nino Williams and junior Jason Simpson, have been consistent, if not flashy. Simpson leads the Tigers with 27 tackles, including four for loss and one sack. Williams is third on the club, with 23 tackles, and has been a quiet leader in the backfield.

A triumvirate of cornerbacks has cut down opposing passing attacks the past two games and combined for three interceptions. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell has made the transition to defense without much of a problem and made a huge hit to break up a first-down completion against Ball State. Mitchell brings a dangerous combination of speed and intensity to the corner corps.

Senior A.J. Kincade and junior Marcus King have split time at the other corner, with King grabbing the starting spot against Ball State. King has made the transition from free safety to cornerback well, moving back to the position he played in high school. Sophomore safeties Brandon Massey and David Overstreet have also contributed significantly, with Overstreet seeing a lot of action in third-down situations and Massey intercepting a pass against the Cardinals.

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The kicking game cannot be much better than it is right now. Junior Joe Tantarelli has yet to miss, converting all 17 of his kicks. He has made three field goals, exposing the strength of the Missouri offense. (The Tigers are the only team in the conference to have scored on all of its trips to the red zone this season.) Tantarelli has not attempted a kick from 40 yards out yet, so it is difficult to perceive his maximum length. Still, the coaching staff must be thrilled to see the former junior college stand-out have such an impact.

If you are into negativity, check back tomorrow for InsideMizzou's thoughts on what the Tigers have done poorly so far this season.


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