Grading the Tigers: Colorado

In a game that had the makings of a shootout, Missouri and Colorado found themselves in a defensive struggle Saturday. The Tigers made the big plays when they needed them, especially defensively, where they dominated the second half. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after opening Big 12 play with a solid win.

Offense: Overall grade B+

Passing game: Junior QB Brad Smith was efficient and did not make many mistakes throwing the football. Although he tried to squeeze a few passes into windows that were a little too tight, he was not penalized with an interception. Smith finished with 189 yards and a touchdown on 16-of-25 passing. Sean Coffey led all receivers with 58 yards on two receptions, including one of the game's biggest plays, a 51-yard touchdown reception early in the third quarter.

Colorado was 116th in the country in pass defense entering the game, allowing more than 300 passing yards per game. If they needed to, the Tigers could have reached that mark Saturday. Since Missouri never trailed, it could stick with what it does best: run the football. Grade: B

Rushing game: The bread and butter of the Tiger offense was more than enough to beat Colorado, as it yielded 228 yards on 55 carries. That's an average of just 4.1 yards per carry, but that number was lowered by Missouri's conservative fourth-quarter offense.

Two players gained more than 100 yards on the ground, as junior TB Damien Nash finished with 103 yards and Smith with 101. (Smith also lost 25 yards on a couple of sacks, leaving him with 76 for the game.) Freshman TB Marcus Woods was also a quality option, gaining 52 yards on 12 carries. Rumors of the demise of Tony Temple's redshirt were greatly exaggerated, but the running game was still a qualified success. Grade: B+

Quarterbacks: Smith had a good day in both facets of his game, although a fumble in the fourth quarter gave Colorado great field position. That drive ended with a questionable interception call when Colorado appeared to have scored. Regardless of how it happened, the fumble did not hurt the Tigers because the defense stepped up its play. Smith finished with 265 total yards, a low amount for him but quality production in a very important game nonetheless. After the turnover struggles that marred a great game from Smith in Boulder last year, Smith responded well, leading the Tigers to their biggest win of the season. Grade: B

Tailbacks: Missouri's two backs combined for 154 yards, but the biggest story of the day coming in was the likely debut of "Touchdown" Tony Temple. Temple did dress out, but he didn't see any action. Instead, the more established pair of Nash and Woods had one of their better days of the season. Some of their biggest runs came in the final minutes; Nash gained 19 yards on Missouri's clock-killing drive, including the first down that iced the win (and, coincidentally, put him over 100 yards). Colorado doesn't have a great defense by any means, but it was an impressive performance nonetheless. Grade: A-

Wide receivers: All three starters recorded at least one catch, with senior Thomson Omboga leading the way with four grabs for 46 yards. This was a particularly good sign, as Omboga had been having problems getting involved in the offense. Another player facing that situation is sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu, and he continued to struggle, making just one catch for seven yards, including a few drops and an unfortunate play where he caught the ball in the air but was pushed out of bounds. Fortunately for the Tigers, Coffey has been having a fantastic season, including a highlight reel catch-and-run for Missouri's second touchdown. Coffey eluded two receivers and outran another to the end zone, one of the nicest plays of the season for the Tiger offense. Nobody on the second team caught a ball but all three played. Grade: B

Tight ends: Another good day for this group. Freshman Martin Rucker made two grabs for 36 yards, including a 13-yard reception for a first down on Missouri's field-goal scoring drive in the second quarter. Senior Victor Sesay tied for the team lead with four catches for 30 yards, including a big play that yielded 22 yards in the second quarter. The coaching staff cannot ask for much more than these two are providing right now. Senior Clint Matthews also made an appearance in a three tight-end set. Grade: A:

Offensive line: A strong effort by this group, which continues to evolve. Senior Tony Clinker made his second consecutive start and fared well. Colorado recorded two sacks for 21 yards, but Smith had more than enough time to throw most of the day. The run blocking was also consistent, allowing the Tigers to surpass the 200-yard mark yet again. The unit passed its first test against an opponent of equal size, strength and talent. How it holds up against the rigors of Big 12 play is still to be determined, but this group has fared well to this point. Grade: B+

Defense: Overall grade A

Pass defense: The Arkansas State game seems years away at this point. After being lit up for 350 yards in the season opener, the Missouri pass defense has excelled since, including allowing 171 yards against Colorado on Saturday. The Tigers also intercepted QB Joel Klatt, one of the Big 12's more experienced signal-callers, three times. The defense had a "bend, but don't break" mindset, as it gave a cushion at the line of scrimmage that Colorado often exploited for short gains. The Tigers made the stops that mattered, though, and came away with the W. Grade: A

Rush defense: This facet of the game was perhaps the most impressive a Tiger unit has turned in this season. Missouri held game-breaking TB Bobby Purify to 81 yards on 22 carries, just a 3.7 yards per carry average. Purify was slowed down by a shoulder sprain that occurred on the first play of the second half; he didn't return until the final seconds of the third quarter. From there, he accumulated just 15 yards on seven carries. Missouri will face better tailbacks than Purify as Big 12 play progresses, but this is an opening salvo that the coaching staff surely appreciated. Grade: A+

Defensive line: There were no dominating performances, but all four starters had a good day. Senior tackle Atiyyah Ellison recorded the team's only sack, while senior end Zach Ville and junior tackle C.J. Mosley recorded tackles for losses of six and seven yards, respectively. (Mosley's tackle was the one that knocked Purify out of the game.) Sophomore end Xzavie Jackson recorded the line's second interception of the season, a diving grab off a tip by fellow sophomore end Brian Smith. Ellison tied for third on the team with six tackles, but the most important contribution was how consistently this unit slowed the Colorado rushing game. While a little more pressure when Colorado was forced to throw late in the game would have helped, the line had a strong outing. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Sophomore Marcus Bacon had a consistent, if uneventful, first start. He finished the game with one tackle, but was aided by senior Henry Sweat, who recorded two tackles off the bench. Senior James Kinney had his usual dominating day, finishing with eight tackles and a blocked extra point. Otherwise, it was an uneventful day for this group. Grade: B

Cornerbacks: Junior Marcus King had his best day in a Tiger uniform, recording nine tackles, a pass break-up and an interception. King proved why he deserved to beat out senior A.J. Kincade with this performance. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell also had a strong afternoon, making the game's biggest play when he stole the ball--and a touchdown--away from Colorado receiver Evan Judge midway through the fourth quarter. That score, and a two-point conversion, would have tied the game; the interception killed Colorado's momentum and all but secured Missouri's first win against Colorado in six years. Grade: A-

Safeties: Senior Nino Williams recorded eight tackles, good for second most on the team. He also made a big stop on a fourth-and-one late in the second quarter, combining with Ellison to stuff Purify for no gain. As usual, junior Jason Simpson was most noticeable when he blitzed. He finished with five tackles. Sophomore David Overstreet didn't play as much as he had the past few games; he still had a quiet, but strong afternoon, finishing with one tackle. Grade: B+

Special teams: Overall grade D+

Placekicking: What happened? Junior Joe Tantarelli, who had been perfect all year, started the game on a strong note, hitting a 45-yard field goal that just sneaked over the bar. After that, all bets were off. Tantarelli missed three kicks from there, from 44, 42 and 39 yards. Tantarelli had not attempted a kick of 40 yards or more before Saturday; perhaps too much was expected of him. His maximum length appears to be right at 45 yards; his accuracy will have to improve for him to regain the confidence of the coaching staff. Grade: D

Punting: An unfortunate occurrence here, as senior Brock Harvey broke his clavicle in the second half. He was not having the strongest day, and it was widely assumed in the press box that he had temporarily lost his starting job to sophomore Matt Hoenes. Clearly, there was more to it than his performance. Overall, the Tigers punted four times for 133 yards, a 33.2 yard per boot average. Hoenes averaged 35 yards on his two kicks; he will need to improve when the Tigers face stronger Big 12 defenses later this season. Grade: B-

Long snapper and holder: Still no problems here. Every snap from senior Zach Strom and hold from Brad Smith has been true. Grade: A

Returners: An odd afternoon for this group. After a strong afternoon against Ball State two weeks ago, Omboga had a horrible time returning punts. His first attempt, he let the ball bounce but did not get far enough away; it ricocheted off his leg, but he managed to fall on it before a turnover occurred. On his second attempt, he eschewed the fair catch and was crushed just after he caught the ball, finishing the day with two returns for zero yards. Mitchell returned one kick for 21 yards, but Omboga's struggles, especially after racking up so many yards against the Cardinals, stood out the most. Grade: D-

Coverage teams: This unit lucked out, thanks to an especially odd penalty. Colorado kick returner Stephone Robinson returned one kick to the Missouri 44-yard line, but the play was called back because, in an incredibly rare mistake, the Buffaloes lined up too close to the ball. Missouri sophomore K Adam Crossett kicked his next try out of the back of the end zone for a touchback, costing the Buffaloes 36 yards of field position. Otherwise, the unit was acceptable. Kinney blocked an extra point that let Missouri hold onto the lead in the second quarter. Grade: C+

A strong opening statement for Big 12 play. The Tigers were not dominant, but fared well enough to make the rest of the North division take notice. The North looks wide open, especially after Kansas State lost to Texas A&M and Nebraska struggled at home against Kansas on Saturday night. A loss to Colorado would have hurt, as Missouri would have lost the tiebreaker against the Buffs.

Still, there are questions to be answered. Special teams harmed the Tigers for the first time this season, leaving them with three walk-ons handling the kicking and punting duties. The pass defense was strong, but the Tigers still haven't faced a team with great receivers. Still, there are more positives than negatives in this win and Missouri fans should be pleased with what they saw.

Final Grade: B+

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