Grading the Tigers: Baylor

Despite an underwhelming performance from the offense, the Tigers dominated on the other side of the ball, holding an opponent to 10 points or fewer for the third straight game. While the defense appears solid, considerable work must be done to the offense to win at Texas. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after winning its first Big 12 road game in almost two calendar years.

Offense: Overall grade C+

Passing game: A mixed bag here, as the Tigers managed only 151 yards on junior QB Brad Smith's 27 attempts. That's an average of 5.6 yards, not nearly good enough against an overmatched Baylor defense. Still, Smith threw three touchdowns and showed good touch on his downfield throws.

Most of the fault does not fall on his shoulders. Smith was pressured all night, and while his athleticism left Baylor without a sack, he was forced to throw on the move often, which Smith has not proved he can do consistently yet. Smith also had a few drops, which cost the Tigers some yards. Bottom line: it would have been a great day for the passing game if the rushing game had performed as it usually does. Grade: B-

Rushing game: Decent production here, but disappointing given the number of attempts. The Tigers finished with 176 yards on 52 carries, an average of 3.4 yards. Baylor had the worst rushing defense in the conference entering the game and Missouri, with a stable of quality backs, should have trampled the Bears. That, obviously, didn't happen.

Junior TB Damien Nash finished with 87 yards on 27 carries, but 28 of those came on one play. (Take that run away and Nash averaged 2.3 yards per carry.) Smith was his usual shifty self, but he finished with just 42 yards on 12 carries. Sophomore QB Brandon Coleman, who replaced Smith in the fourth quarter, had the best day of all, managing 24 yards on three carries. While Missouri's road struggles are widely known, the Tigers needed more production than this. Grade: C

Quarterbacks: Smith had an up-and-down day, completing a handful of big passes but showing a lack of touch on other plays. He showed great patience and vision to convert a fourth-and-21 in Baylor territory in the second quarter by finding senior WR Thomson Omboga through three defenders; the drive sputtered and the Tigers settled for a field goal four plays later. The three touchdown passes are encouraging, as is Smith's blooming relationship with freshman TE Martin Rucker, but Missouri should have beaten up this Baylor defense. Coleman attempted one pass, which clanged to the ground incomplete, but showed an elusiveness that should make him an adequate leader if Smith goes down. Grade: B

Tailbacks: Neither Nash nor freshman Marcus Woods was very impressive, as they combined for 105 yards on 36 carries, a 2.9 yard average. Some of that can be connected to the subpar work of the offensive line and conservative play calling, but these two runners should show more burst. When the Tigers venture into Austin next week, they will meet a much more talented Longhorn defense; another similar rushing effort will give the Tigers their first conference loss of the season. Grade: C

Wide receivers: Only the starters caught passes, as the second team didn't see the field much until the game was out of reach. (By that time, the Tigers were running the ball every play.) Junior WR Sean Coffey continues to establish himself as the group's leader, gaining 50 yards and a touchdown on three receptions. His long was a 32-yard reception that required him to slow down and adjust to an underthrown Smith pass. That play was the key to Missouri's third-quarter-opening drive, which extended the lead to 20-3 and essentially ended the game. Omboga made three grabs for 41 yards, while sophomore WR Brad Ekwerekwu made two catches for 17 yards. There were a few drops, but the group as a whole did all it could. Grade: B

Tight ends: Rucker continues to establish himself as Smith's favorite target, making three catches for 34 yards and two touchdowns. Rucker is a big body with soft hands, a perfect fit for a quarterback still learning to trust his arm. Rucker made a nice play on his second touchdown: while Smith rolled out, Rucker found a soft spot in the Baylor zone, called for the ball, made the catch and fought through a would-be tackle for the score. Senior TE Victor Sesay was surprisingly quiet and did not make a catch. Grade: A-

Offensive line: A disappointing evening for this group. The line could not establish the running game, as Missouri's bread and butter turned moldy and stale. The Tigers turned to the pass and had moderate success, including all three of the Tigers' scores, but Smith often was under pressure and forced to scramble away from Bear defenders. Compared to some groups this unit will face later in the season, Baylor's line was a pushover; with Texas looming, improvement must come immediately. Grade: C-

Defense: Overall grade A

Pass defense: Perhaps the unit's best performance of the season, as the Tigers allowed just 88 yards through the air, most of which came when the outcome had already been decided. Two Baylor quarterbacks attempted 31 passes, leaving the Bears with a stunning 2.8 yards per attempt. Missouri also picked off two passes and forced a fumble on a pass play, accounting for three of Baylor's four turnovers. This unit has come a long way since it was torched by Arkansas State in the opener. Grade: A+

Rush defense: A strong performance here as well, as the Bears managed 85 yards on 29 carries, a 2.9 yard average. Starting TB Anthony Krieg was silenced, as reserve Paul Mosley did all of the damage, gaining 58 yards on six carries. Baylor has struggled on the ground all season, but this effort forced the Bears into the passing game early and often, which played right into Missouri's hands. If the Tigers can hold Texas' Cedric Benson to 3 yards per carry, they could remain undefeated in conference play. Grade: A

Defensive line: As we have grown to expect, the line had another solid performance. While junior tackle C.J. Mosley, perhaps the unit's most impressive player this season, had a quiet evening and finished with just one tackles, other players stepped up. Fellow tackle senior Atiyyah Ellison recorded five tackles, including one for a loss, while sophomore Xzavie Jackson had perhaps his best game of the season, finishing with five tackles. The second team might have had a better performance: sophomore end Brian Smith dominated the line of scrimmage, finishing with three sacks and a forced fumble. Freshman end Lorenzo Williams also managed three tackles, including one for a loss. Grade: A-

Linebackers: A typically impressive performance from senior James Kinney, who led the team with six tackles and chipped in two fumble recoveries. Sophomore Marcus Bacon kept his starting job after sophomore David Richard returned; Bacon fared well, recording three tackles and a sack compared to one tackle for Richard. As usual, senior Henry Sweat saw a lot of time, recording three tackles. Sophomore Dedrick Harrington had another quiet game, recording one assist. Grade: A-

Cornerbacks: Another interception from this group, as senior Shirdonya Mitchell intercepted Dane King on the game's third play. The pick gave the Tigers great field position, which they squandered by missing a 38-yard field goal. Junior Marcus King continues to be the team's best cover corner, finishing with two tackles and a pass breakup. Junior Calvin Washington's most notable play was running into the kicker on a missed field goal attempt, which is never a good thing. Still, the corners were instrumental in frustrating Dane King, who entered the game as one of the conference's better passers. Grade: B+

Safeties: Junior Jason Simpson made the game's biggest play, picking off a King pass near midfield and taking it inside the Baylor 10 for a 46-yard return. Simpson also contributed three tackles, including one for loss. Sophomore David Overstreet continues to see a lot of playing time, allowing Simpson to come into the box and blitz. Overstreet finished with two tackles, while senior Nino Williams contributed a pass breakup. Grade: A-

Special teams: Overall grade B-

Placekicking: Junior Joe Tantarelli picked himself off the canvas with a strong evening, making three of the four field goals he attempted. (He barely missed the other one, hooking it just to the left.) Tantarelli still look inaccurate from distance, missing from 38 yards before converting from 22, 20 and 31. The coaching staff also showed a lack of trust in him, attempting to convert fourth downs from the Baylor 23 and 31 on one second-quarter drive. How the staff deals with Tantarelli from here should be interesting, especially in games that could be decided by a field goal or two. Grade: B

Punting: Sophomore Matt Hoenes was serviceable, given the opposition. He punted seven times, which is four or five more times than the coaching staff would have liked, and averaged 32.4 yards. Missouri will need more from Hoenes in the future, especially in pressure situations. Grade: B-

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

Returners: The Tigers only returned one kick, but it was a good one. Freshman Alex Woodley had the best return of his brief career, bringing it from the goal line to the Missouri 31 to open the second half drive that would put the Tigers comfortably ahead. Omboga had another slow day returning punts, garnering 15 yards on three returns. Ironically, Omboga's long return of the day (16 yards) topped his total for the evening. He was also hurt by a block in the back call that cut down a nice return. Grade: B

Coverage teams: Struggles from this unit, as Baylor's Willie Andrews ran all over the place. Sophomore Adam Crossett put a few kicks into the end zone for touchbacks, but Andrews still managed to return four kicks for 120 yards, including a high of 38. He also returned two punts for 19 yards. The Tigers squibbed a kick in the third quarter to keep the ball away from Andrews. Grade: C-

It wasn't overwhelming by any means, but a win is a win, especially on the road. The Tigers had not pieced together a conference road win since November of 2002, and while Baylor barely counts as a Big 12 team, the win is still important. It took greater significance after Nebraska, Kansas State and Colorado, Missouri's main competition for the North division title, all lost earlier Saturday.

While nothing Missouri did offensively was impressive, the Tiger defense continues to surprise. Coming into the season, suggesting the Missouri defense would win more games than the offense would have been laughable, but that's the case to this point. While it has not faced an imposing offense yet, the Tiger defense shows an ability to make plays all over the field. It will need to keep its intensity high to give the Tigers a chance to beat a frustrated Texas team next weekend.

Final Grade: B-


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