Grading the Tigers: Texas

Despite outperforming Texas in many areas, the Tigers dropped their first Big 12 game of the season Saturday. Two Brad Smith interceptions led to 14 Longhorn points, effectively handing the game to Texas. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after finding itself unable to win its first game in Austin in 108 years.

Offense: Overall grade B-

Passing game: Junior QB Brad Smith had what is becoming a typical game for him, completing 20-of-34 passes for 185 yards. He struggled with decision-making, however, and, as the television commentators mentioned several times, Smith showed a bad tendency to stare at his receiver before passing to him. That led to two interceptions, which led to 14 Texas points.

The rushing game remains the top priority, making any gains through the air a nice bonus. Racking up 185 yards is a solid total when the Tigers ran for 173, but bumping the pass total up to about 230 might have gotten the Tigers into an overtime situation. Grade: B-

Rushing game: This remained the focus, although the load was spread around more than usual. Freshman TB Marcus Woods got his first collegiate start and received more carries than junior TB Damien Nash, even though Nash showed an ability to break the big run, including a 33-yard touchdown jaunt in the second quarter.

The team combined for 173 rushing yards and racked up 11 first downs on the ground. Texas' rush defense was its weak point, but the Tigers could not fully exploit that. Nash and Woods had strong afternoon, but neither established himself as the feature back. Woods received the majority of the carries on the team's last scoring drive, but it was back to Nash on the final drive of the game. The platoon system can only take a team so far. Grade: B

Quarterbacks: Smith managed 237 yards of total offense, but his most important plays were the interceptions. Passing as often as the Tigers did (34 times) can be a necessity when a team trails most of the game, but as a whole the offense was very vanilla. (On a rare occasion that it wasn't, Smith juggled the ball on a reverse flea flicker, resulting in a sack and a loss of 13 yards.) Smith managed just 2.7 yards per rush attempt, not nearly enough for the magnitude of this game. Sophomore Brandon Coleman came in for one play in the third quarter, a running play by Nash that was stuffed for no gain. Grade: C+

Tailbacks: Neither back had a fantastic day, but both had their moments. Nash finished with 68 yards on 12 carries, while Woods managed 53 yards on 16 carries. Nash's average of 5.7 yards is exactly what the Tigers need; unfortunately, he didn't see much action in the second half. Woods appears to be gaining the confidence of the coaching staff more and more each week, as he has shown he can consistently hold on to the ball, an issue that hurt him earlier this season. Nash also caught three passes for 21 yards. Grade: B

Wide receivers: For the second consecutive game, it was mostly the starters doing the damage. A non-starter only made one catch, but it was a big one: freshman Jason Ray caught a 14-yard slant for a first down in a fourth-and-5 on the Tigers' final scoring drive. Junior Sean Coffey continues to be Smith's big-play receiver, recording two catches for 27 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu had one of his better days of the season, recording four catches for 27 yards. Senior Thomson Omboga made several nice catches, but his biggest play was dragging Aaron Ross down from behind on the cornerback's long interception return. Grade: B-

Tight ends: This unit probably turned in the best effort of the offensive 11. Freshman Martin Rucker continues to be a playmaker, leading the Tigers with 48 yards on three receptions. Rucker's catches always seem to come at important times, as they often lead to first downs or more. Senior Victor Sesay got back into the act after recording an oh-fer at Baylor. He made three catches for 15 yards, including a highlight reel-quality one-handed grab in the fourth quarter. These two always seem to make a play when they get the opportunity. Grade: A-

Offensive line: A strong effort, after struggling to establish the run at Baylor last weekend. The line allowed two sacks, although one of them (on the flea flicker) was on the shoulders of Smith and the coaching staff more than the line. Racking up 173 rushing yards against this talented Texas defense is impressive, although it wasn't enough to get Missouri a win. Smith took a lot of hits, but most of them came when he showed indecision and scrambled away from pressure. Grade: B+

Defense: Overall grade B+

Pass defense: How can this really be judged? The Texas passing game is beyond brutal, but the Tigers only allowed 106 yards, 48 of which came on a trick play in the second quarter. The Longhorns' two quarterbacks combined to go 7-of-19 for 58 yards and two interceptions. Those numbers are beyond ugly, but you can't give all of the blame to the Longhorns. The Tigers picked off two passes and forced another fumble on a pass rush. Grade: A-

Rush defense: For the most part, Cedric Benson was contained, which is odd since he still managed 150 yards on 28 carries. The Tigers managed to keep his attempts to a reasonable length, which is pretty much all you can ask for against him. Vince Young slipped away from the Tigers a few times, including a surprising missed tackle (sack, actually) by senior LB James Kinney that resulted in Young's 23-yard touchdown. Overall, the unit allowed 193 yards, much more than its average but still a respectable effort. Grade: B-

Defensive line: Two of the top three tacklers were linemen, an unusual result that shows how well the line played. Senior tackle Atiyyah Ellison led the team with eight tackles, including two for a loss. Junior tackle C.J. Mosley wasn't far behind, recording six tackles and forcing a fumble. The result: there wasn't much room for the Longhorns to run up the gut. Sophomore end Brian Smith had another good day, recording a 13-yard sack and a forced fumble of Chance Mock in the waning seconds of the second quarter. Senior Zach Ville and sophomore Xzavie Jackson had quiet days, combining for three tackles, including one for a loss. Grade: B+

Linebackers: A disappointing performance from this group. Kinney, with five, was the only linebacker to record more than one tackle. Unfortunately, the most important play he was involved in was his inability to drag down Young behind the line on his own touchdown run. Sophomore David Richard's biggest play was also unfortunate, a late hit that forced Young out of the game in the second quarter. Sophomore Dedrick Harrington and senior Henry Sweat were quiet at the middle position, combining to record just one tackle. More production from this unit is a necessity. Grade: D

Cornerbacks: Another interception for this group, which is continuing to prove solid. It dealt with a very, very green group of receivers, but they were mostly stifled. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell made a nice play on his second-quarter interception, returning it three yards. Junior Marcus King made three tackles and had one of the game's bigger hits. Senior A.J. Kincade saw a little more time than he had the past few games and did not look out of place. Grade: B+

Safeties: Perhaps this group's best effort of the season. Senior Nino Williams recorded an interception and returned it 23 yards deep into Texas territory. He also chipped in six tackles. Junior Jason Simpson was all over the field, recording seven tackles, one for a loss, and forcing a fumble. Sophomore David Overstreet continues to play a strong, if overlooked, role in the pass defense. He comes in when the Tigers switch to a 3-4 in passing situations, patrolling the back of the defense and making good reads more often than not. Grade: A

Special teams: Overall grade C+

Placekicking: Junior Joe Tantarelli didn't get a chance to kick a field goal, as the coaching staff continues to choose to attempt to convert on fourth downs between the 25- and 30-yard lines instead. He also missed his first extra point of the season, although it was not his fault. Grade: B

Punting: Sophomore Matt Hoenes struggled early but turned it on late. He finished with an average of 42.5 yards on eight punts, including an impressive long of 61 yards. He had a pair of punts in the 20-yard range early in the game, making his final average all the more impressive. His net average took a hit when King could not corral a punt inside the Texas 5-yard line and let it bound into the end zone. Hoenes stepped up his play when the pressure increased and deserves a lot of credit. Grade: A-

Long snapper and holder: The first problem of the year for this pair. Although senior Zach Strom's snap on the Tigers' fourth-quarter extra point try was true, it ricocheted off Brad Smith's hands and hit the ground. Smith scrambled to get the ball in place for Tantarelli, but the timing was off and Tantarelli muffed it short and to the right. Grade: F

Returners: Not many opportunities here. Omboga returned one punt for six yards and continues to show good decision-making on when to make a fair catch and when to get away from the ball. Freshman CB Alex Woodley returned two kicks for 36 yards, with a long of 23. Nobody has come close to breaking a kick recently. Grade: B-

Coverage teams: Sophomore Adam Crossett boomed several of his kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. The Horns only returned one kick, but it was a good one; senior Phillip Geiggar returned one for 32 yards to open the second half. Mostly thanks to Hoenes' leg, the Tigers put the clamps on the punt return game, as Ross managed just two returns for six yards. Grade: B

Overall, it was a strong effort. The Tigers outperformed the Longhorns in many statistical categories, but were hurt by Smith's two interceptions. Take those two plays away and the complexion of the game changes completely. Of course, you can't do that, and the Tigers paid for it.

The coaching staff must be encouraged with what it saw from the defense. The unit passed its first big test of the season, limiting the Longhorns to 299 yards. It made plays when the Tigers needed them, as the Longhorns went just 3-for-12 on third-down conversions. Forcing three turnovers (and two other fumbles that Texas recovered) is often enough to get a win, but that sometimes doesn't happen against talented opponents. To lose by eight points to one of the better teams in the country on the road is an accomplishment. The Tigers likely don't believe in moral victories, but this was one and should provide solid momentum heading into the Oklahoma State game.

Final Grade: B


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