Grading the Tigers: Oklahoma State

In its most frustrating effort of the season, Missouri gave away a 17-0 second-quarter lead in a 20-17 loss to No. 22 Oklahoma State. The Tigers were equally inept on both sides of the ball in the second half, reversing a strong first-half performance. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after missing a golden opportunity to take command of the Big 12 North.

Offense: Overall grade D+

Passing game: The most frustrating performance of the season. Junior QB Brad Smith completed 18-of-29 passes for two touchdowns and one interception, statistics that look promising. He managed only 96 yards through the air, however, including a long of 10 yards. That is not nearly enough for a team that is striving to become two-dimensional.

As a whole (and leaving out the final minute), the Tigers had a strong first half. Smith was not particularly impressive then, though, but picked up a few first downs on the ground. The confidence in the passing game that the coaching staff is trying to grow in Smith is not paying dividends; the offense will have to go in a different direction if the Tigers want to be successful in the second half of the Big 12 season. Grade: D

Rushing game: It managed 168 yards on 45 carries, not a bad effort overall. Junior TB Damien Nash had another decent day, gaining 89 yards on 18 carries, while Smith racked up 58 on 17. Freshman TB Marcus Woods saw a lot of playing time in the first half but little in the final 30 minutes; he finished with 22 yards on eight carries. In the most important play of the game, senior TB Beau Viehmann earned his third carry of the season and lost a yard.

The runners averaged 3.7 yards per carry, not enough when the passing game struggles as it did. They were overshadowed by the Cowboys' tandem of Vernand Morency and Donovan Woods, who combined for 244 yards on 41 carries. The Cowboy defensive front was not dominant by any means, so little blame can be placed on the Tiger offensive line. Missouri just did not make any big plays in the second half. Grade: D+

Quarterbacks: Smith finished with 154 total yards, uncharacteristically low production from "the straw that stirs the drink." Generally, Smith looked comfortable when he dropped down and ran with the ball, but when the Tigers had the ball with the game tied at 17 midway through the fourth quarter, Smith did not attempt a single rush. (Coach Gary Pinkel said after the game that Viehmann's run was designed to be in Smith's hands, but regardless…) Smith missed several open receivers on the Tigers' last-gasp drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter. He must have more of an impact if the Tigers want to remain contenders in the Big 12's woeful North division. Grade: D

Tailbacks: Nash had a strong day for a player playing through recurring knee pain. He finished with 89 yards on the ground and nine more on two receptions. Although he could only break one big run on the day (for 25 yards), he consistently gained positive yardage, which was more than the rest of the offense could say. The coaching staff moved away from Woods in the second half, giving him just two carries, for four yards. He caught one pass in the first half and was dropped immediately, losing five yards. Viehmann's lone rush on the day (and third of the season) has been dissected more than any carry by a third-stringer ever should be. Grade: C-

Wide receivers: Nobody had more than two catches, disappointing production from a unit exhibiting growth the past few weeks. Sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu had the top performance, snagging two passes for 17 yards. Junior Sean Coffey and senior Thomson Omboga followed close behind, each grabbing two passes for 13 and 12 yards, respectively. Coffey made another touchdown catch, but had a few drops that could have sparked the Tiger offense. The tight ends continue to overshadow this group, perhaps a combination of not having a top playmaker and the downfield struggles of Brad Smith. Still, this group must find more ways to contribute. Grade: D

Tight ends: As it did the two games prior, this group had the best performance on this side of the ball. Freshman Martin Rucker led the team with five catches for 28 yards, including a first-quarter touchdown. Not far behind was senior Victor Sesay, whose four catches for 22 yards all came in the first half. The Tigers continue to be most effective when they use two tight ends, helping establish the running game and the short passing game. This group has done more than its fair share, yet it has not been rewarded with many wins lately. Grade: B+

Offensive line: Oklahoma State recorded just one sack, an 18-yard loss early in the second quarter when Smith could not sneak away from the Cowboys' Jamie Thompson. The Cowboys managed eight tackles for loss, but many of those were due to play calling that limited the potential of the offense. The line did about as much as could be expected, not committing a single penalty all game. It was not enough. Grade: C

Defense: Overall grade D+

Pass defense: After putting the clamps on the Cowboy offense for 29 minutes, the Tigers looked lost as the Cowboys rumbled 80 yards in 50 seconds of the first half's final minute. The final 40 yards of that drive came through the air, as Donovan Woods found brother D'Juan twice. Before those two completions, the Cowboys had managed 14 yards through the air. In the second half, they managed 56 more yards. The result: 110 passing yards, normally a fantastic result by a defense. The Cowboys made big plays through the air when they needed them, including another Woods-to-Woods connection for 27 yards on the game-winning drive. Grade: C-

Rush defense: Like the pass defense, it was dominating for the first 29 minutes. Then the wheels fell off, as Morency rumbled for gains of 21 and 19 in the half's final drive. He found more running room in the second half, finishing with 173 yards on 31 carries. It was only a matter of time before Morency hurt the Tigers; it was Woods' success on the ground that was more damaging. He finished with 71 yards on 10 carries, including runs of 35 and 34 yards in the second half. The latter tied the game at 17 and exposed the defense's tendency to over-commit when it needs a big stop. How a QB option run can burn the Tigers twice within a span of a few minutes is mind-boggling. Grade: D

Defensive line: The line combined for three sacks and two forced fumbles. (It also should have been credited with a blocked kick, as replays showed senior tackle Atiyyah Ellison blocked the Cowboys' long fourth-quarter attempt.) It filled all of Morency's running lanes in the first half, but struggled to do anything to slow him down in the second. The line was probably worn down near the end of the game, as the Cowboys dominated the clock in the second half. It even allowed somebody named Seymore Shaw to gain 21 yards on two carries on the game-winning drive. The ends had a strong day, as sophomores Xzavie Jackson and Brian Smith combined for the three sacks. Junior C.J. Mosley also fared well, contributing 4.5 tackles, including 1.5 for loss, and a forced fumble. Grade: B-

Linebackers: Senior James Kinney had his typically strong day, garnering eight tackles, including half a tackle for loss. Senior Henry Sweat had a strong performance in his second start, making 3.5 tackles and an interception in the first quarter. Sophomore Dedrick Harrington had one of his better days, recording three tackles. Sophomore Marcus Bacon and David Richard were quiet, combining for four tackles. This unit did not provide enough run support to allow the Tigers to hold onto their second-half lead, but Morency is a load to bring down in the open field. Grade: C-

Cornerbacks: A quiet day from this group. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell did not get his customary interception, but did manage four tackles. Senior A.J. Kincade saw more playing time than he has recently, finishing with four tackles. Junior Marcus King recovered a fumble in the second quarter but was beaten badly by D'Juan Woods on the touchdown late in the second quarter. This group had the talent to completely shut down the subpar Cowboy passing game but could not get it done when it mattered. Grade: C-

Safeties: Senior Nino Williams had another strong afternoon, finishing with 6.5 tackles. There were several plays in which Williams was the only player between Morency and the end zone, and Williams dropped him every time. The Cowboys found a flaw in the Tiger defense and exposed it continually in the second half; if not for Williams, Morency could have had a huge game. Outside of breaking up the pass on the Cowboys' fake punt, junior Jason Simpson had a quiet day, finishing with 3.5 tackles. Grade: B

Special teams: Overall grade B-

Placekicking: Junior Joe Tantarelli only had one chance and took advantage of it, converting from 21 yards in the second quarter. There were no mid-to-long range kicks for the coaching staff to take away from Tantarelli this week, so it should be interesting if their faith in Tantarelli resurfaces at Nebraska next week. Grade: B

Punting: Except for one 20-yard boot at the worst possible time, sophomore Matt Hoenes had a strong day. Unfortunately, his flub came in the fourth quarter and set up the Cowboys' game-tying drive. Take that kick away, and Hoenes managed almost 39 yards per punt. Instead, he averaged 35.7 yards on six punts. Grade: B-

Long snapper and holder: No problems here. Senior Zach Strom continues to thrive as the long-snapper and Brad Smith held three short kicks for Tantarelli well. Grade: A

Returners: Few opportunities here, but Mitchell had a nice kick return of 31 yards (to the Tiger 34-yard line) on Missouri's final drive. The Tigers could not take advantage of the good field position, though. Omboga returned one punt for eight yards. Grade: C+

Coverage teams: Freshman Adam Crossett continues to show a good leg and boomed several of his kicks into the end zone for touchbacks. Oklahoma State's Prentiss Elliott only returned two kicks, but had great success doing so. His 41-yard return in the second quarter gave the Cowboys good field position, but the offense faltered, leading to the fake-punt pass. Elliott managed 21 yards on his other return, while he returned just one punt, for one yard. Take away Elliott's one return and the Tigers were dominant. Since that return did not result in any points, it can be brushed aside. Grade: B-

It was difficult to top the disappointment the Tigers felt after losing to Texas last week, but they managed to do it Saturday. For the second time this season, Missouri gave away a lead of 14 points or more; it turned the trick much the same way it did at Troy last month, when both the offense and defense were dominant early before disappearing when the game was on the line.

The Tigers will not have much time to feel sorry for themselves, as they travel to Lincoln to face Nebraska in the most important game remaining on their schedule. A win against the Cornhuskers would go a long way to wrapping up a horrific North division, but another loss could end that chance and wound Missouri's psyche for the rest of the season. The Tigers are capable of winning big at Nebraska; doing so would not eliminate the memories of this game, but it would be a step in the right direction.

Final Grade: D+

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