Grading the Tigers: Nebraska

With an opportunity to reestablish themselves as a contender in the Big 12 North, the Tigers stumbled badly at Nebraska. The defense controlled the Cornhuskers most of the game, but the offense and special teams did nothing to help. Check inside for the marks Missouri deserves after falling in Lincoln on Saturday afternoon.

Offense: Overall grade: F

Passing game: The numbers do not look all that bad, but the Tiger offense was predicated on throwing downfield during a gusty Lincoln afternoon. For a team with a quarterback with limited confidence in his passing ability and receivers who have not established themselves as gamebreakers, this does not make much sense.

Junior QB Brad Smith finished with 277 yards and one interception on 24-of-56 passing. Smith did not get much help from his offensive line and was throwing on the move much of the game. He routinely overthrew his receivers on deep routes and struggled to get the tight ends involved, limiting the impact of the team's top receivers. If you combine Smith's 56 attempts with the dozen or so times he scrambled out of a pass, the Tigers approached 70 passing plays. That is too many, even against a mediocre Nebraska pass defense. Grade: D+

Rushing game: Nebraska's rush defense is one of the better units in the Big 12. The Tigers were without suspended junior TB Damien Nash. A true freshman tailback made his debut in an unfriendly atmosphere. The Tigers trailed most of the game and were forced to throw the ball.

There were many excuses one could offer for the Tigers' paltry rushing total; none of them are very good. Missouri finished with 51 yards on 35 carries, a brutal average of 1.5 yards. Forty yards came on two plays, a 24-yard run by Smith late in the first half and a 16-yard gain by freshman TB Marcus Woods in the fourth quarter. The Tigers are still at their best when they establish the run and continue to pound their opponent. It looked as if Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was attempting to install a hackneyed passing attack that did not mesh with his personnel, not Nebraska coach Bill Callahan. Grade: F

Quarterbacks: Smith finished with 302 total yards, a good afternoon most times. As Smith goes, the offense goes; he could not complete an important pass all afternoon and threw away Missouri's only sniff of the end zone. Smith rushed 21 times for 25 yards; remember, it was only a year ago that he put close to 300 rushing yards on Texas Tech. Smith looks like a different quarterback this year; whether that is him regressing as a player or the coaching staff directing him poorly, he needs to get it together immediately if the Tigers want to salvage the season. Grade: D

Tailbacks: The Tigers established nothing on the ground, showing how much they missed Nash. Woods finished with 22 yards on seven carries, while freshman Tony Temple burned his redshirt by rushing six times for 13 yards. (Temple's Achilles injury might be a major blessing, as it could possibly earn him a medical redshirt season.) Simply put, the rushing game was pathetic. The runners rarely had time to find a hole and could not take advantage of it when they found one. Sadly, senior Beau Viehmann did not receive a carry this week. Grade: F

Wide receivers: This is the only area that had a decent day. (Of course, when you pass 56 times, somebody has to have a good day.) Senior Thomson Omboga had a career-best day, finishing with 96 yards on eight receptions. Junior Sean Coffey also had a strong day, grabbing six balls for 66 yards, including a nice one-handed grab in the fourth quarter. Sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu remains ineffective. The second-team was involved more this week; freshman William Franklin had two balls thrown his way but did not make a catch. Grade: C

Tight ends: They were quiet for most of the afternoon, which was odd for how much the Tigers were throwing the ball. Senior Victor Sesay finished with three catches for 32 yards, 29 of which came on one play. Freshman Martin Rucker was even quieter, finishing with one catch for 23 yards. That grab was a nice one, as he readjusted to catch a tipped ball and tightrope the sideline. These two did little to help the running game, but that is not their responsibility. Likewise, they cannot get more involved in the offense if Smith does not give them the ball. Grade: C-

Offensive line: Certainly the line's most disappointing performance of the season. The Cornhuskers finished with four sacks but could have had several more. Nebraska had an unreal 19 tackles for loss, about three times as many as an offensive line wants to give up in a typical game. This was far from that, an atypical performance by an offensive line that has alternated between acceptable and good much of the season. Grade: F

Defense: Overall grade A-

Pass defense: This is difficult to grade, since the Cornhuskers are so inept through the air. Still, Missouri held Joe Dailey to 26 yards on 4-of-18 passing. The Nebraska receivers did not help Dailey much, dropping at least half a dozen passes. The Tigers were right there with the receivers all afternoon and put a lot of pressure on Dailey. They could not force an interception, however, which could have turned the momentum. Grade: A-

Rush defense: A strong performance, especially if you take out Cory Ross' 86-yard touchdown run in the waning moments. The Tigers allowed 209 yards on 41 carries, an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Ross accounted for 194 yards on 19 carries, but the Tigers shut down the other players in the Nebraska running game. Without Ross' long run, it would have been a fantastic performance all around; the defense's fatigue and frustration late in the game costs them a higher grade. Grade: B-

Defensive line: A telling stat: Rucker had more tackles than anyone did on the defensive line. That will happen when you punt as many times as the Tigers did (nine), but the line needs to make more of a presence. Sophomore end Xzavie Jackson had the best afternoon on the line, accounting for two tackles, including one for loss. Junior C.J. Mosley, senior Atiyyah Ellison and senior Zach Ville, the other three starters, had two tackles each. Sophomore end Brian Smith, who led the league in sacks coming into the game, did not even record a tackle. The line did not account for any of the Tigers' three sacks. Grade: C+

Linebackers: The starting lineup included two linebackers for the first time this season, an odd move for a defense that has been playing so well. The linebackers did not suffer; senior James Kinney had his usual strong day, recording seven tackles and a sack. Senior Henry Sweat got the starting nod and rewarded the coaching staff, finishing with seven tackles and a sack. Sophomore Dedrick Harrington had a strong, quiet day, recording two tackles. Nobody else cracked the stat sheet. Grade: B+

Cornerbacks: Senior A.J. Kincade reclaimed the starting spot over junior Marcus King and fared well, recording three tackles. He was beaten a few times, but Dailey could not connect with his receivers. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell had another strong day, recording three tackles and putting a big hit on Abraham Nunn in the first quarter that should have been a fumble but was ruled incomplete. Grade: B+

Safeties: A standout performance from this group, possibly the best by any position in any game this year. Junior Jason Simpson was everywhere, recording 10 tackles, including four for loss, and a sack. All three of those stats led the team, but Simpson performed even better than that. Senior Nino Williams also had a strong afternoon, recording six quiet tackles. Sophomore David Overstreet got the first start of his career and nearly had an interception in the first quarter. He finished with six tackles, a forced fumble and three pass breakups. In a game that needed a strong defensive effort, this group did everything asked of it and then some. Grade: A+

Special teams: Overall grade F

Placekicking: An interesting development here. Junior Joe Tantarelli pushed his first kick wide right, but managed to convert from 39 yards in the second quarter. The Tigers used kickoff specialist freshman Adam Crossett on a 44-yard attempt into the wind in the third quarter; he pushed it well wide, but he looked to have the distance. It should be interesting to see if Tantarelli holds on to the starting job this week. Grade: C-

Punting: A rough, rough day for sophomore Matt Hoenes. After having a punt blocked on a protection breakdown in the second quarter, Hoenes made a mistake of his own when he had a snap go right through his hands and ricochet off his chest in the third quarter. Hoenes recovered the ball and attempted to get the kick off, but it was all for naught. The Cornhuskers recovered the ball at the Missouri 15-yard line and scored on the first play. Otherwise, Hoenes was OK. He averaged 35.6 yards on eight punts. Grade: F

Long snapper and holder: Senior Zach Strom cannot be blamed for Hoenes' mistake. Ekwerekwu replaced Brad Smith as the holder on the Tigers' field goal attempts and was fine. Grade: A

Returners: Only two returns, both of which were decent. Omboga returned one punt for 15 yards, but cost the Tigers field position when he allowed the Cornhuskers to down several punts instead of making a fair catch. Freshman Alex Woodley returned one kick for 22 yards. Grade: C

Coverage teams: The kickoff coverage team left something to be desired, as two Nebraska returns accounted for 64 yards. The Tigers had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown on what appeared to be a blown coverage by Justin Scott, whose mistake led to a blocked punt against Troy. Sophomore Brandon Massey blocked a punt of his own in the first quarter, which led to the Tigers' only points of the afternoon. His play is the only thing that saves this unit from a failing grade. Grade: D

What an ugly, ugly game. This was the kind of performance that exposes just how bad the Big 12 North is. That, in turn, shows how much of an opportunity the Tigers missed. With all five of the division's other teams down, Missouri is wasting one of its most talented teams and imposing defenses in years.

Before the season, it appeared that special teams would cost the Tigers at least one game, and this might have been the one. Still, if the offense had done anything against the downtrodden Nebraska defense, the Tigers could have escaped with a win.

But it did not happen. This is the kind of loss that sinks seasons; Missouri will find it difficult to bounce back and beat Kansas State on Saturday. If they lose that game, all bets are off, for the coaching staff and the players.

Final Grade: D

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