Grading the Tigers: Kansas State

After looking dominant for the first 23 minutes, Missouri stumbled again Saturday, coughing up a 21-0 lead in a 35-24 loss to Kansas State. The win kept the Wildcats' bowl hopes alive and left the Tigers, losers of four straight, reeling. Check inside for the grades Missouri deserves after losing to Kansas State for the 12th straight time.

Offense: Overall grade: C

Passing game: The offense was all over the place. It looked dominant in the first half, racking up 156 yards on 10-of-20 passing by junior QB Brad Smith. Missouri had three turnovers in the first half, one of which came on a fumble on a reception by senior TE Victor Sesay and another on a Smith interception.

In the second half, Smith threw 14 more times but managed just 49 yards, 35 of those coming on a pass to sophomore WR Brad Ekwerekwu on the Tigers' first drive of the half. Smith was mostly ineffective afterward, finishing at 15-of-34 with two interceptions, the second of which was returned for a touchdown that iced the game for the Wildcats. Smith continues to prove that he is not consistent enough for the Tigers to be a pass-heavy team. The Tigers weren't as pass-wacky as they were against Nebraska last weekend, but they still looked uneasy whenever Smith dropped back to throw. Grade: D+

Rushing game: The Tigers out-rushed Kansas State, a solid accomplishment given the talent of Darren Sproles. They managed 239 yards on 38 carries, a solid average of 6.3 yards per carry.

It wasn't enough to secure a victory, but the Tigers had to be pleased with the efforts of their running backs. Junior TB Damien Nash returned to action and gained more than 100 yards coming off the bench, while both freshman TB Marcus Woods and Smith managed more than 50 yards apiece. The blocking was effective against a decent Kansas State rush defense and the Tigers found success on the ground more often than not. Grade: B+

Quarterbacks: In the third quarter, the Tigers used the same lateral receiver pass play that turned the momentum in their historic win against Nebraska last season, with senior Thomson Omboga playing the role of Darius Outlaw. Smith could not find the end zone this time, but still gained 33 yards on the play. It also showed the ineptitude of the offense; the Tigers could not punch the ball in from the Kansas State 19-yard line and a field goal attempt rang off the right upright. As the leader of the offense, Smith receives a share of the blame, although he gained 296 yards of offense on the afternoon. His passing accuracy was too inconsistent for the Tigers to fare well in the second half, though, and the results showed on the scoreboard. Grade: C+

Tailbacks: A complete turnaround from last week. Without Nash, the Tigers could do nothing to move the ball on the ground against the Huskers. With Nash back in the fold, the Tigers again had a talented threesome of runners, each of which gave defenders a different look. Nash finished with 118 yards on just 12 carries, an impressive average of 9.8 yards per carry. Nash also gained 33 yards on three receptions Woods, meanwhile, recorded his first career touchdown and was especially strong in the first half. He only received four carries in the second half, but finished with 68 yards on 10 carries for the game. Senior Beau Viehmann made several nice blocks on Nash runs, but only cracked the stat sheet with a reception that cost the Tigers five yards. Freshman Tony Temple, whose redshirt was pulled last week, was on the sideline but not dressed out. Grade: A-

Wide receivers: Junior Sean Coffey had a strong game, tying a personal record with two touchdown grabs. He finished with three catches for 99 yards, but did not record a reception in the second half. Only one other receiver had more than one catch; Omboga had four grabs for 22 yards to go with his pass to Smith. Ekwerekwu continues to be silent, recording just the 35-yard grab previously mentioned. The receivers didn't have any notable drops, but they couldn't corral many of Smith's wayward passes. Grade: B-

Tight ends: For the second straight week, this group turned in a disappointing performance. Freshman Martin Rucker could not manage a reception, while senior Victor Sesay caught two balls for 16 yards. He fumbled his first grab, giving the Wildcats the ball at the Missouri 20, which they could not take advantage of. The Tigers need more production from this group. Grade: D+

Offensive line: One of the line's better efforts of the season, particularly after how much they struggled last week. The runners' 239 yards is a testament to the strength of the line, while Smith was not sacked until the fourth quarter and Missouri players were dropped behind the line just four other times. The line can't do anything about the turnovers and the impassionate play of the defense in the second half. Grade: B+

Defense: Overall grade D

Pass defense: Take away the contributions of TE Brian Casey and the Tigers were almost perfect in their pass defense. Casey burned the Tigers for 69 yards on three catches, while the rest of the Wildcats managed just 79 yards. The defense was caught over-pursuing on Kansas State's tying touchdown, while Antoine Polite was wide open over the middle on its go-ahead score. Take away those breakdowns -- which, of course, you cannot do -- and there is little to complain about. Grade: C

Rush defense: For 30 minutes, the Tigers -- and the Kansas State play calling -- put the clamps on Sproles. He had just 30 yards on five carries at the break, a solid average but not his normal production. He turned that around in the second half, racking up 130 yards. It wasn't the 273 he managed against the Tigers last season, but Sproles' 74-yard touchdown run in the third quarter turned the game around. Allen Webb also had 52 yards on 12 carries, although the Tigers bottled him up more often than not. The result: 225 rushing yards against, a lofty amount for a defense that leads the Big 12. The Tigers could not get a stop when they needed it, and it cost them the game. Grade: D

Defensive line: This is where the blame begins for the Wildcats' second-half rushing dominance. After putting loads of pressure on Dylan Meier in the first half, Missouri, for whatever reason, could not manage much of it against Webb. Sophomore end Xzavie Jackson had a strong afternoon, finishing with five tackles, two for loss. Sophomore end Brian Smith made a few nice plays in the second half but disappeared later. Despite getting a lot of pressure, the Tigers did not record a sack. Grade: C-

Linebackers: A typical James Kinney day by the senior from Kankakee, recording 7.5 tackles, including seven solo stops. Senior Henry Sweat continues to prove why he has taken over the starting job at the mike spot, recording 3.5 tackles. The tandem of sophomores Dedrick Harrington and David Richard, much ballyhooed before the season, finished with fewer tackles than Nash, who managed half a tackle on the afternoon. Grade: C

Cornerbacks: After sitting in favor of senior A.J. Kincade last week, junior Marcus King regained his starting job against the Wildcats but turned in just one tackle. Senior Shirdonya Mitchell had a quiet day, recording three tackles and a pass breakup. (The pass hit him right in the hands; Mitchell was thinking six and forgot to make the catch first.) Kincade made 2.5 stops in reserve duty. Grade: C-

Safeties: After a dominant performance against Nebraska last weekend, junior Jason Simpson had a quiet afternoon against the Wildcats. He finished with four tackles. Senior Nino Williams was the last line of defense on a few Sproles runs; he finished with 4.5 tackles. Sophomore David Overstreet chipped in 2.5 stops as the nickel back. Grade: C-

Special teams: Overall grade D

Placekicking: More disappointment for junior Joe Tantarelli, who clanked a 32-yarder off the right upright in the third quarter. The kick would have put the Tigers up 24-7, but the momentum switched to the Wildcats instead. Kansas State drove 80 yards in two plays after the miss, cutting the lead to 21-14 and putting the Wildcats right back in the game. Tantarelli converted from 24 yards in the fourth quarter to give the Tigers a brief lead, but it wasn't enough. Grade: D

Punting: A surprise here, as freshman kick-off specialist Adam Crossett, effectively the Tigers' third-string punter, handled the duties. He fared well, averaging 44.3 yards per kick. Sophomore Matt Hoenes did not play; he was not on the sidelines with the other kickers and his status for the rest of the season is unclear. Grade: B

Long snapper and holder: Senior Zach Strom's snaps were true and Ekwerekwu did not have any mistakes in his second game as the holder. Grade: A

Returners: Mitchell almost made a fatal mistake when he muffed a kick-off in the end zone and did not hustle to cover it up for a touchback. Freshman Alex Woodley bailed him out, flopping on the ball mere moments before the Wildcats arrived. No mistakes otherwise, but this one could have been disastrous. Grade: D-

Coverage teams: The Tigers were burned on a 46-yard kick return in the first quarter and were gun-shy the rest of the afternoon, squibbing kicks downfield instead. That gave the Wildcats good field position almost the entire second half, including after a 54-yard return on a Crossett line-drive punt late in the third quarter that set up the Wildcats' game-tying score. Junior C.J. Mosley blocked a field goal in the first quarter, but the unit was dreadful otherwise. Grade: D

If I were dedicated enough to do a half-by-half grade breakdown, the disparity would be shocking. The Tigers were strong in the first 20 minutes of the opening half, before allowing a Wildcat touchdown midway through the second quarter. Just as it did against Oklahoma State two weeks ago, the score gave the trailing team hope in the second half, which they converted into a come-from-behind win.

The Tigers lack that killer instinct that makes talented teams great; without it, good teams turn bad, just as the Tigers have the past month. After suffering their fourth straight loss, the Tigers need two wins to close the season to reach a bowl game. With Kansas and Iowa State looming, that certainly is possible. However, the Iowa State contest could decide the Big 12 North, giving plenty of extra emotion to the Cyclones.

After the game, Omboga said he could see the loss coming in the eyes of his teammates. That's all he'll see in the coming weeks if the Tigers don't make drastic changes during the bye week.

Final Grade: D-


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