06 September 2010
Wes Kemp, Blaine Gabbert and the Tigers escaped with a win, but some fans aren't satisfied (AP photo).
Mizzou fans (myself included) can overreact at times. Some always point out the negatives, others are hopelessly optimistic. In the first of our new weekly series, Pessimist and Optimist, I make the argument of both sides about the weekend's game. We begin with the pessimistic and optimistic outlooks on Saturday's win over Illinois.
The optimist says...
1. A win is a win
Sure, it wasn't exactly pretty, but this could have been worse. Gary Pinkel always says that winning never comes easily. I mean, just ask kU. Mizzou struggled a bit but still came back to beat a Big Ten team by 10 points. In the second half, the Tigers outscored the Illini 20-0. Hard to complain about that.
2. The defense played well
Last year, Missouri intercepted eight passes. Saturday they picked off three. In all, the Tigers forced four turnovers. They held Nathan Scheelhaase to nine completions for only 81 yards. The Illinois run game was stuffed in the second half. Aldon Smith is as good as advertised and it looks like he's going to get some help from emerging stars Michael Sam and Brad Madison. As optimists we think that the defense proved it will be much better in 2010.
Michael Sam was all over Nathan Scheelhaase in the second half (AP photo).
3. Mizzou improved throughout the game
Perhaps one of the biggest complaints about Gary Pinkel is his failure to make the infamous, "halftime adjustments." Some say such things don't exist, others do. Whether or not you believe in adjustments, the fact is, Missouri was better in the fourth quarter than it was in the first. Had the Tigers played the first half like they did the second, we'd be talking about a blowout.
3. The receivers looked just fine
Forget the questions about the receiving corps, these guys are great! I haven't watched the replay yet, but outside of a Wes Kemp drop in the first half, I can't think of another Mizzou dropped pass. TJ Moe catches everything, Michael Egnew looks to have restored the tight end position for Mizzou and Jackson was solid despite his wrist injury. Kemp also played well, although his most impressive catch was called back for offensive pass interference (questionable). By the way, Moe leads the nation in catches after week one.
The pessimist says...
1. Illinois is supposed to be awful and Mizzou struggled to win
This Illinois team has a lame-duck coach, they're picked to finish somewhere between ninth and 11th in the Big Ten, and they lost a majority of its playmakers from a 3-9 campaign last season. Mizzou meanwhile brought more starters from a team that beat Illinois by 28 last year. Only winning by 10 is a bad sign for Missouri.
2. Gabbert still has happy feet
Blaine did it last year, and he was at it again on Saturday. He flees the pocket too quickly. He'd look at his first and second reads and if they weren't open, Blaine was outta there. He seemed to get more comfortable as the game went on, but as pessimists, we point to the first half when he was too quick to scramble.
Some say Gabbert was too anxious in the pocket (AP photo).
3. Run game was far from dominant
A Missouri running back didn't touch the ball until there were three seconds left in the first quarter. Missouri needs more balance. Even when the backs did get carries, the backs weren't all that impressive. Take out De'Vion Moore's 21 yard run and the Tiger tailbacks only had had 87 yards on 23 carries. That's fewer than four yards per carry. And where's this improved offensive line we've been hearing about? It looks like the ground game won't be much different from last year's.
4. The play-calling was frustrating
Illinois' secondary is in shambles. Missouri has a quarterback with a cannon arm. So what do the Tigers do? Throw bubble screens and short passes for most of the game. The Illini planned to take away Mizzou's underneath passing routes and did that effectively at times, blowing up several short Missouri passes. David Yost needs to let Blaine air it out some more. Where were the shots down field? And don't even get us started on that opening possession. Two incompletions and a completion for no gain? Ugh.
Overall, my personal reaction is somewhere in between the two extremes. Was it great? No. Am I buying my BCS tickets? Not exactly. However, it wasn't all bad. This team has some time to fine tune itself before its next true test (it's debatable what you consider a "true test." I say it's at A&M). The defense looked solid, Moe is the real deal, and for the first time in a while I think Mizzou fans have some faith in the secondary. I was a bit concerned about the play-calling, but I tend to believe it's best to leave that to the coaches and not to the fans. Keep in mind Illinois broke out a completely new offense against the Tigers. Missouri had very little film to study and I don't think anyone predicted Paul Petrino would break out that pistol-plus-fullback formation. It took a quarter or two for Mizzou to figure it out, but they did, and they shut it down.
From here, Mizzou should cruise through the next three games. I think we can expect this team to look a lot better come week five than they did on Saturday.
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