Editor's Note: More commentary from our friends at the soon to be re-launched Atomic Teeth blog and haberdashery. This time Gene Claude on the mic. - SR
I imagine this is what it felt like to write the Spinks/Tyson post-mortem. 91 seconds in, Mike Spinks was battered and falling through the ropes; 178 seconds in, the Wolfpack were down 14-0, out gained 152 – 6 and the game was all but over.
This wasn’t an aberration—the Tigers ability to land knockout blows early and often (except against the dreaded Stoopsians) over the past two seasons has been rather Tysonic. Since the start of the 2007 season, Mizzou has played fifteen non-Sooner contests. In each, Missouri has either scored the first touchdown by the 10 minute mark of the first quarter or been up 14+ points at half. In fact, the average halftime score in those fifteen contests has been 29 – 8, and only once did Mizzou give up more than 17 points in the first half (18, at KSU last year).
The Tigers’ propensity for landing multiple first half haymakers in 2008—halftime leads of 31 – 13, 42 – 0 and 38 – 17—has made it difficult to determine if the defense is good, bad or simply unnecessary. To further confound the issue, defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus has exploited the combination of 10 returning starters and cushy double digit leads to do a bunch of truly bizarre shit. To wit, first two defensive plays of the season? Two corner blitzes!
In less than two full games, we’ve seen William Moore in more positions than Jenna Jameson in a double feature. A glass is half full guy would applaud Eberflus for showing future opposing coordinators more looks than Dennis Rodman at a transgender conference, all the while getting a veteran defense some valuable on-the-job experience at esoteric blitz packages. A glass is half empty guy would scream WHAT THE FUCK while throwing up his hands and spilling his friend’s carefully smuggled pint of Jack. An unscientific survey of Mizzou fans finds that the latter outnumber the former by a 5:1 margin.
Nobody knows how good this defense will be when Mizzou’s Buster Douglas comes a knocking. The defense has not yet played a snap without the lead, tip o'the cap to Jeremy Maclin. The only three second half defensive series that mattered thus far came with Mizzou up 10 against Illinois. Those series contained 2 sacks and 2 interceptions, the last a pick six by Sean Weatherspoon that effectively iced the game.
With all that in mind, we didn’t learn much about either the Mizzou offense or defense that we did not know coming into the game with Nevada. An inferior defense can still take it from Chase Daniel and company more ways than Lindsay Lohan at a Tailhook convention. The offense is humming along at about 98% efficiency. The keys have been an offensive line that Pinkel describes as the best he's had in his 8 years at MU; a real, live downhill running game; and a dwarf as prolific at operating the spread offense as he is at metal working and gem cutting. It was nice to see Chase Coffman acknowledge Hurdlegate and branch out into other Madden multi-button tackle-dodging maneuvers. I believe the level of complexity, Knowshon, has been set at 4.5 successful stiff arms.
I hope this turns into an arcane tackle avoidance pentathlon between the two, everyone wins in that competition.
The defense continued to struggle, at least for a half, with either overly aggressive play calling or busted coverages. Or, in the case of Nevada’s first half ending touchdown, both. Seriously? You can’t play two safeties deep with eight seconds left in the half and your opponent on the 42 yard line with no timeouts? Eberflus continues to alternate a base 4 - 3 and a nickel package, with Garrett and Del Howard at safety and William Moore playing the hybrid OLB/safety nickel position, and Weatherspoon and Christopher at linebacker. He also continues to blitz Moore way too often, often from 10 yards or more off the line. I have no problem with using Moore in the nickel spot and blitzing him periodically to keep o-coordinators on their heels. I do have a problem with that approach representing 25 – 40% of his usage, and another 10 – 20% coming as a lockdown third corner. Moore is best used in space where he can read and react to the quarterback and effectively play the run and short passing game simultaneously. It was entertaining to watch him try to bait Kaepernick/Graziano into throwing 8 yard outs / pick sixes in the third quarter, though. Unfortunately for WillyMo, Graziano didn’t take the bait until something called a Jeff Gettys was there to set the hook. This engendered a spirited discussion amongst our group about how we were able to secure a walk on from Houston. My, how far we have come. Uh, no. Houston, Missouri. Nevermind.
Colin Kaepernick is the sort of non-BCS quarterback that can give any defense fits with his zone read and option running skills and strong arm. I don’t know how many times the entire crowd cheered a smack down on a Wolfpack running back only to realize Kaepernick was skipping to his lou 15 yards downfield, while the cameramen furiously zoomed out to wide angle. The dude has the ball hiding skills of Rupaul. (Seriously, WHERE THE FUCK ARE THEY?) Ironically, once Pinkel called off the dogs, and Eberflus went to a base cover 2, the Tigers did a much better job controlling Kaepernick. Granted, by that point Kaepernick was probably exhausted from carrying 21 grown men on his back all afternoon.
All in all, I'll take a vintage Tyson smack down over an inferior opponent, as opposed to the football equivalent of a Turkey - Ukraine welterweight Olympic quarterfinal.