After Captain America went down, this game became an exercise in miserable inevitability.
I chalked the game up as a loss the minute Fozzy was hurt after processing no Brown, no Bergeron, no Shipley. Even though the scoreboard showed a 3-0 Texas lead heading into the 2nd quarter. Of course, our defense played well enough to fuel the secretions of delusion from my irrational hope glands, but each possession by our offense drained them. In a healthy program, your best players going down for a game or two is a chance for exciting young freshmen and sophomores to shine, but when your best players, save Fozzy, are those freshmen, well - not good.
Bitter aside: I hope Missouri upgrades their agriculture department in accordance with their SEC status so they can do something about the shag-carpeting painted green they play football on. Faurot appears to have a gopher infestation and some sort of photosynthetic grass AIDS bubonic-mange underlaid by titanium bear traps. Fozzy blows out his knee, Henry Josey the same, and Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron were deemed unavailable to play on this municipal golf course by training staff after their pre-game warm ups. I hope Kenny Vaccaro can get a targeting penalty on their head groundskeeper.
We're still a one dimensional team that, when deprived of that dimension, have to rely on a complementary passing game that we can only execute in favorable situations. Further, we were deprived of the ability to manufacture offense creatively without Fozzy and the Wildcat. With four best skill players gone, we played badly at QB (both of them), started a 4th team RB who certainly tried his best, the right side of the OL didn't get it done consistently in pass protection, and our receivers dropped 1st down balls.
The wind was a factor, but we served as our own wind, too. An extended, windy fart of offense fed on a diet of bad luck, the sins of staff past and present, rudderless road energy, and no ability to go to Plan B. Or C. Except for another poorly thrown fade route.
Though we're pretty much all in common agreement and don't need an endless recitation of the failures in development and recruiting to understand the freshman-fueled product we're viewing today, more recent transgressions contributed to this loss. As I noted in back-to-back post-mortems, in two blow out wins, we flogged our freshman running backs senselessly when they passed carry 20, 22, 25...got them hurt...and that cost us a chance to win today.
I understand making the mistake once with Brown, but repeating that error the following week requires a special brand of stubbornness.
Finally, the late game punts in the interest of saving face were weird. I don't care if we lose 24-5 or 17-5 - we should be playing to win the game. Even if on mathematical principle. And the geometry that our safeties other than Vaccaro hate.
Bergeron and Brown would have both been nice to have, but each serve duplicative roles within the offense. We only need one. There is no replacement for Fozzy, though. He's our screen game and flare guy, he's our Wildcat (which we would have gone to heavily), he's a kickoff return threat. His effort and leadership is a big piece of our fragile identity. Even within the "normal" offense, his first two runs were nice. Carry #3 ended his season.
Hills played his hardest (11-35), but he doesn't break tackles. Just having Brown or Bergeron lined up there changes how Mizzou defends us. Monroe's 7-30 contributed, but he's a piece whose effectiveness is heavily tied to Whittaker. The coaches made an effort to try Cody Johnson late, but it was fruitless.
Believe it or not, Ash actually started the game promisingly (his first quarter is a mixed bag with a lot of good and some correctable bad: 3rd and 8 conversion to DJ for 14, smart throwaway, hits 45 yarder to Goodwin, overthrows Davis in end zone, overthrows open Goodwin for sure TD), but once Fozzy went out, and it was clear our running game could be contained, our passing game revealed how inefficient it is when asked to carry the burden. The 2nd quarter was ugly in pass protection (Walters and Kelley give up QB, Watch Out! sacks) and Ash threw two bad balls into the wind.
I can understand why the coaches threw McCoy in during the 3rd quarter to see if a different energy might help, but the cast of characters around the QB wasn't going to change. I'm not sure why that took three possessions to realize. McCoy went 3 of 7 for 13 yards on three bad possessions (including a mid-field start after the safety when we had a sliver of momentum; ended in no points) and that ate up the 3rd quarter wind advantage. I expected Case to be ineffective downfield, but he also missed a wide open crossing route to Mike Davis - a ten yard throw well within his ability that would have gone for nice yardage.
When the QB position goes a combined 16 of 36 for 171 yards and an interception, you lose.
FWIW, I saw a post-game interview with Ash that actually encouraged me a little. He said he played badly, understood what needed correction, and completely owned it. He has an immense growth curve, but I liked his bearing. In a healthier program, we're not even talking about David Ash as starting QB until 2013, but he/we won't be afforded that luxury.
We weren't able to use Luke P much down the stretch. Irby caught a couple of balls underneath. Grant caught a nice 3rd down ball in the 1st qtr and was not heard from again.
Our WRs did get open a few times deep and QBs missed the throw, but Hales and White also dropped balls, Davis saw a lot of attention on double teams, and Goodwin (3-57) could only win - the times he did - on lower percentage plays. We needed a WR that could operate instinctively in the 8-12 yard space, make a tough catch in traffic, take some heat off of Davis and allow Ash some simple option route reads. He's wearing #8 and has his leg elevated.
We couldn't establish the run after Missouri started to gang up (less than 4 yards per carry even excluding sack yardage) and without the Wildcat to attack those numbers with indecision and multiplicity, we were left pounding it with a halfback who favors outside running and a coaching staff leery to employ Ash on option after watching the butcher's bill mount. We blocked OK early, much better in fact than I'd anticipated, but Mizzou solved us.
The right side of the OL had several tough moments. Walters was beaten on an inside pass rush for a sack by a pass-rushing non-entity and had trouble acquiring guys in space. RT didn't shine. Paden Kelley gave up a sack n' strip to Jacquies Smith, Hopkins had a penalty, gave up a ball batted from Ash's hand, and allowed pressure.
I wondered how Espinosa would handle a true nose and he lost some of those fights, most notably a tackle for loss on an option dive. He really does well in space though.
Cochran and Snow both played well enough to win.
Missouri's LBs were exploitable in space, but Fozzy's presence was needed to do so in the flare game and Wildcat.
In the first quarter, simple execution errors took 2 TDs off of the board and some nice run lanes weren't maximized. Unfortunately, those opportunities diminished as Missouri realized our run game couldn't gash them and our passing game doesn't have many sheets of music to memorize before you can anticipate the next note.
Football is a dynamic game and all of the parts interplay in ways that can impact a game subtly and overtly. We likely win this game if we're healthy and keep Ash operating in 1st quarter mode with a constructive running game and some Wildcat curve balls.
However, ifs and buts, candies and nuts. And we just got kicked in ours. 247 yards and 5 points - not exactly getting it done.
Though I appreciate everyone's frustration, I still believe in the long term direction of this offensive staff. However, I'd commit to Ash - come hell or high water - if only to gauge his capacity for improvement over our last three games and generally stop behaving as if our freshman RBs are soldiers in the Somme.
Finally, I love Fozzy Whittaker as a player and person and I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks for playing hard for us.