Thursday, September 28, 2006

Your Saturday game preview

It’s almost game time, Tiger fans. Time to get up. Really. Seriously. Stop worrying, stop waiting for the other shoe to drop. It isn’t. At least not this week against Colorado. Trust me – the Tigers are going to exterminate the Buffaloes on Saturday even more completely than westward-expanding Americans did in the 1900s. And I’m going to tell you why.

TigerFan is in Columbus trying to convince a law firm to employ him for the summer, so you’ll get my take of things this week. Hey, it was either that or let Fanette handle the gig, and I don’t think anyone wants that, do we?

All right, let’s get to business:

MU’s offense vs. CU’s defense – Colorado’s D is by far the strength of this team. It’s front seven is fast and formidable, and its safeties are pretty good, too. Defensive tackle George Hypolite was a terror against Georgia, and his impact must be limited. The Buffs held Arizona State in check and shut down Georgia’s offense until late. But according to my sources (and unlike Chris Mortenson, I actually have them), Rudy Carpenter isn’t nearly as good as we all thought before the season, and that Georgia’s offense is extremely mediocre … I see four keys for Mizzou’s offense to line Colorado up in the sights of its buffalo gun:
1) Chase Daniel must limit his mistakes. Chase hasn’t been as accurate the past two weeks, and he must regain that form for Mizzou’s offense to hum. No picks, and no fumbles, either, please. (Can you pass that memo to Marcus Woods, please? And maybe show him how to call for a fair catch?)
2) The offensive line must come up big. This will be by far the most talented line and linebacking group Missouri has faced, and the men in the trenches must give Daniel time to throw and also create some creases for Tony Temple. Keep an eye on youngster Ryan Madison, who needs to help center Adam Spieker and Monte Wyrick keep Hypolite in check. If the line can give Daniel time, the Tigers should be able to hit a deep throw or two to a receiver on a double-move.
3) The receivers and backs must take care of the ball. This team is good enough to get away with a negative turnover margin in nonconference play, but that will kill them in Big 12 play. (Side note: we should be relieved that Mizzou now is good enough to overcome such mistakes in nonconference play – they would have killed the Tigers in the past).
4) Missouri must use the tight ends to open up the middle and draw attention from safeties and linebackers. This open up the short passing game with the receiver

Advantage: Missouri. Colorado’s D is very good, but Missouri is balanced enough to and post 21-30 points if it executes efficiently.

CU’s offense vs. MU’s defense – Colorado’s offense has been horrible this year, and we all know what MU’s defense has done (for those of you who don’t: No. 1 in the nation). Colorado quarterback Bernard Jackson is a great runner, but he has struggled throwing the ball this year, and the receivers aren’t imposing. Center Mark Fenton, the team’s best lineman, also is questionable for the game as I write this. This matchup does not break CU’s way: scrambling quarterbacks generally have a tough time against cover 2 schemes, and that’s exactly what Missouri runs. The defensive line must shut down Colorado’s running game by itself for the Tigers’ D to be most effective, and it has the depth and talent to do so. But don’t fear: Even if the Tigers are forced to play David Overstreet or Brandon Massey in the box as an extra run defender, Darnell Terrell, Dom Johnson and Hardy Ricks are more than capable of shutting down the Colorado receivers in one-on-one matchups.
Advantage: Missouri. Jackson will make a few big plays with his feet, but as long as Missouri stays fundamentally sound in its scheme and tackling, Colorado should continue to have problems moving the chains.

Special Teams – Colorado has Mason Crosby, which is enough to tip this matchup the Buffs’ way. But Jeff Wolfert has been steady as Mizzou’s placekicker, and kicker-turned-punter Adam Crossett has showed a nice leg and an ability to pin teams deep. I’d say something about CU’s punting game, but does anyone really care?
Advantage: Colorado. Two words: Mason. Crosby.

Coaching – I hate to say it, but I’m starting to believe a little in Gary Pinkel. Missouri actually made adjustments at halftime last week, and the result was a dominating performance by the defense in the second half. Colorado coach Dan Hawkins is great, there’s no doubt, and normally I’d give him the edge here, but I think the fact that he doesn’t have his own players yet limits his impact on the offense. He has breathed life into his defense, but he’d need a trip from Barry Bonds’ training staff to bulk up the offense.

Advantage: Even. Pinkel has his system in place, and it’s amazing how much better he looks with a QB that can chuck it. MU’s playcalling still could use some help, but Hawkins’ has exactly turned this offense into a world beater, either.

Prediction:
Missouri is too talented and deep on defense for Colorado’s undermanned offense to be a true threat. The only way Missouri blows this game is if they have several turnovers in Crosby field-goal range and are unable to move the ball against the Buffs’ D. Don’t see that happening.

Missouri goes to 5-0 on the year with a 31-13 win, and we never hear rumors about Gary Barnett becoming the coach at Missouri again.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ohio, The State University

By Tiger Fan

Like many MU fans, I had a fleeting moment of terror the first time I looked at Sept. 23 on this year’s schedule and saw the word Ohio: “Oh crap, we’re playing the Buckeyes?” Upon further review, I was relieved to see that it was the Bobcats coming to town, not the No. 1 team in the nation. Not to belittle the Bobcats, but I think most anyone would rather play Ohio, the state university, than The Ohio State University.

It was after recovering from that scare that I realized how fun this game could be. You see, I have a bit of an extra stake in this one. I grew up in Cincinnati and roughly a third of my high school class went to OU, including several close friends of mine (one of whom will be in Columbia on Saturday). In fact, one of my friends once tried out to play quarterback for the OU football team. I know all about the O-Zone cheering section. I’m well-versed in the Shaq of the MAC. I’ve been to Athens, OH, several times (a fun town and a beautiful campus, but I’d recommend avoiding the Ruby Tuesday’s. Just trust me.). In fact, I even won a video game national title with the Bobcats on NCAA ’06.

These facts aside, playing OU offers a myriad of jokes. For starters, check out the definition of a bobcat. That’s right, their ferocious mascot is only slightly larger than your average house cat: 36 inches long and 16 to 30 pounds. Advantage: Mizzou. Then there’s the whole Frank Solich drunk-driving date-rape thing. It’s probably best that all the writers here at The Zou have graduated… because I can only imagine what inappropriate saying would be painted across the front of the Tiger’s Lair if we were still there. But enough about all that. There’s a game to be played.

Coaches

Tiger fans should remember Frank Solich from his days at Nebraska. Solich coached the Huskers from 1998-2003 and compiled an overall record of 58-19 during that time, including a 5-1 mark against the Tigers. Of course, the last time Solich coached in Columbia, Mizzou beat Nebraska for the first time in 25 years and the goalposts came down. Solich is now in his second season at Ohio. The Bobcats finished 4-7 last season, but did score a major non-conference victory over Pittsburgh on national television in the first home game of the Solich Era. His arrival has also brought increased interest in the program, including more donor money and a record crowd of 24,545 at the Pittsburgh game (yes, roughly half the size of the crowd we had for Murray State). Unfortunately, the biggest news of his tenure has been less than flattering: Solich was arrested for DUI in November of last year. Solich tried to fight the charges by pointing to evidence of GHB (a date-rape drug) in his system, but this was unsuccessful… not to mention even more embarrassing than the original incident. Still, Solich has a clear track record of success on the field. He was the Big XII Coach of the Year in 1999 and 2001 and has a career winning percentage over .700. Pinkel has none of these things… yet.

Advantage: Ohio

Defense

The Bobcats rank 17th in the nation in pass defense, which could be a concern for Mizzou fans because of the Tigers’ pass-happy spread attack. However, this ranking is inflated by the fact that Ohio’s last two games have been against Northen Illinois and Rutgers, two teams that love to run the ball. In those two games, opposing running backs racked up 196 and 195 yards, respectively. Tony Temple could have a big day if he hangs on to the ball. The more telling stat is that the Bobcats rank 46th overall in total defense. While Rutgers is a program on the rise, the Bobcats have yet to face an offense with Mizzou’s athleticism… and they definitely have not faced this kind of passing attack. Ohio is led on defense by senior linebackers Matt Muncy and Tyler Russ. Muncy is a third-year starter, a Lombardi Award candidate and a preseason All-MAC selection. He’s the one to watch on defense. The test will be how these linebackers can match up with Rucker and Coffman. My guess is that they won’t (mainly because the Tiger attack was able to completely neutralize preseason All-American Patrick Willis of Ole Miss), but I could be wrong… after all, I’ve never seen these guys. Still, you’ve got to give the defensive edge in this one to the nation’s No. 2 defense (that’s Mizzou) until someone proves otherwise. The Tigers have only given up three offensive touchdowns this season and all three have come in garbage time.

Advantage: Mizzou

Offense

After three games, the 2-1 Bobcats enter Saturday’s contest ranked 103rd in total offense and 67th in scoring offense. On paper, that doesn’t seem to match up well with the Tigers, who are averaging 485 yards a game, good enough for 5th in the country. So far this season, Mizzou has already scored five more touchdowns than Ohio. But that doesn’t mean the Bobcats are completely without weapons on offense. Senior QB Austen Everson started all 11 games for the Bobcats a year ago and has thrown for four touchdowns this season, including three against MAC rival Northern Illinois. Running back Kalvin McRae was a preseason All-MAC selection but so far this season, he has only rushed for more than 100 yards in one game. The Bobcat offense has been inconsistent: They struggled against Div. I-AA foe Tennessee-Martin but then racked up 510 yards of total offense against Northern Illinois. As evidenced by the offensive numbers, it looks like the Bobcats rely on a solid defense for not only field position, but also for putting points on the board. Quite frankly, they simply fall short of the Tigers athletically. Rumor has it that the Ohio O-line may be the team’s biggest weakness. If so, it’s going to be a long day going up against Brian Smith and Co.

Advantage: Mizzou

Special Teams

We all know that Mizzou’s special teams can be a little bit… well… special. Our net punting average is 32.8 yards per punt, which ranks the Tigers 86th in the country. That’s more than five yards per punt shy of OU’s average. Also, the Bobcats have one of the top 20 return games in the country, averaging more than 15 yards per return. Nothing jumps out about the Ohio placekicking game on paper, but we all know Mizzou’s is nothing to write home about either. The good news for the Tigers is that the Bobcats struggle to protect on kicks, as they had a punt and field goal blocked last week. The big guys up front for the Tigers have already shown a propensity this year to block kicks, so don’t be surprised if they come up with another big play on Saturday.

Advantage: Even… and completely unpredictable

Bottom Line

Ohio may be the best team the Tigers have played so far this season. They knocked off a tough Northern Illinois team on the road that hung with the Buckeyes for a while in the opening week of the season. Don’t be surprised if the Bobcats make some noise in the MAC this year and finish with a winning record. Solich has things headed in the right direction. That being said, I can’t see the Tigers losing on Saturday. They just have too much offensive firepower and too much speed and athleticism on defense. The Bobcats may hang around for a while, but I’m guessing Mizzou will eventually wear them down and win big, 31-10.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Kudos and Concerns

By Tiger Fan

Any win on the road is a good win for the Tigers. That being said, there was certainly room for improvement in Mizzou's 27-17 win over New Mexico on Saturday. The defense was stellar and the offense rolled up a ton of yards but continually squandered scoring opportunities. Without further ado, here come some kudos and concerns.

Kudos to Big XII Defensive Player of the Week Brian Smith, who had a ridiculous game: 6 tackles, 5 tackles for a loss, 4 sacks and a forced fumble. He's now just a few sacks shy of becoming the Big XII's all-time sack leader and looked absolutely unstoppable against the Lobos

...but the Tigers have to be concerned about Ziggy Hood. The starting tackle has a broken foot and will be out at least 4 weeks.

Kudos to Tony Temple who rushed for 168 yards, the biggest total for a Tiger since Zain Gilmore rushed for 169 yards against OSU in 2000

...but Tony, you gotta hang onto the football!

Kudos to Chase Daniel, who threw for 199 and one touchdown and also ran for one

...but Daniel looked rattled at times by the Lobos' defensive schemes. That has to be a concern as we head into Big XII play against some serious defenses.

Kudos to Earl Goldsmith, who played well in relief of Temple. The thing I like about Goldsmith is that he actually runs north and south. As I've said before, our guys have to stop dancing and get some yardage. Five yards is better than two, but our guys are looking for 80 yards on every play. But Goldsmith seems to get that and was rewarded with a touchdown

...but the only reason Goldsmith was on the field was that Marcus Woods continues to disappoint. Two words: FAIR CATCH! He almost coughed up another one this week. If he had, we might be talking about another Tiger collapse on the road. Also, he seems to be the biggest backfield dancer of the bunch. He's got speed and talent. Let's see it!

That's all for now. Check back soon for the Ohio preview... I've got a personal stake in this one, so it should be good.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

New Mexico, New Result

By Tiger Fan

We all know that Mizzou loses at least one game every year that it shouldn’t. More often than not, it happens in the non-conference schedule. Names like Bowling Green (twice), Troy State and most recently, New Mexico, come to mind. A lot of people seem to think that this year’s debacle will be Saturday’s game at New Mexico (I even predicted that in my uber-early Mizzou football preview back in April). On some levels this makes sense: the Tigers tend to struggle on the road… we lost to New Mexico last year… no other game on the early schedule looks like a disaster. But having seen Mizzou play a couple games, I’ve changed my mind from my spring preview. The Tigers won’t lose this game – nor should they. And if they do, heads should roll.

This year’s New Mexico team is not the team that beat Mizzou last year in Columbia. Gone are WR Hank Baskett (who terrorized the Tiger secondary with 203 yards and three touchdowns a year ago) and RB DonTrell Moore (who racked up 111 yards on the ground). Also gone are three starting offensive lineman and eight defensive starters. No matter what happens on Saturday, one thing is clear: It will not be a repeat of the 45-35 loss from a year ago.

The bottom line is that the Tigers will only lose this game if they fail to play at their best. Asked earlier this week what concerned him about Mizzou, New Mexico coach Rocky Long replied with “Everything.” Come Saturday, Tiger fans should just sit back and enjoy (and watch on TV if you’re in Columbia, St. Louis or KC). The Lobos are better than Murray State, but this one shouldn’t even be close. I’ve seen Mizzou fail in games like this before, but I just don’t see it happening this time (and yes I am knocking on wood as hard as I can right now). Now for the match-ups:

Coach

Long has been the head coach at New Mexico since 1997 and although he has a career record of just 46-50, he is the winningest coach in school history. Long has turned around what was once an abysmal program and the Lobos have been bowl eligible every year since 2001. He loves smash-mouth football, as evidenced by his comments earlier this week that criticized the spread offense. Long outcoached Pinkel and Co. last year, but I don’t think it happens again. Based on UNM’s loss to D-IAA Portland State to start the year, it looks like the coaching staff is still getting used to its new offensive coordinator and new defensive scheme. Plus, if last year’s game against Troy is any indication, Pinkel knows how to get his team fired up to avenge bad losses.

Advantage: Mizzou

Offense

As indicated above, the Lobos no longer have the services of the two players who torched the Tiger defense last year. They are also without starting QB Kole McKamey who was injured in the Lobos’ win over New Mexico State. What’s left is basically Marcus Smith, a former tailback who tallied three touchdowns and 179 receiving yards last week against the Aggies after posting 85 yards against Portland State. WR Travis Brown also has potential. But for Tiger fans fearing a flashback to last year, let’s remember that this year’s secondary is much-improved. Darnell Terrell, Domonique Johnson, Brandon Massey, David Overstreet, William Moore and Pig Brown have all shown themselves to be hard hitters. Even if it does get into a shootout, the Tigers can always rely on Franklin, Coffman, Rucker and Ekwerekwu for big catches. Lobo fans are excited that they put up 34 points on NMSU, but let’s remember that the Tiger offense put up 34 points on an Ole Miss defense with an All-American center.

Advantage: Mizzou

Defense

The Lobos return only three starters from a year ago and will need to play every bit as well as they did against NMSU (recording six sacks and forcing five turnovers) if they want to stop the potent Mizzou attack. Rocky’s teams are known for blitzing on defense to rattle young quarterbacks, but Chase Daniel has shown that he has ice in his veins (need I remind anyone of last year’s Iowa State game?). The defense also takes a lot of chances, which can be interpreted two ways: UNM fans hope it means a few turnovers. I’m pretty sure it means lots of big plays down field for the ‘Copter. How do they stack up against Mizzou? The Tigers are currently second in the nation in total defense, allowing just 156.0 yards per game. The Lobos give up more than 382 yards per game, ranking them 93rd. On Saturday, they have to taken on a Tiger offense that ranks No. 5 in total offense with 530 yards per game.

Advantage: Mizzou

Special Teams

Mizzou’s kicking game continues to be an adventure. We’re just miss a 30-yard-field goal as we are to make a 55-yarder. Punts of 20 yards no longer surprise me. Our return guys are just as likely to take one to the house or fumble. Meanwhile, New Mexico’s kicker Kenny Byrd is a preseason second-team All-American and was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist a year ago. Why can’t we ever get these guys at Mizzou? Lobo punter Jordan Scott is also solid. I’m going to give the edge to New Mexico, but don’t be surprised if Mizzou makes a big play in the return game this week. They’ll be itching to make something happen after Pig Brown’s kick was called back last week.

Advantage: New Mexico

Bottom Line

Can Mizzou lose this game? Well, it is still Mizzou we are talking about. Stranger things have happened. But I don’t think they will. They have superior athleticism on offense and a swarming team defense that is playing with an intensity that has been missing in years past. Add in some inspiration from Rocky, who seemed to imply that the Tigers can’t play smash-mouth football, and I think Mizzou runs away with this one, 38-14.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Hoopage...

Missouri revealed it wants the Mike Anderson era to start off on the right foot.
The Tigers, who released their much anticipated (at least by me) men's basketball schedule Monday, will play a record 21 home games, including two exhibitions, in the 2006-07 season, including nine straight to begin the season. Coming off their worst ever Big 12 Conference finish, the Tigers will host such heavyweights as North Carolina A&T, Lipscomb and Stephen F. Austin.
After their opening stretch of home "tests," the Tigers travel to Purdue for their only trip outside the state of Missouri in 2006. They conclude the nonconference schedule concludes on Jan. 2, 2007 against Mississippi State.
Four days later, the Tigers begin Big 12 play at home against Iowa State then travel to Texas. For the second straight year, the Tigers won't conclude the year against kansas, for they host the beakers on Feb. 10 and travel Jan. 15 to Craphole, USA. Both of those games will be on national television.
Rocky Mountain Tiger will be in attendance when the Tigers travel to Boulder to prove once again Ricardo Patton is a terrible coach on Jan. 24 and encourages fellow Tiger fans to make the trip as well.

http://mutigers.cstv.com/sports/m-baskbl/sched/miss-m-baskbl-sched.html

Monday, September 11, 2006

Game Recap from Tiger Fan

On the Field:

-Chase Daniel certainly seems to be living up to the hype. I know he hasn’t played a really solid defensive unit yet, but his accuracy is deadly if he gets enough time. Can’t complain about 332 yards of total offense and two TDs.

-We all knew the defensive line was good, but who knew the rest of the unit would be so solid? After two games, the Tigers are giving up a mere 156 yards per game and rank second in the NCAA in total defense. Say what you want about Ole Miss, but Schaeffer, McCluster and Green-Ellis are legitimate weapons who accomplished pretty much nothing on Saturday. And how about Marcus Bacon? Twelve tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Nice work from the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Week. Massey’s second pick in as many weeks was also ridiculous.

-After the second heart stopping punt return by Marcus Woods, half the stadium was waving, showing him how to call fair catch. He chose not to listen and fumbled away the next one. I don’t care what green light the coach gives you… if there are two guys on the other team standing in front of you, call the fair catch!

-Speaking of bad coaching, Pinkle’s clock management at the end of the first half was about as bad as the Seahawks in last year’s Super Bowl. What a disaster.

-Clearly we are getting a lot of offensive production, but we’d be getting even more if our players would spend less time juking and more time running north-south. Our guys like to dance after they catch a ball rather than lower their shoulder and pick up a couple more yards. Running backs on sweep plays are the worst offenders. They are looking for the 80-yard run instead of the 7-yard run… and ending up with the 2-yard run.

-I didn’t see the block in the back on Pig Brown’s punt return TD (mainly because they didn’t show the replay… more on that later). But I don’t think it matters: Pig should be returning our punts… and not just because his name is Pig.

-Nice to see Brandon Coleman finally get a TD. How long has he been here now? Seven years? Eight?

-Mark it down: Mizzou will lose at least one game this year because of the inconsistent kicking game.

Seen and Heard in the Stands

-I noticed that the Ole Miss fans removed their hats for our alma mater. Very classy move. Half our fans don’t even do that.

-Everything you hear about the elaborate tailgating set-ups at Ole Miss is true. Example? One group had a three-foot high ice sculpture of Colonel Reb in Columbia on Saturday.

-“That’s a terrible kick,” says Born-a-Tiger as Adam Crossett’s kickoff lands in the back of the end zone for a touchback. Yeah, we figure he’s one of those guys who jumps up every time Albert Pujols hits a pop-up to the centerfielder.

-I found the Ole Miss band to be somewhat annoying. You basically couldn’t hear either band because they spent the whole game playing over each other. But I guess that’s pretty typical any time a band travels. Remember when Mizzou’s band used to go places?

-Not sure what exactly it said, but apparently part of the Tiger’s Lair message was directed at a big-name recruit in attendance on Saturday. Nice work guys!

Pleasant/Irritating Athletic Department Notes:

-Who the hell is wearing No. 16? And why? Before anyone freaks out, I’m not asking you to retire Brad’s number. I’m aware of the “rules” on that. But how can the coaching staff and the veteran players let this happen? I don’t know anything about freshman DB Kevin Rutland, but unless he’s the second-coming of Deion Sanders, he should not be wearing No. 16 the year after Brad graduated. It’s that simple. At least they haven’t given out No. 25… yet.

-I noticed an unusually high security presence at Saturday’s game. Not sure why. But at least they are actually doing something… one cop made me turn out the contents of my cargo shorts. Apparently my camera was riding a little low.

-Why do we have Band Day? What purpose does it serve? Is there a big demand for out-of-sync drumming at half time? Am I the only one who hates this every year?

-Obviously they did this last week, but this is the first time I saw it: I love the smoke when the team is coming out of the tunnel. Really cool effect. Plus, if we’re going to dress like an Arena League team, why not go all out with the transformation?

-Show some freakin’ replays! There were several plays in the game that were questionable, but I don’t know if the refs made the right call because the folks running our Jumbotron don’t show replays of controversial calls. What do they think is going to happen? If we see an incorrect call, are we going to run onto the field, grab the ref, take him to Harpo’s and cut him up? By not showing it, you give fans no option but to boo. At least if we saw a replay, we could make an intelligent decision. Grrrr….

Probably being heard around the water cooler this morning...

“I don’t care if I have to quit my job, I’m going to the game at Ole Miss next year”… and lest you think I’m joking, my friend Mike actually did say that this morning.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Who's ready for girls in sundresses?

By Tiger Fan

Lest there be any doubt, Mizzou’s game on Saturday against Ole Miss is one of the key games of the season. A win against an SEC foe should propel the Tigers to a 5-0 start and the best season in years. It would also reinforce all the optimism felt by most Mizzou fan’s after last weekend’s drubbing of Murray State and help to put some butts in the seats at Faurot as the season moves forward. A loss against the Rebels would prove that we’re not, in fact, on the move. It would prove that we still can’t take care of inferior opponents. If we can’t beat Ole Miss, do you really think this is the year we finally beat KSU? Knock off Oklahoma? Make it to a real bowl game? No way. So basically, there’s nothing at stake on Saturday… except maybe the whole season.

Coach

By now, we’ve probably all heard the story of Ed Orgeron arriving at Ole Miss, taking off his shirt and challenging his players to fight him. There’s no doubt about it, the former USC defensive coordinator is tough – and if everything in that story is true, he’s pretty much insane. Orgeron is in his second year at Ole Miss after serving as the defensive mastermind of the Trojans’ national championship teams in 2003 and 2004. Although he only put together a 3-8 record last year with the Rebels, recruiting is Orgeron’s specialty (he was named the National Recruiter of the Year by the Sporting News in 2004 and was responsible for recruiting players like Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart). The coach brought his recruiting touch to Ole Miss and lured in a top-10 recruiting class for this season. But can he succeed as a head coach? That remains to be seen. You can’t read too much into last season, mainly because Orgeron was stuck with the players recruited before his arrival. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in this game because of one simple stat: national championship rings. Orgeron 2, Pinkel 0.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Defense

The discussion of the Ole Miss defense has to begin with senior linebacker Patrick Willis. Already on everyone’s 2006 Butkus Award watch list, Willis earned first-team All-American honors last season and seems like a mortal lock to repeat that feat this season. And before you think that it will take 11 guys to stop the Mizzou offense, I ask you to look no further than the game against Troy State in 2004 and a man named DeMarcus Ware. Willis is coming off foot surgery, but he seemed to be in great shape in last week’s win over Memphis: 12 tackles, 1.5 for a loss and a fumble recovery. Still, a few things are worth noting. First, Ole Miss lost it’s entire D-line to graduation last season and even if 5-star freshman tackle Jerrell Powe is declared academically eligible this week, they don’t look to be solid up front. In fact, they just moved a true freshman o-lineman to DL for depth. Ouch. Compare that with a Mizzou D-line that goes at least six deep and has multiple All-Conference contenders. Point Mizzou. Second, the Rebels gave up 374 yards, including 149 on the ground, to a Memphis team that is ranked 81st nationally by College Football News and is without last year’s star at tailback, DeAngelo Williams. (As a comparison, Mizzou gave up just 150 total yards last week). Third, the Rebels Secondary is relatively inexperienced and although Jamarca Sanford is very solid at strong safety, Mizzou brings its own talented safety to the table in David Overstreet. I know you can’t read too much into one game, but you would have to think the Tigers from Missouri will be able to pile up even more yards than the Tigers from Memphis. Bottom line: Willis will be a handful for the Tigers, but if they can keep him in check, good things will happen.

Defensive line advantage: Mizzou

Linebacker advantage: Ole Miss

Secondary advantage: Even

Offense

The inexperienced Ole Miss offense is led by Brent Schaeffer, a former Elite 11 quarterback who transferred away from Tennessee in 2005. Before you get all riled up about Schaeffer, let me remind you that Mizzou also has an Elite 11 QB on its roster: Chase Patton, who sits third on the depth chart. As it turns out, high school accolades aren’t nearly as important as college performance. So far, Schaeffer has struggled in the latter category. He started as a freshman at Tennessee before losing his spot to Erik Ainge after breaking his collarbone. Last week, in his debut with the Rebels, he was 7 for 16 for 97 yards, but scored twice on the ground. Mizzou sometimes struggles with mobile QBs, so this could pose a challenge. The most explosive weapon for Ole Miss, however, is freshman WR Dexter McCluster. He is generously listed at 5’9” (about my size) but used his quickness last week to rack up 268 yards of total offense and a touchdown in his first college game. Mizzou will need to keep an eye on him, as he has the ability to make plays all over the field. If Mizzou settles into its traditional “five-yard-cushion” coverage, things could get ugly. But one McCluster doesn’t add up to a Coffman, a Franklin, a Rucker and an Ekwerekwu. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (who apparently comes from a family that struggles to settle on one name) leads the way at running back. He transferred from Indiana in the spring of 2005 and racked up 127 yards and two TDs in last week’s opener. He is a hard-nosed running back who likes to get a lot of carries. We have seen lots of running backs like that wear out the Mizzou defense in the past. With so many newcomers, the Ole Miss offense is still trying to bring it all together. Still, they were efficient in last week’s game and did not turn the ball over. Having a unit like that will always give you a chance to win.

Offensive line advantage: Mizzou

Quarterback advantage: Mizzou

Running back advantage: Ole Miss

Wide Receiver advantage: Mizzou

Special Teams

Last week in this space I correctly predicted that Mizzou would probably block a kick against Murray State. Don’t look for that to happen this week. The SEC athletes will be much better than those in the OVC. Also, with SEC Freshman of the Week McCluster returning kicks, anything could happen. The Rebels return their punter and kick-off specialist from a year ago. The only question mark could be freshman kicker Joshua Shene, but his track record is impressive: Overall Kicking Champion at the 2006 National Punting and Kicking Competition Expo (maybe Pinkel should check that event out some time) and No. 2-rated kicker by Scout.com last season. Sounds like a solid group to me.

Advantage: Ole Miss

Bottom Line

This won’t be the cake-walk that many Mizzou fans foolishly seem to think it will be. In fact, I see no reason for all the brash predictions of a blow-out. Last time I checked, we’re still Mizzou and these are the types of games we usually lose. Should we win on paper? You bet. Will we win? That’s harder to say. But I have faith that the Tigers can get it done. Chase is the type of player who steps up in big games and while Willis is an amazing talent, he can’t guard four receivers and a running back on every play. I think Mizzou wins it in a nail-biter, 30-28.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Ten observations from Saturday's game

By Born-a-Tiger

Well, since I was the only one of the crew who could make it to the game last Saturday (read: the only one loyal enough to go… just kidding, guys), here are a few quick thoughts about the Tigers’ home opener.

1) Our receivers are a lot better than I thought. I always knew Will Franklin had crazy athleticism, and I always knew T. Rucker and Chase Coffman were huge, fast targets with good hands . . . but I didn’t realize how good these guys were (OK, maybe I knew how good Coffman was) until Saturday. It’s amazing what a receiver can do after the catch when the ball hits him in the hands . . . and it’s amazing how dangerous Franklin can be downfield when the quarterback actually can throw the deep ball.
2) On a related note, the passing game looks pretty good when the QB is actually accurate. Watching Chase Daniel run once is enough to make you realize we aren’t going to have any “third and Chase” plays. But watching him throw bullets on the money all over the field is pretty nice.
3) On another related note, it’s going to be hard to stop “out” patterns to MU’s tight ends – Daniel has the zip to make the throw, and Coffman and Rucker are so dangerous in the middle, so quick and so big, that play should be almost unstoppable.
4) We had a flashback to the Brad Smith days when Brandon Coleman came in to mop up (after Daniel set the school record for passing TDs). Coleman had a long run on a QB keeper . . . and an interception on an out pattern that was thrown 3 feet behind the receiver. (Side note: I’m a huge Brad Smith fan, obviously, but his failings in the passing game prevented the Tigers from ever reaching their potential, no matter how many school records he set).
5) The defense overwhelmed the smaller and slower Racers, but there still were things you could take away from the game. Namely: this defense swarms to the ball like no Tiger team in recent memory. The secondary is big and fast, and phenom linebacker Brock Christopher looked good.
6) Stryker Sulak is more than just a cool name. He just might be Missouri’s best defensive player – which is a good sign, considering he’s competing with a preseason All-Big 12 safety (David Overstreet, who didn’t see much action because the front seven did its job), a preseason All-Big 12 tackle (Lorenzo Williams) and the guy who probably is the Big 12’s future all-time sack leader (Brian Smith). Sulak showed the same burst and energy off the edge that made him a starter as a freshman last year, and he also showed good discipline.
7) MU’s defensive line is going to be it’s bread and butter. Three good ends, three good tackles. The secondary looks like it has the athleticism to take advantage of the mistakes the front four should force, but the Tigers need to stop dropping easy interceptions (I remember at least two that were dropped).
8) Dedrick Harrington continues to disappoint me. Remember when Deke was a freshman and looked like he was going to be a big, big star? Yeah, me too. He failed to make an impact again on Saturday. Maybe it’s the way they use him, maybe it’s inattention on my part, but I don’t remember Harrington making one play on Saturday.
9) Tony Temple reminded me why he was the No. 2 running back in his class. Remember who was No. 1? Just some guy named Adrian Petersen. It was against an inferior opponent, obviously, but TT showed the quick start-and-stop ability that made him so highly regarded out of high school. And he didn’t fumble, which always is his biggest question mark. Looks like he didn’t lose any quickness or agility when he bulked up.
10) There’s no reason this team shouldn’t start the season 5-0 and win 9 games. The schedule is soft . . . Ole Miss this week is the biggest obstacle, in my opinion.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

It might not mean much, but....

By Rocky Mountain Tiger

After their 47-7 defeat of Murray State, the Missouri Tigers lead the nation in total offense. Their 589 yards is 5 better than Nebraska, which is second in the nation. The Tigers rank sixth in passing offense and 10th in rushing. In addition, the Tigers rank 11th nationally in total defense, after yielding 150 yards. Too bad we can't play the Racers every week.