Mizzou Season Opener: Throwing the Media for a Loop

During the long college football off-season, Missouri football experts felt there were a couple of certainties heading into 2015.

  1. The Tigers receiving corps filled entirely with untested young players would be a weakness.
  2. The usually steady defensive line would also falter after losing both defensive ends to the NFL, a preseason All-American to a horrific car accident and a projected starter to rule infractions.
  3. With returning 1,000 yard rusher Russell Hansbrough coming back, the Mizzou ground game would be strong.
  4. An experienced offensive line would show up big this season and carve open big holes for Hansbrough and his understudies to dash through.

All of this made sense. Young players are unreliable and veterans can be counted on to improve. Missouri seemed to be concentrating all of its attrition by position group. The defensive line was decimated but the linebackers and secondary were all returning. The receivers are all gone, but the quarterback and running backs remain.

Then the season began and as with teams across the nation, conventional wisdom began to be put to the test. Missouri played the creampuff FCS school Southeast Missouri State and finished the day with a predictable 34-3 win.

What we learned from the game was far from predictable however. After months of chattering and weeks of fall camp assessment, all of our assessments were turned on their head. Ten different receivers caught passes for 319 yards, and the young J’Mon Moore and Nate Brown shined with long touchdown passes.

The defensive line looked terrifying, particularly sophomore Charles Harris at end and highly touted freshman Terry Beckner Jr. Big defensive tackle Josh Augusta also looked sharp and more importantly stayed on the field. Last season he suffered from endurance issues.

Meanwhile, the Tigers offensive line looked like hot garbage. Facing a much smaller pass rush than they will see in SEC play, Missouri’s linemen were routinely pushed backward and missed blocks. To be fair, starting center and team leader Evan Boehm was forced out at the half due to a right ankle sprain. Even with Boehm in however, the O-Line looked rusty to say the least.

Aside from redshirt sophomore Alec Ablen, this is an experienced group too. They had their issues early in 2014, but managed to gel as the season progressed. Perhaps the same will happen this season. The Tigers will need it.

The Missouri running game struggled as well. Between losing Hansbrough early to another right ankle sprain, and the offensive line doing the backups no favors, Missouri rushers struggled to make a name for themselves, averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.

This is a backfield that was pegged to be the offense’s backbone, providing breathing room for the baby-faced receivers. Instead, the passing game made up the bulk of the offense. The result was that during long stretches of the second and third quarters, the Tigers found themselves pinned back near their own end zone and punting after running plays failed to push them ahead.

The standard Week One caveat that the football gods require all writers to mention is this: We’re working with an incredibly small sample size. The other piece of early season cliché is that teams show tremendous improvement from the first to second week of play. Even still…what the heck, Tigers?

I expect to see Hansbrough back next week, but he’ll have a shaky ankle and it’s no guarantee that the offensive line will do him any favors. Even still, I’m hoping to see improvement in the ground game. If Boehm returns, the other linemen will move back to their natural positions and we may even see improvement with this group, but that’s relying on too many “if’s”.

Meanwhile, watchout for this Tiger defense. The secondary was as good as advertised and the linebackers led by Kentrell Brothers and his 16 tackles were dominant. If the D-LineZOU is back in top form, there are no holes in this squad. First-year defensive coordinator Barry Odom will have a lot of toys to play with, and that could be fun for all of us.

With all the Week One surprises, we got a little more fun than we expected from a very boring opponent (we haven’t even mentioned Golden Boy, Drew Lock’s scintillating debut). It’s also nice to get one more data point to tell us eight months of talking-head prognostication isn’t worth a hill of beans, not that any of us needed further evidence of this.

Now, the Tigers will head to Jonesboro, AR for their first road game, and the sample size will double. More questions will be answered. Damn, it’s good to have football back!

Main Photo: