Most of the time, I can’t stand reading sports columnists’ day-after column. They almost always oversimplify it, save WallJ. They say, oh, Coach Smith should have done this, it was so obvious, if only Coach Smith weren’t so dumb team x would have won the game. Well, Mr. Columnist, it’s always more obvious a few hours after the game. And, if it’s so easy to be a head coach, perhaps you should try it. You’d certainly get a raise out of the deal.
Most of the time, I just shake my head at the second-guessing. But the recent play-calling of Missouri offensive coordinator David Yost has even this loyal fan wondering, what the heck he is thinking?
As you know, Missouri lost to Texas Tech last weekend. As you know, Missouri was ranked No. 7 a couple of weeks ago after its epic win over Oklahoma, which doesn’t seem so epic after Texas A&M walloped the Sooners as well. As you know, Missouri was on its way to one of the best years in school history. And, as you shouldn’t know, this year looks to be just like a regular year, just when so many of Mizzou fans had let our minds wander to something different, to a New Year’s Day game or even to a BCS bowl.
Oh, well. Missouri is still fun to watch. Games are still enjoyable. We all still love Mizzou. Life goes on. I’m not distraught over Mizzou not having a chance to win the Big 12. There will more games played this year and next year. I’m just trying to understand how the hell it happened, how a team that looked like it was going to obliterate its opponent ends up losing to a team that had lost four straight and didn’t play all that well.
Let’s recall the first quarter: the Tigers pulled a Cornhusker on the Red Raiders, going almost untouched on runs of 71 and 69 yards. This was going to be a route. Missouri was going to cement itself a place among the top 10 best teams in college football. That’s how it seemed.
After Nebraska dashed untouched, the Cornhuskers did it again, and then continued to pound the ball, eventually running 47 times for 364 yards. It was a smart strategy; why change what’s working? And Nebraska won, 31 to 17 in a game that was never all that close. The win showed Nebraska played better that day and showed they belong to among the best in the Big 12. Good on them.
But, unlike Nebraska, Missouri decided to mix up its play-calling even though the Tigers showed a superior advantage in running the football. After the two long runs, offensive coordinator Yost showed a propensity to throw the ball deep, as if he were going for the kill, trying to put the nail in the coffin, as people like to say. And, hey, if it works, fantastic, 21-0. Mizzou is rolling with the run and the pass.
But it didn’t.
On at least a couple of those deep balls, Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert overthrew his receiver, foreshadowing what we would eventually learn: Gabbert wasn’t having his best night of tossing a ball on green grass. (Unfortunately, he finished an embarrassing 12-30 for 95 yards against the 119th-ranked pass defense. We’ll get to the unfortunately part later.)
This is the same type of play-calling we saw against San Diego State, a game Missouri would have lost if not for a missed clipping call on a 68-yard touchdown pass with under a minute remaining. Consider this from a Sept. 25 story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch,
Against San Diego State, MU was running with ease in the first half but was off-kilter in the passing game.
Certainly, MU could have run more, but Yost and Pinkel both noted the Tigers were a whisker away from numerous 30-yard plus gains in passing. Had a handful of drops, a few tough catches or a couple errant throws clicked instead, Yost said, MU would have had 24 or 31 points at halftime and changed the complexion of the game.
Again, they didn’t complete the throws, and choosing to pass instead of sticking with the run certainly changed the game, making it far more closer than it should have been against the Aztecs.
Against Texas Tech on Saturday, there was no Moe Miracle, no last-second jubilation, no victory. Missouri had lost to the worst team in the Big 12 South at a not-packed stadium against a less-talented team.
Depressing. Frustrating. Insane. Beyond belief. Defies logic. Throw them all out.
Since Saturday’s downer, one loss has darted in my mind: Navy of 2009.
Now, no offense to the Midshipmen, but Missouri was more talented than Navy last year, and should have won the game. Yet, even if the Tigers didn’t win, it shouldn’t have been a 35-13 shellacking. (Thanks, Barack.)
Navy defended Missouri with a three-man front, dropping eight to defend the lofty throwing game, keying on Danario Alexander. But Missouri scored less than 30 seconds into the game when Alexander dashed 58 yards to the end zone.
The route is on, right?
Whoops. Navy stuck with the three-man front, Missouri stuck with the pass for some reason, and Navy thumped the Tigers.
Here’s Dave Matter of the Columbia Daily Tribune:
But the running game soon faded. After piling up a season-high 243 yards on 22 carries in the first half, the Tigers ran the ball just nine times for 17 yards in the second half.
“We just came out with a different game plan in the second half and try open up some other things,” Lawrence said.
So, maybe Missouri should have ran the ball more. But in looking back at the past two years, this lack of running doesn’t seem to be a yearly trend but more of a game-by-game trend. The data show in Missouri’s seven wins this year, the Tigers ran 44.3 percent of the time. On Saturday, they ran the ball on 50.8 percent of their plays.
|Game||Run %||Pass %|
|San Diego St||34.6%||65.4%|
|at Tx A&M||34.7%||65.3%|
|at Tx Tech||50.8%||49.2%
Missouri, however, is running the ball less of a percentage during victories than it did last year in Yost’s first year as OC. Missouri averaged running 52.4 percent of the time during wins in 2009, about eight percent higher than in 2010.
So, how do you fix it, how do you avoid these awful losses? The easy answer is stick with what’s working. Of course. Maybe run more against three-man fronts, maybe not pass the ball when your All-American QB is having an off night, but that’d be me being like a Monday Morning Quarterback columnist, so I’m not sure how to fix it.
Let’s be clear: Mizzou coach Gary Pinkel has done an outstanding job. He’s brought top-level talent to Columbia, Mo., just look at Jeremy Maclin, Ziggy Hood, second-rounder William Moore and that’s not including undrafted Heisman finalist Chase Daniel and the undrafted Alexander.
But, for whatever reason, Missouri continues to not play up to its potential in the strangest of games and the play-calling is a logical place to examine.
Call it pathetic, call it Mizzou’s luck, but it’s the coaches’ fault, no matter what you call it. That’s why they get paid a lot of cash, and that’s why we can dissect their decisions and try to understand them, no matter how baffling.