Wednesday, August 31, 2011
Sunday, August 28, 2011
On Saturday, the Missouri Tigers kick off the 2011 season, their 86th at Faurot Field, with a home game against Miami University of Ohio (11 a.m. on Fox Sports Network).
The game serves as a tune-up; one of two games on Missouri’s schedule against teams not from one of the major six conferences. But even with Missouri as a heavy favorite, Miami at least provides legitimate competition.
Miami, located in Oxford, Ohio, won the Mid-American Conference last year, capping a dramatic turnaround from a 1-11 mark in 2009 to 10-4 last year. It was the first time in NCAA history a team has gone from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in the following season.
Miami also features a talented, experienced quarterback in junior Zac Dysert as well as a solid group of receivers. The Redhawks also have arguably the best defense in the MAC.
Of course, the level of play in Mizzou’s Big 12 Conference is significantly higher than the MAC. Miami has a team that has a chance to defend its MAC crown, but Missouri probably isn’t ripe for an upset or anything like that. Last year, the Tigers defeated Miami 51-13 last year in Columbia. Missouri took all of eight seconds to score its first touchdown. That’s a long time if you’re riding a bull; not so much in a football game.
Even more, Missouri has won seven straight home games and 21 straight nonconference games.
Still, Miami provides enough of a test for Tiger fans to get some very early returns on the key questions facing the team. Here are a few key things to watch as the Tigers get their 2011 season started:
James Franklin’s accuracy Franklin takes over as Missouri’s new starting quarterback, and he’ll need to take to the position quickly as the Tigers’ second game is at Arizona State, who could be ranked in the top 25 for that game. Missouri’s system and its talent advantages against Miami should make for some very open receivers, but look to see if Franklin hits his receivers in stride and still puts his throws on the money. Times will come in future games when he’ll need to thread the needle. Of course, if Franklin makes mistakes against Miami, Redhawk cornerbacks Dayonne Nunley and D.J. Brown could make him pay.
Missouri’s secondary Missouri has relatively young players at cornerback and free safety. That Miami quarterback, Dysert, and his backup, Austin Boucher, can both be dangerous passers, so the secondary’s youth will have an early test to prepare them for that Sept. 24 date with Oklahoma and the prolific Landry Jones.
The first quarter Last year Missouri jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead against Miami en route to a big win. But the week before that, Missouri let San Diego State hang around and nearly lost. All the hours of preparation have finally gave way to real games, so it would be encouraging to see Missouri rise to the occasion and look good in their tune-up before the schedule gets more difficult.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Monday, August 22, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Brad Smith, Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabbert have held the quarterback position honorably over the past nine seasons. Now it’s James Franklin’s turn, and how he performs at quarterback, especially early, is the biggest question about the 2011 Missouri Tigers.
Fortunately, Franklin steps into a good situation. Four of the five starting offensive linemen are seniors, so he should have good protection. Franklin throws to a deep receiving corps led by T.J. Moe and Michael Egnew, who each caught at least 90 passes last year. Three running backs return who averaged over 5 yards per carry and ran for at least 400 yards.
Expect Missouri to run more as Franklin develops, even putting the linemen in three-point stances at times to help the ground game. Also, Gabbert’s stats from last year are actually fairly replaceable (9th in Big 12 in quarterback efficiency rating). Franklin will likely have some growing pains, but he won the starting job for a reason.
Last year was maybe the Tigers’ best defense in coach Gary Pinkel’s 10 years in Columbia. Missouri led the Big 12 in points allowed (15.8 per game) in conference play.
One area of concern is that the Tigers led the nation last year in yards allowed per point, meaning they gave up a lot of ground, but were able to dig in or get a turnover to prevent scoring. The numbers show that usually teams can only play “bend but don’t break” defense so long before the points allowed begins to catch up to yards allowed.
Fortunately, Missouri has a stout defensive line and could allow fewer yards. Brad Madison (7.5 sacks last year) and Jacquies Smith (5.5) bring a ferocious pass rush, and junior college transfer Sheldon Richardson should strengthen the Tigers’ run defense.
The defense’s big question could be how well the secondary’s new starters can curtail opponents’ passing games. Senior safety Kenji Jackson will need to anchor this young unit if it’s to stand up to the Big 12’s outstanding receivers. Missouri’s strong pass rush might make the defensive backs look a lot better.
The big question: How many do they win? Missouri will now play nine conference games (instead of eight), plus a tough early test at Arizona State (Sept. 9). The schedule is especially tough early, with the first two conference games on the road. I see several swing games (at Arizona State, at Kansas State, home vs. Oklahoma State and Texas, to name some), which should make for a thrilling season. I’ll predict an 8-4 record, although if Franklin comes out of the box fully assembled, the ceiling is high for this team. A finish in the top four in the conference is a reasonable goal.