Sunday, October 9, 2011

Tigers need a Homecoming turnaround

After No. 20 Kansas State’s meticulous 24-17 win over Missouri (2-3, 0-2 in Big 12 games) last Saturday, the Tigers’ bowl eligibility chase is on, and it might be an uphill climb.

As thrilled as Kansas State fans must be over their win, which was yet another coaching clinic by the venerable Bill Snyder, Missouri fans are probably equally frustrated. Despite coming off a bye week, Missouri had the same problems: crippling penalties, an inability to stop the other team’s offense when most critical and struggles converting third downs.

Missouri had penalties in the worst situations, such as a crushing and obvious roughing the kicker penalty in the third quarter. Kansas State built a touchdown drive off that miscue.

Snyder put his run-first quarterback, Collin Klein, in positions where he could succeed, with option runs and high-percentage passes that kept Kansas State drives going. Missouri’s best offensive threat so far, running back Henry Josey, didn’t touch the ball in the first quarter (Missouri called for passes on six of its seven first-quarter plays) and finished with 12 carries for 55 yards. Josey had some big runs early, but half of his runs, including his last four, were for two yards or less.

As for Missouri’s season-long third-down issues, it appears to also be a first and second down problem. Missouri struggles on third down when a lack of success on the first and second down puts the Tigers in third-and-long situations. Missouri needed an average of 8.9 yards on third downs to get a first down and keep its drives going. Kansas State, in contrast, faced a more manageable average of 6.1 yards to go.

Now 2-3, Missouri must get to 6-6 to be bowl eligible. The Tigers will likely be underdogs in four straight games beginning Oct. 22 against Oklahoma State, so an upset is likely needed to make a bowl, which is a fairly minimal standard given that 70 teams play in a bowl game.

Fortunately, Missouri first has its Homecoming game with Iowa State Saturday (1 p.m., no TV), which may be just what the Tigers need to get back on track. It’s the 100th anniversary of Homecoming at Mizzou.

Iowa State (3-2, 0-2 Big 12) started the season with three straight wins, including an upset of rival Iowa, but was soundly defeated in its first two conference games by Texas and Baylor. Coach Paul Rhoads said this would be “a very pivotal week” for his team.

Iowa State tackle Kelechi Osemele may be a first-round pick in the next NFL draft, but he has been battling an ankle injury. Primary running back Shontrelle Johnson has also had injury issues, and quarterback Steele Jantz has been inconsistent.

On defense, the Cyclones have two linebackers, Jake Knott and A.J Klein, who are very sound tacklers.

I think this is a game for Missouri to get back on track. The Tigers are heavy favorites and, barring outrageous turnovers and penalties, they should send the Homecoming crowd home happy.

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