Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Tigers defeat Toledo heading into bye week

Missouri’s 38-23 win over Toledo last Saturday began to provide more of a look at what kind of team the Tigers will be this year. More, anyway, than the easy win against Murray State to open the season.

Assuming one kept the sweat out of the eyes on another steamy gameday at Faurot, what did we see?

Missouri (2-0) struggled to run the ball for much of the game against a fairly middling Toledo defense, and the game remained in doubt until well into the fourth quarter. Russell Hansbrough had just 31 yards on 10 carries, and Henry Josey had just 26 yards on nine carries.

But the Tigers got quarterback James Franklin more involved in the ground game in the second half, often running the option, including on a key 4th-and-3 conversion in the fourth quarter to help put the game away.

Franklin also dished out a jarring hit to a Toledo defender near the sideline. It prompted cheers from the fans who stayed at Faurot Field through the heat, but the Missouri coaches would surely like to see fewer big collisions involving their quarterback.

Indeed, Franklin’s health is crucially important to the Tiger offense, and he provided the spark on Saturday. Missouri probably doesn’t want him to carry the ball 17 times every game, as he did against Toledo, but the situation called for it as the Rockets closed to within 24-23.

But to offset the ground game struggles, Missouri’s receivers made some big plays. It was the position group where the Tigers’ talent advantages were most obvious.

Toledo actually outgained Missouri, 387 yards to 384. But Missouri used three interceptions, one of which was returned 70 yards by Markus Golden for a touchdown, to keep Toledo at bay. Missouri may not have a rugged defense that churns out three-and-outs, but the Tigers might find success in making other teams take several plays to drive the field. More plays means more chances for offenses to derail themselves with a turnover or key penalty, and that happened plenty of times to Toledo.

In any event, it’s still mid-September and we’re just beginning to learn about this team. The Tigers have a bye this week before a road game at Indiana on Sept. 21. Indiana has been bad for a while, with one bowl appearance in the last 20 years, but some writers and analysts think the Hoosiers could be better this year.

Indiana scored 73 in a rout of Indiana State to open the season, but then lost 41-35 at home last Saturday. They host Bowling Green at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPNU if any fans want to get a look at the Hoosiers.

It will be nice to have the extra week to prepare for what will be a pivotal early-season game. With four manageable nonconference games before the SEC grind, the schedule is set up to generate some early momentum. But to do that the Tigers will have to get this first road win of the season.

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