08 November 2011
With many in Columbia buzzing with excitement about Mizzou’s move to the Southeastern Conference (Which was made official Sunday), others continued to voice their concerns about how competitive the Tigers will be in their new conference, where perennial powerhouses Alabama, LSU, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina reside. But coming off of what could possibly have been a season-changing win at Texas A&M, a future SEC opponent of the Tigers, the team had finally silenced some of their critics. Quarterback James Franklin proved that he could step up and make big plays when it mattered, and FX Analyst Charles Davis went so far as to say that the defensive performance in the second half from the Tigers was the best he had seen all year in the Big 12. For those who wondered if Mizzou was even going to make a bowl game, it seemed certain that this new surge of confidence would propel the Tigers forward to a strong second half of the season.
But in college football, consistency is the name of the game, and is something that even the elite teams struggle with. Despite facing a struggling Baylor team that had cooled off considerably since opening the season with a shocking 50-48 win over TCU, the Tigers were not able to carry their momentum to victory over the Bears. Of course, no road win in the Big 12 comes easily, and with it being homecoming weekend at Baylor, the fans in Waco were certainly pumped up to welcome the Tigers into Floyd Casey Stadium.
Coming into the game, the biggest weapon the Tigers would have to tame was star quarterback Robert Griffin III. Simply known as RGIII, he quickly became the talk of college football nation, and many called the Baylor offense a one man show as a result of his big arm and fast legs. Early on though, Dave Steckel’s defense took the big play away from the Bear’s potent offense. And by employing a quarterback spy, RGIII didn’t have much room to run and was forced to check the ball off short. But as any good offense knows, making adjustments over the course of a 60 minute game is imperative for success, and that’s exactly what Baylor did. The Bears decided to spread the field on offense with numerous four and five receiver sets, which resulted in lots of confusion for a young, inexperienced secondary. When all was said and done, RGIII ended up with 406 passing yards, and the Baylor offense as a whole lit up the Tigers defense for an astounding 697 yards.
When looking at the stat sheet, it appeared as though Mizzou’s offense played a great game, but just came up on the short side of a 42-39 shootout. However, Franklin and the offensive unit were out of sync much of the night, and all three touchdowns that were scored in the final quarter came with the Tigers down at least 17, when the Bears had gone into their prevent defense. Throughout the game, the Tigers struggled in many of the same ways that they have all season long. Running back Henry Josey only touched the ball five times in the second half, and while Mizzou was playing catchup nearly the entire fourth quarter and in their hurry-up offense, his presence seemed to be completely forgotten coming out of halftime.
And just like their three previous road losses, the Tigers were unable to produce efficient, touchdown scoring drives until the fourth quarter, when they were down big. On the season, Mizzou has now scored 119 fourth quarter points, an average of 13.2 points per game, or nearly two touchdowns. In addition, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by a combined 67 points in the final quarter, but have been outscored by 32 in the second and third quarters. This strong statistical evidence shows that many of the Tigers’ opponents have made adjustments on both sides of the ball after the first couple drives of the game, and have taken advantage. For the Tigers, they haven’t been able to make substantial adjustments of their own until the fourth quarter, when many of their losses have been close to out of hand.
For fans who are now wondering what’s next for this football team that has been so maddeningly inconsistent, it is time to recenter the expectations for the Tigers. If they can win two of their final three games, they will become bowl eligible and have a chance to salvage a respectable final season as a member of the Big 12. While playing in a game like the Pinstripe Bowl might not be of much consolation, the additional snaps can only help Franklin as he and the rest of the team prepare to adjust to life in the SEC. But for the fans who are ready to focus on basketball and forget about the football squad, it is certain that Gary Pinkel will motivate his troops to finish the home stretch on a high note, and will be looking for the upset bid this weekend over Texas at home. Whether or not the Tigers can execute for 60 minutes against a solid Longhorns squad remains to be seen, but expect a passionate performance, especially from the seniors, as they begin to close out the final chapter of their careers.
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