Monday, September 10, 2007

Mizzou Sanity Roundtable, Week 2 (Part One)

1) What's wrong with the Mizzou defense? (Doug, feel free to answer in as sarcastic a way as possible)

2) What can be done about it? (Doug, feel free to answer in as sarcastic a way as possible)

3) What was the most pleasant surprise about your team's effort on Saturday?

4) Who's going to beat OU this year? And (if no one does), how earth-shaking is the outcry if OU, LSU, and USC all finish undefeated this season?

5) Predictions for your team’s game this week?


ZouDave: 1 - Why, nothing at all! The defense has only allowed 1 score in the 4th quarter of this year and it's forced 5 or 6 turnovers in 2 games, and of course it's part of a 2-0 team and may be the only defense that has beaten two teams from BCS conferences so far this season. How dare you even insinuate that something is wrong with the Mizzou defense with such a loaded question! There's insightful questions, sir, and then there are inciteful questions (yes, it's now a word, suck on it). Choke on your lies, The Boy! CHOKE ON YOUR LIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Ok, that was weird. The above is one of those "half-kidding" comments that has plenty of truth in it but can't really be anything other than sarcasm. There are statistics and points that would support the above, saying our defense is doing exactly what it should be doing so there's nothing to worry about. Obviously, that's not a healthy view. I also don't think a view saying that our defense is absolutely "broken" is a realistic view, because it is doing some things pretty well. Those things just happen to be in the 1st and 4th quarters. Meanwhile, the offense is playing lights out in the 2nd and 3rd quarter and apparently Gary Pinkel has figured out a way to only make his players play half of the game and still be winners. And there's my answer: what's wrong with Mizzou's defense is they're only playing half of the game. Do we have talented players on defense? Absolutely. Do we have experience on defense? Absolutely. Can they execute properly? Absolutely. We get stops and force turnovers and make big plays. But it seems to only happen when they feel like their back is actually against the wall. It's like they have bought into Chase Daniel and the offense too well. We were so concerned with the offense getting cocky because of pre-season press or so concerned that the press about the defense being horrible was correct that we never saw coming what actually happened: The defense read the offense's press clippings, sees us score 28 points in a single quarter and think "well, this one's over."

2 - So what can we do to fix it? Quite frankly the players need to be slapped in the face, be it figuratively or literally. I don't know if it's going to take Chase and the Captains holding a players-only meeting (I know Chase isn't a Captain, but we all know who the leader of the team is) and challenging the defensive players to step up and make plays no matter what the situation is, or if it's going to take Pinkel rolling the dice over these next two games and letting players like Gachkar, Lambert, Gettis, etc., take the playing time of upper classmen to send a wake-up call. I simply refuse to believe that what is wrong with our defense can't be fixed. If Ole Miss had scored one play sooner, we would still be pitching a shutout for 4th quarters this season. We've given up just 6 points in the 1st quarter of the season, and that was when the defense was on the sidelines watching a punt get blocked. So we've given up 12 points in those select 4 quarters so far this season...that right there tells me this defense can play better. But for crying out loud, do it the whole game! Nobody expects you to hold a team under 10, but hold them under 20 and we're in the Big XII Championship Game without breaking a sweat!

3 - I won't say it's a surprise, but it was pleasant to see (hear) Tony Temple get back to where we expect him to be. That's simply more like it. And since I haven't seen the game yet, I don't know if it's because he made plays or the line blocked better or both but whatever it was, keep doing it.

4 - Since I picked OU to go 12-0 and then defeat Missouri in the Big XII Championship game, I'll go ahead and reiterate: nobody. Nobody is going to beat OU this year. But I do know that if on that first Saturday in December you have an undefeated USC and LSU out there, the entire BCS brain trust is going to be on their knees praying Missouri pulls the upset or else they're going to have another giant black eye and the scream for a playoffs system will become exponentially more deafening.

Doug: 1) You have a guy named "Pig" as your star player. Seriously, just from what I've seen watching the box scores, it seems like the defense just stops playing as hard as they see the score being put out of reach. And, once the scores got closer again, especially against Illinois, the defense managed to buckle down and get a couple of stops when needed. Now, Illinois and Ole Miss are decidely different teams than Oklahoma and when playing the Sooners, it will require every minute of game time to keep the Sooners close, let alone have a chance to win.

2) What can be done? I dunno. Does Gary Pinkel have a defense chart next to that two-point conversion chart? If yes, then he should probably burn both. There won't be a wake-up call coming in the next two weeks against Western Michigan and Illinois State, where Missouri should roll easily, but if both teams make a handful of late scores, then I would be really concerned going into Nebraska and Oklahoma. But, then, you already knew that.

3) I take no pleasure in the beat-down KU distrbutied on Saturday, so I'll just go ahead and say, they took care of expectations, and hell, exceeded my prediction. This was not the time for a letdown, and thankfully, KU kept focus on the current game. As a sidebar, I know that many fans of other schools have panned Kansas for playing SE Louisiana, however, Western Kentucky, which just moved from DI-AA to DI-A this season, and kept their home debut scheduled with West Virginia Tech, from the Mid-South Conference... of the NAIA, to the tune of an 87 to 0 victory.

4) I don't think anyone beats OU this year in the regular season. If the Sooners face the Huskers in the Big 12 Championship, that would be the best chance for a stumble. Same goes for LSU, if they face a regular season foe in the SEC Championship game, the chance for a loss is there. However, I don't think USC makes it undefeated. I believe there are a couple of likely upset candidates: Cal, high-powered offense no defense, but it's in Berkley, and UCLA always gives the Trojans a game, I think those are the two games where USC could slip-up.

5) KU 35 Toledo 14
The Beef: 1. My belief right now having watched both of the games is that we are very plain and vanilla on defense. Whether that is by design or not may be the bigger question. I cannot remember us blitzing at all in these two games. We seem to simply be lining up 4-3-3 or 4-2-5 (of which we have played a decent amount) and just going from there. Now, you would expect your front 4 to generate more pressure than they have regardless of rush schemes, but I am hoping at this point we simply have held back some defensive wrinkles. But to piggy back off of Dave (quite the mountain to climb J) a slap in the face and a questioning of their pride and manhood could work. We have proven we have been able to game plan before (games vs. TTech with the “SWITCH!!” defense and other games), but we just need to do it consistently.

2. I think this game coming up against W. Michigan will be a nice way to start fixing the problem. They will certainly run some interesting schemes and looks that we will need to game plan for and adjust to as the game goes on. The other thing that I think will help us is time. Let’s be honest, we still have 3 more weeks before we really need anything from our defense. Time and not having the expectation we will fix it overnight will help. But at the same time, we need progress this week. As I mentioned in my musings, we took the step we needed to on the o-line this past week, we need to do same now on defense while continuing to move forward on offense. But I also believe we have not seen everything from the group.

3. Our fans showing up was the most pleasant surprise of mine, though I still laugh at how many fans of road games (some of your more diehard by definition) absolutely hate and have no trust in our head coach. Makes me cringe, laugh and cry at the same time. But back to my point, Mizzou had a tremendous showing in The Grove I felt, and while this is certainly a destination type of game for our fan base, I was still pleased to see the turnout where it was.

4. Not only will those 3 teams finish undefeated, but I like Penn State to throw a 4th in there and officially gum up the works, while presenting the perfect 4 team playoff possibility. But you guys know me, the BCS-anarchist…the louder the outcry the better.

5. I take Mizzou 52-20 this weekend
Michael Atchison: 1) I’m not sure I can really give a fair answer to this because I didn’t see the Ole Miss game, but I suspect that it’s a two-pronged problem up front. First, there’s just not much pass rush. It’s a lot easier for the back seven to play pass defense when Brian Smith and Xzavie Jackson are crashing in from the edges, or when Attiyah Ellison is detonating the pocket. I also think there’s an issue with defensive line depth. The starting four guys are serviceable, but not great, and it seems to me that there’s a pretty significant drop from first team to second team. When the first four guys start to wear down, or when the second four guys have to pick up the slack, I think we start to cede the line of scrimmage to our opponents. And if you don’t control the line, you don’t control much.

2) If you’re asking for genuinely sophisticated analysis – and I sense that you are – you gotta give me some time (a high five to whoever gets that reference). But off the cuff all that occurs to me is to come up with some creative ways to put pressure on the quarterback. Bring a linebacker. Bring a safety. Bring a corner. Do it often and from many different angles. Sure, that might leave the defense exposed if the offense picks up the blitz, but that back seven is pretty exposed as it is when the front four gives the quarterback time to do his taxes in the pocket.

3) This team is living Groundhog Day, which leaves little room for surprise. The last three games (including the Sun Bowl) have been pretty similar. The offense goes from ruthlessly efficient early to strangely stagnant late, and the defense holds on for dear life. If there was one particularly pleasant surprise, though, it came when I checked the box score. Ole Miss: 38 rushes for 229 yards. Mizzou: 37 rushes for 218 yards. With the way GreenJarvus Ben-Ellington gashed our defense, I was pleased (and a bit stunned) to see the rushing stats come out a wash. If we can be even running the ball against opponents all year long, I like our chances.

4) When we did the roundtable picks, I had OU going through the regular season unblemished, and I see no reason to change. And if those three go undefeated, the outcry will be large, but it won’t matter. As long as fans support the game the way they do, it makes little difference that they get all exercised for a few weeks in December or January. It doesn’t eliminate the hurdles that have to be cleared before we get a playoff.

5) I think the offense does its Harlem Globetrotters routine this week. Mizzou wins 55 -13. Chase Patton plays the entire fourth quarter.
ZouDave: Beef, you genius! You found our problem! If we are using a 4-3-3 then we are just showing off at this point. Eleven men? BAH!

Yeah, yeah. I'm a smartass. Sue me.

45-10 with chase patton playing significant minutes in the 4th is my prediction.
The Beef: Damn...I knew I would stumble on to the problem.

To further the point though, and like Atch said, we need to come from different angles. I spent a considerable amount of time watching our D-line this weekend and do don't much that is out of the ordinary. I can only remember one point when a safety came in for a blitz, and I do not recall seeing an LB getting in there, not even on a run blitz. Again, I am "hopeful" this is at least a little strategic in the grand scheme of things, though if it is entirely strategic is was very close to a misjudgment of pretty considerable size by the coaching staff to think we could go vanilla and win those first two games easily.
The Boy: Sweet jesus, do we crank through these Roundtables quickly...

Oh, and I wasn't able to ascertain Atchison's reference above, but Google came through for me. Great show. Anyway...

1) I really hope it's as simple as "they take their foot off the gas pedal" or "their schemes have been intentionally vanilla so far" and not "teams figure them out and pound them in the 2nd and 3rd quarters. We'll find out soon enough. There's no doubt the D has stiffened back up when it counts, though, so that lends credence to the "gas pedal" theory. And as I mentioned before, I guess that's a better problem to have than "the defense just sucks" or something.

There's also something to the fact that we have two starters (Ziggy and Pig) whose names combine to form Napoleon's favorite ice cream dish . (And by the way...I found this when I was searching for that pic. Excellent.)

2) Personally, I don't see a problem with inserting the 2nd string as soon as we get a 17- or 21-point lead. They might give up points too (they'd probably give up points...who's even on our 2nd string??), but there wouldn't be a problem with enthusiasm, and it might give the 1st string a chance to refocus a bit.

I highly doubt Pinkel will do that, however. His style suggests that he'll just keep demanding better results from the same personnel. And that's not necessarily a bad thing...if we're going to win big this year, it's going to be with Lorenzo Williams, Ziggy Hood, Tommy Chavis, Stryker Sulak, Brock Christopher, Van Alexander, Sean Weatherspoon, Darnell Terrell, Hardy Ricks, William Moore, and Pig Brown.

In the end, though, I guess the best scenario is what Beefy was suggesting above...that the defense was intentionally bland to this point, and that they will spice things up when things matter...i.e. October 6 and beyond.

3) Honestly, the most pleasant aspect for me was our 3rd down conversion rate...passing the ball, at least. After stalling on 3rd down the first two drives, the offense started putting the pieces together. Six-yard pass to Rucker on 3rd-and-5...TD pass to Franklin on 3rd-and-goal from the 10...14 yards to Coffman on 3rd-and-7...11 yards to Rucker on 3rd-and-5...40 yards to Rucker on 3rd-and-7...TD pass to Coffman on 3rd-and-4 with 0:09 left in the first half...that string of consecutive 3rd down conversions was the ballgame, and as I said before, it's great to have all the weapons that Chase has, but converting all those third downs is still damn impressive. Now we just need to improve on 3rd-and-1 and 3rd-and-2 as well...though I think I just made a case for our throwing on those downs as well!

4) If anybody's going to do it, I'd pick one of their two main rivalries: Texas or Oklahoma State. So far they've been infinitely superior to all other Big 12 teams in regard to speed, athleticism, and taking care of business, but things do change throughout the course of the season. Injuries or a major blow to the confidence of Sam Bradford could hurt the Sooners. That said, the odds are pretty good that they'll roll through undefeated.

As for the outcry...I've been calling for an 'And One' championship game for a while. I love that every game matters in college football--if you lose one, you're at the mercy of the undefeated teams ahead of you, if you lose two, you're done--and if you get more than 4 teams involved, then a 2-loss team would have a chance. I don't like that. People calling for an 8- or 16-team (or more) tournament always reference the excitement of March Madness. Well...March Madness is great, but it's March Madness. College Football is College Football. They offer different kinds of excitement, and I'd prefer to keep it that way.

Anyway, the perfect scenario for an And One outcry would be four undefeated major conference teams (and a bunch of 2-loss teams, for that matter). I, too, doubt USC will pull off the trick this year with their schedule, but my best case scenario would be for USC, LSU, OU, and a fourth team (gee, what a surprise that The Beef would pick Penn State...) to all go 12-0 or 13-0. Cross your fingers.

5) Pinkel usually calls off the dogs pretty quick. I say we start slow offensively (as we have both games so far), pick up steam in the 2nd and 3rd quarters (as we have both games so far), and...yeah, Chase Patton plays the last 7-10 minutes. MU wins 44-14.

Should we keep this going (since it's only Monday and all)? Anybody else have any questions to throw out there?

(Part Two, in which Atchison and BEEF start sniping at each other like frat brothers at a Bowling Green game, tomorrow.)