There aren’t many programs in the history of college football that have had to deal with a tumultuous week like the one Missouri just experienced, which included a brief boycott of football activities and coach Gary Pinkel announcing he will resign after the season because of health issues. Despite the distractions, Mizzou put together its best performance of the season, knocking off BYU 20-16 in an emotional game at Arrowhead Stadium.
It’s hard to believe this is the same offense that went a month without scoring a touchdown. While 20 points is hardly an offensive explosion, the unit finally appears to have found an identity. It starts with senior running back Russell Hansbrough, who tallied season highs in yards (117) and carries (26). Drew Lock played extremely well at home, passing for a career-high 244 yards while completing 19 of his 28 attempts with a touchdown and interception. More importantly, the unit won the battle in three key stats, converting 13-of-20 third-down attempts, running a season-high 83 plays and converting 4-of-6 red-zone opportunities. The Tigers’ 434 yards of offense is a season-high against FBS competition. This was the most complete offensive performance of the season for the Tigers, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Mizzou’s defense continues to play at an insane level. BYU finished with just 290 yards of offense and was limited to 46 rushing yards on 15 carries. Only Michigan has held the Cougars to fewer points, and it was the seventh time the Tigers held an opponent to 20 points or fewer. The numbers of sacks (1) was underwhelming, but Mizzou did have nine quarterback hurries. Marcell Frazier’s sack/forced fumble resulted in Tyler Hunt’s touchdown run, which made it a two-possession game in the fourth quarter. Kentrell Brothers did Kentrell Brothers things, stacking up 11 tackles to add to his nation-leading total of 128. He also had a pass breakup and recovered a fumble. Most impressively, the secondary was able to piggyback off the pass rush and not allow any big plays to one of the nation’s top passing attacks. The one thing that will need to change as the Tigers close the season is turnovers. Mizzou must find more ways to get the ball back.
Special Teams: B
Freshman punter Corey Fatony is making a strong case for All-SEC honors. He totaled 129 yards on three punts, including a final punt that pinned BYU inside its own 15 as the Cougars tried to mount a game-winning drive. Andrew Baggett was a perfect 2-for-2 on field goals, connecting from 23 and 34 yards. The lone area of concern is the return game. Ian Simon couldn’t do much with his two punt returns, totaling 4 yards, though the kick-return game did receive somewhat of a boost on a 25-yard return by John Gibson.
The play calling was the best it’s been all season. Mizzou stayed committed to the run and it worked out in the end, but it also allowed Lock to stay ahead of the chains. The 83 plays was the most Lock has run all season, and the 39 minutes in time of possession is also a season high. It felt like the staff simplified the game and it made a world of difference. That the staff was able to implement a successful game plan in the wake of everything going on around campus is extremely impressive. Barry Odom should be a legitimate candidate to replace Pinkel based on the way his defense has played throughout the season.
The Tigers played well, not perfect, but the overall grade has to be an A. Mizzou turned an emotional week into a focused, emotional effort that resulted in a win that keeps the Tigers in bowl contention.
Mizzou’s performance is really a testament to Gary Pinkel and the type of players he is developing. That level of emotion should remain high when Pinkel coaches his final game at Faurot Field next Saturday against Tennessee and his final regular-season game on Black Friday against Arkansas. Saturday’s performance is a good sign for the Tigers moving forward.
Winning is nice, but it’s the way Mizzou won that is most telling. No one really played outside of themselves with a monster game, suggesting that Saturday is something that can be duplicated in the following weeks with the Tigers’ postseason fate on the line.