26 September 2011
Facing a hot Oklahoma team that was fresh off a victory over then-5th ranked Florida State last Saturday, not many expected Missouri to have much of a chance against the Sooners, who had won 37 straight home games. However, Tiger fans were looking forward to seeing how their team would stack up against one of the best teams in the nation. After two home victories over weak opponents Miami (Ohio) and Western Illinois and a tough overtime road loss against a solid Arizona State team in-between, the Tigers' trip to Norman would be their biggest measuring stick of the young season.
But unlike the game against Arizona State, in which Mizzou struggled to handle the raucous atmosphere of Sun Devil Stadium in the opening minutes, the Tigers came out aggressive on both sides of the ball. Quarterback James Franklin started his day sharp, completing his first five passes for 124 yards, highlighted by a 45 yard strike to L'Damian Washington and a one yard rushing score.
In leading the Tigers to an early 14-3 lead, Franklin's play mirrored that of the fourth quarter comeback he orchestrated against Arizona State. Instead of impatiently scrambling out of the pocket every time his first read was covered, he maintained presence within it, allowing quick receivers like T.J. Moe, Jerrell Jackson and Washington to exploit single coverage from the Oklahoma secondary. His ability to tuck the ball and run kept the Sooners' defense off balance, which in turn created big holes for Henry Josey, who rushed six times for 66 yards in the first quarter. Much of the Tigers' success in the opening frame on offense can be attributed to the offensive line, who stymied the Oklahoma pass rush, and gave Franklin ample time to scan the field.
On the defensive side, the Tigers began the game by applying pressure on Landry Jones and the Sooner offense. They plugged the middle of the line, and held starting running back Brennan Clay to just 15 yards on five carries in the first quarter. In addition, the much maligned secondary showed different looks, and eventually baited Jones to make an ill-advised throw into double coverage, which was intercepted by Kenji Jackson.
As the game progressed, however, both offensive and defensive units lost the aggression they employed so well in the early going, which resulted with Oklahoma running off 28 unanswered points to put the game away midway through the third quarter.
In the second quarter, the Tigers' offense looked as though they felt content to sit on their early lead. Franklin completed just one of six passes during this stretch, and looked to run whenever he felt he had no safe options open. Adjustments by the Oklahoma defense compounded the problem. They began stacking the right side of the field, giving Franklin nothing to work with to his strong side. Although there was constantly room to run on the left side, Franklin has yet to become comfortable with scrambling in that direction, and ran himself into a wall on many passing plays. As a result, he was forced to either settle for small gains on the ground or to throw the ball away. In addition, the Mizzou offense stopped giving Josey the ball, which allowed the Sooners to load up on Franklin. Josey carried the ball just eight times over the last three quarters after six in the first several minutes of the first quarter.
Once the Sooners had stormed back to take the lead in the second half, the Tigers had lost all of the offensive flow they had built early on, and never really established a rhythm in the second half, except for late in the fourth quarter once the outcome of the game had been decided. Franklin ended up completing less than 50 percent of his passes and was constantly under pressure, as the offensive line wore down.
Looking ahead, the Tigers must shore up some problems in order to be a force in the Big-12. The issues with Franklin and some of his growing pains have been addressed, but a much more alarming issue lies in the low production to this point from receivers Michael Egnew and Wes Kemp. In this game, the two combined for just five catches, and Franklin has not looked their way enough this year. Those two are the largest, most physical weapons in the passing game. Despite consistent numbers from Moe (Seven catches for 119 yards against the Sooners), Franklin frequently gets in trouble by often focusing solely on Moe, and does not see other open receivers.
Despite the loss, the Tigers continue to improve week in and week out. A 10 point loss at the hands of one of the best teams in college football on the road is not shameful. In addition, Franklin is maturing with each snap, and it is obvious that he is going through his progressions much quicker than at the start of the season. If the Tigers can keep a balanced offensive attack and improve their secondary play, they have what it takes to make some noise in the conference.