Yes, Mizzou played a blood donor…Tennessee-Martin of the Ohio Valley Conference…in their opener. But they won big, and did some good things in a 51-14 rout of the Skyhawks on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. As opposed to last year’s disappointing lid lifter against Missouri State, a 72-43 win that included horrific defense (492 yards allowed, nearly 300 in the first half), all of Barry Odom’s phases came to play on Saturday, and that bodes well for a team that is actually getting higher praise outside of Missouri than in the state.
With that, six observations from Saturday’s win…
1) The Tigers are still pretty high tempo under Derek Dooley: They ran 78 plays, as opposed to their desire to run 100 under Josh Heupel. But they still keep opponents on their heels, with the added benefit of giving their defense some rest. Mizzou’s longest touchdown drive was a 13 play, 55 yarder that lasted 4:33. They had four touchdown drives that lasted less than three minutes. Yet they kept the ball for 33:17. That’s more SEC like for the offense.
2) Drew Lock is the real thing: We said it last year, and regardless of the competition, the 6-4, 225-pound gunslinger was 19-25 for 289 yards and four touchdowns. Lock has a bigtime, NFL caliber arm, and puts the ball in places where only his receivers can make the play. He’s patient, nimble, and can run a little too, as evidenced by his ability to slide out of the pocket and still make perfect throws.
3) The offensive line looks as good as ever: With the loss of line coach Glen Ellarbee, who left with Heupel for Central Florida, there was a concern that the O-line would suffer a dropoff. Again, the competition doesn’t give us a crystal clear picture, but the group didn’t suffer any breakdowns. Lock wasn’t sacked, and the team ran for 159 yards on 46 carries. Their yards per carry is going to have to improve, but they appeared to block well in the opener.
4) The defense got off to a great start: That was one of the big problems early last season. In the opener this year, Mizzou forced three punts and a fumble, and after four series had a 28-0 lead, while UT-Martin had 37 yards. As the Tigers started to filter in second and third teamers, the defense softened a bit. But in the first half, the Skyhawks had seven points and 125 yards. They finished with 277 yards and punted ten times. Mizzou’s opponents did have two separate 75-yard drives, but overall Odom must be happy with the defense.
5) Emanuel Hall may be an NFL receiver: Last year, J’Mon Moore had a strong season and became a fourth-round pick of the Packers. Moore averaged 16.6 yards per reception and scored ten touchdowns. The 6-3, 195-pound Hall averaged 24.8 yards per catch and scored eight TD’s last year, and now he ascends into the top receiver role. On Saturday, Hall caught four for 171 yards and a pair of long touchdowns. He and Lock appear to have a special connection. It wouldn’t surprise me if Hall has a great year and winds up being taken higher in the draft than Moore was.
6) The kicking teams are in great hands. At one point, whenever Tucker McCann stepped on the field it was an adventure. He’s solid as a rock now, hitting six of six extra points and two of two field goals. He did that on Saturday after hitting 15-of-17 field goals and 51-of-53 extra points a year ago. Punter Cory Fatony averaged 41 yards on three punts and placed two inside the 20-yard line. If Mizzou is involved in close conference games this season, their kicking game should provide them a huge advantage over most opponents in the SEC.
The other things coaches love were solid. 8-15 on third down. No turnovers. Only four penalties.
Yes, the opponent was substandard, and the competition will go up a rung when the Tigers host Wyoming on Saturday night. But…especially after last year’s opener…the start of the 2018 season was very encouraging for Mizzou’s football program.