M..I..Z…EWW!!! That’s all I can say after watching this weekend’s game between the Missouri Tigers and Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. Between a team in the SEC and a team in (hold on while I look it up) Conference USA. Between a team that is the University for an entire state and a school that has to help point out where it is located in the state. A game that saw Middle Tennessee out score Mizzou and walk away with a 51-45 win at Mizzou’s homecoming.
We have seen Mizzou lose these types of games before, remember Troy back in 2004? Mizzou was ranked #19 and lost to Troy despite having a Heisman hopeful on the team in Brad Smith. But Saturday’s game was worse than the game against Troy because Troy pulled out all the stops in that game 12 years ago; using fake punts and wide receiver passes. This past Saturday’s game Mizzou was flat-out outplayed by Middle Tennessee. This was a game that Mizzou should never lose.
Sure Mizzou was coming off two pitiful performances (LSU and Florida) and the Blue Raiders showed they could put up points at times this season. But Middle Tennessee is still a team that lost to Vanderbilt, a team that Mizzou is expected to hang around with in the SEC, by 23 points. Mizzou is playing in arguably the toughest conference in college football while Middle Tennessee had just joined Conference USA in 2013 after spending the previous decade plus in the Sun Belt Conference.
The main reason for the Tigers’ loss on Saturday was once again the overwhelming story of the 2016 season, the faltering Tiger defense. The Tiger defense had ranked in the top 15 in the NCAA for several consecutive seasons, including last year. They even earned the moniker “D-Line University” for routinely sending defensive linemen to the NFL. And despite the loss of two defensive linemen this past offseason and the graduation of Kentrell Brothers, there was still plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball coming into this year. They have possibly their best defensive back in 20 years with Aarion Penton and the defensive line features two future NFL players in Charles Harris and Terry Beckner. So why the lack of success this year?
You need look no further than the coaching staff’s decision to change their defensive scheme; going from a pressure and attacking front to a gap control scheme. Rather than letting their most talented players (the defensive linemen) do what they do best, and control the point of attack; they have asked their players to maintain gap control. The reason is because they want to shut down their opponents running game in a running dominant conference. Seems like a good idea. However the Tigers are thinking too much in this scheme and that is showing in the game.
Sure there were games when the Tigers defense allowed big running games in the past (see the game against Auburn in the SEC Championship game). But the defensive change hasn’t made a difference at all this year with Middle Tennessee State running for 300 yards on Saturday. This was three weeks after seeing LSU have two running backs go for over 100 yards each against Mizzou.
I understand that they have a new coach and he used this same system in Memphis where it worked and helped make him a rising name in coaching circles. But why depart from a scheme that helped put your program on the map, attracting potential recruits, and then stick with a scheme that is clearly not working. Rather than players shooting into the bacfield and making plays they are now standing up at the snap of the ball and thinking about their assignments. Now not only are players not succeeding on the field, but they are not happy off the field. In all honesty these players (such as Harris and Beckner) have NFL asperations. And they aren’t putting up the statistics that will look good come draft time.
Yes winning changes things. If they were having success with this scheme then maybe players would be happier. But there have been rumblings that players do not like this scheme either. And we have all heard that coach speak about “buying in”. There were plenty of missed tackles on Saturday and players should never give up on a play. But the biggest reason for such a drastic change in results is the coaching scheme. This is on the coaches not the players.
While an attacking defensive front may get gouged with big runs on occasion it can also create big plays, even on non-passing plays. A defensive linemen in the backfield creates just as much havoc during a hand-off as when the quarterback is getting sacked. It is hard to change-up a scheme in mid-season but it’s not like the lack of defense wasn’t noticeable before this past week. The defense has looked porous all season long, outside of their expansion level opponent Delaware State. The coaches should have seen that changes needed to be made earlier.
So why not just tell the players to go all-out, think less and relying on instinct. You just might get the players more excited and start creating plays on the defensive side of the ball. Heck what’s the worst that can happen? You lose to Middle Tennessee State on homecoming? Oh wait, that already happened. Mizewwww.