Historians both professional and amateur are atwitter trying to figure out where Missouri's 36-27 win against the Oklahoma Sooners ranks in the team's admittedly concise list of all-time greatest wins. Below, Ross Taylor of Rock M Nation avoids the argument altogether by instead presenting a series of observations from the unusually-crowded Faurot Field sidelines.
The Note In Which A Back Features One Less Monkey
Leading into the weekend, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit told everyone who would listen both on-camera and off-camera that Gary Pinkel really needed a win against Oklahoma to validate his program. The 2007 Armageddon at Arrowhead game against Kansas was easily the biggest win in school history since at least the 1960s, but Missouri fans always faced an interesting contradiction with that win: It was a huge win for Missouri, but most fans have always been quick to call out the 2007 Jayhawks for being a "fraud" and/or a product of their schedule. Missouri's win on Saturday night faces no such stigma.
Despite all of his recent success, Pinkel had never been able to shake a 2,000-pound, half-burnt-orange, half-crimson gorilla off of his back. Before Saturday, The Visored One was a combined 0-12 against the Sooners and Longhorns, and though the one lone win now only bumps his winning percentage against those two teams to .077, one extremely large skeleton no longer sits in the closet of his career.
The Note In Which The Trench Battle Is Won
The divide in talent at the skill positions had been an interesting one to watch evolve as these two programs have navigated this century. As the years progressed and Missouri began slowly building a better base of offensive talent into the Chase Daniel era, the one thing that didn't seem to change was Missouri's matchups in the trenches. In fact, Wyoming head coach (and former Mizzou offensive coordinator) Dave Christensen alluded to the gap between skill position talent and line play in The New York Times:
"Absolutely without a doubt," Christensen said when asked if having better offensive and defensive lines had been the final component needed for Missouri. "The guys they're playing with up front are mature and older. They were able to recruit better players. My last couple years, there were more advanced skill players than trench guys. Now they have those guys in the trenches."
Though "winning the trench battle" sounds like a cliché Mark Schlereth and Mark May would say while headbutting walls and wearing "GRRRRR NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE TOUGH GUYS" T-shirts, line play has been the deciding factor in these teams' last several meetings. Oklahoma terrorized Chase Daniel on two separate nights in Norman and San Antonio in 2007 and did the same in Kansas City in 2008. The Sooners' ability to generate pressure with four men was reason 1A for their success in those games, as they generally used the free linebackers and secondary members in blanket coverage in the rare instance Daniel was given time to set his feet. This Saturday, Missouri flipped the script.
Running lanes were wide open for Mizzou's stable of tailbacks all night long, as Missouri's cast of eight linemen were fantastic at both the line of scrimmage and at the second level. Blaine Gabbert was barely harassed the entire evening and looked more comfortable in the pocket than ever before in his career. On the other side of the ball, Missouri's defensive line was stout against the run despite the season-ending injury to top defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton, and as soon as Oklahoma went away from the run, Missouri's ends starting habitually beating the Oklahoma line off the ball. Landry Jones went 0-for-7 in the fourth quarter, and Missouri's edge pressure was a large reason why.
The Note In Which Growth Isn't Limited To The Players
I was all-prepared to throw together a diatribe about how how good offensive coordinator David Yost has been in the last few weeks after a year and a half of criticism from Missouri fans. Then
major thunder-stealer excellent Missouri beat reporter Dave Matter did so in his Emptying The Notebook post on Sunday:
For all the online vitriol Missouri fans spewed toward offensive coordinator David Yost earlier this season, I hope they're beginning to recognize the growth he's shown as a play-caller and game-plan architect over the last few weeks... Yes, the Tigers still had their shortcomings down near the goal line when both jumbo and spread formations failed to get into the end zone, but the game plan continues to evolve from week to week. And by no coincidence, the offense has been more balanced and more productive the last two games against quality competition.
Against Texas A&M, Yost used the bubble to open up the seams in the second half. Against Oklahoma, Yost mixed in a number of two-back sets (with one of the two motioning in from a flanker spot), allowing Gabbert to either give the ball to the motion man on the jet to sprint outside or fake the jet and hand it to the man already in the backfield on the inside zone. Beyond that, Yost identified Oklahoma's deficiencies in the middle of the field, dialing up plays that resulted in Gabbert completing 14-of-17 passes for 231 yards over the middle. Just as Gabbert has begun to leave his footprint all over the Missouri offense, the win against Oklahoma was further proof that Yost is moving far beyond the role of "Dave Christensen's successor" into his own trademark style.
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