Missouri improved to 2-0 on Saturday evening, running away from the McNeese State Cowboys early at Faurot Field in Columbia, Mo. Here's a brief look at the storylines that accompanied Missouri's 85th home-opener win in program history:
The Note In Which Josey Altogether Skips A Vacation Far Away:
If Missouri freshman tailback Henry Josey ever regretted his family surname, this weekend might be it. Josey dazzled fans so thoroughly in his debut that he is now the center of the media/fan "We need a nickname!" firestorm. Instead of attempting humility by dancing around questions about his performance, the quiet kid from Angleton, Texas spent a decent part of his postgame interviews fielding questions about whether or not he'd seen The Outlaw Josey Wales. Welcome to the show, I guess?
But all references to a 1974 Eastwood flick and/or "Your Love" by The Outfield aside, Josey was simply outstanding Saturday night. He opened the night with three touchdowns on his first four carries (the other was just a 34-yarder on his first touch of the game) and ended the game with 112 yards on seven carries (16.0 avg.). He became the first freshman Tiger to post 100-plus rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns since the oh-so-lovable Corby Jones did it against Iowa State in 1995.
Josey's third touchdown, an untouched 62-yard track meet, demonstrated more than just his straight line speed though; the run highlighted his vision with the football and his ability to turn upfield at the proper time, a crucial element in Missouri's less-than-downhill running style. The tailback situation could have been a recipe for major stress, but with De'Vion Moore looking solid against Illinois and Josey running free against McNeese State, even the suspension of Derrick Washington and the injury to Kendial Lawrence haven't been able to kill the backfield buzz through two games.
The Note In Which The Turnovers Continue To Pile Up:
Forcing turnovers wasn't exactly Missouri's strength a season ago. The Tigers were ninth in the Big 12 in takeaways (23) and second-to-last in interceptions (eight). In the offseason, Missouri's coaches often wear shirts with the phrase "It's All About The Ball!" emblazoned on the chest, hoping to stress the importance of ball security on offense and the importance of taking the ball away on defense. Through two games in 2010, Missouri's defense already has nine turnovers, including six interceptions. But what can account for this change? Are senior leaders stepping up and finally making plays? Are Kenji Jackson's two picks a signal that he was just in a sophomore slump last year? Is Missouri getting stronger at the bottom of piles?
While all of the above might be true, don't forget the one factor that Malcolm Gladwell and sabermetricians have tried to trumpet at the top of their lungs: Luck. While interceptions require a bit more skill (see: Carl Gettis' one-handed pick against Illinois), thanks to the engineering marvel that is the shape of a football, fumble recoveries are more luck than fans like to admit. After all, that wouldn't fit neatly into a perfectly-crafted narrative, would it?
Phil Steele helped pioneered the "Turnover Margin = Big Win/Loss Swings" theory, one that Rock M Nation's Bill Connelly expanded upon in his other gig for Football Outsiders. Using his turnover margin metric, he detailed exactly how much teams seemed to return to a golden mean, either for better or worse, in turnovers from the previous season.
In all, it wasn't hard to predict that the year-to-year change in turnover points margin would average out like it did last year, but it was still impressive just how much it evened out.
Through two weeks, Missouri's turnover numbers are evening out in snowball-esque fashion against teams breaking in new quarterbacks.
The post game media clips are usually a pretty clear indication of a postgame narrative, and the clips tell this story this week: Josey and the strong play of the Missouri defensive front were really the highlights of the evening. And while all of this is indubitably true, I'm not quite sure many people would have expected a Chase Daniel school record to fall with such little fanfare. With a 26-of-31 passing day, Blaine Gabbert's 83.9 completion percentage bested Chase Daniel's school-record 83.8 percentage (31-of-37) in another 50-plus-point Faurot Field curbstomping against Colorado in 2008. Gabbert made it look easy, and to be fair, I'm not sure it wasn't. His protection was rock solid, his receivers hung on to the football, and the Tigers never really took a deep shot (there really wasn't a need to do so). Though I abhor the "game manager" label, managing the game was really all Gabbert had to do against McNeese State, and he did it to near-perfection.
But Gabbert was not the only quarterback about which to get excited on Saturday night. True freshman James Franklin made his first appearance as the Missouri quarterback, scoring on an eight-yard touchdown run in the second half, He did so almost reluctantly, as Gary Pinkel, with his team leading 43-0, had told Franklin and offensive coordinator Dave Yost not to score for the rest of the game. Franklin almost looked sorry when he crossed the goal line, a celebration you almost find yourself expecting from the more-mature-than-could-possibly-be-expected freshman. What was most notable about Franklin's touchdown was just how smooth it looked. Missouri runs a couple of zone reads with Gabbert, but generally the Tigers use it as a constraint play to offset defenses crashing down on sweeps, as Missouri generally doesn't want to expose Gabbert too frequently. With Franklin, you get the impression it might become a staple of future Missouri offenses. And when the option is Josey left or Franklin right, it's one sexy, sexy staple.
The Note In Which Something Called A "Forrest Shock" Deserves Praise:
One of the odder points of pride for Missouri during the last several years has been the Tigers' consecutive PAT streak, dating back to 2005. With six successful PAT kick attempts against McNeese State, Missouri pushed the streak to 245 successful kicks, putting the Tigers now only 17 shy of tying the NCAA record set by Syracuse from 1978-89. But for as much love as kickers Adam Crossett, Jeff Wolfert and Grant Ressel get and deserve for this stretch, equally important are the contributions of the snappers and holders, and against McNeese State, holder Forrest Shock might have done some of the most important work yet in keeping the streak alive.
With regular deep snapper Beau Brinkley still serving a DWI suspension, Brad Madison assumed snapping duties and had a couple of inauspicious snaps sprinkled in his body of work. One particular third quarter snap ended up behind the hip of Shock, who was able to rotate around, snag the ball and still manage to whip around and place in time for Ressel. It appeared Ressel's plant foot made it to the ball spot before Shock even had the ball down, so for Missouri fans eyeing that record, appreciate how microscopic the margin for error can be.
As always, make sure you're reading Rock M Nation for all of your Mizzou Football analysis.