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Mizzou Tiger Notebook: Did The Missouri Defense Make A Statement Against Texas A&M?

Missouri's defense shut down Texas A&M and the offense found a new threat in wide receiver Wes Kemp.

Missouri's 30-9 win against Texas A&M gave the Tigers their fifth 6-0 start in school history and first since 2006. Below are a series of observations and thoughts from the game from Rock M Nation's Ross Taylor:

The Note In Which I Can't Adequately Describe The Defense

Against the most explosive offense (on paper) that Missouri had seen through six games, the Tigers stood to see a regression in their points allowed numbers. The Tigers ranked third in the country in scoring defense heading to College Station, but instead of falling back, Mizzou stepped up. A nine-point effort (including the only touchdown coming with the game well-in-hand) pushed Missouri to second in the country in scoring defense at 10.83 points per game, behind TCU and directly ahead of Boise State. Depending on your worldview, this is either a statement that Missouri's defense is of the caliber of these teams or Missouri's schedule has been as weak if not weaker than those two squads.

Either way, Missouri's defense continues to be the storyline six weeks into the season after two years of being the storyline for all the wrong reasons. Mizzou sent all kinds of blitzes at Jerrod Johnson, sacking him seven times, including twice by cornerback Kevin Rutland and three times by Brad Madison, Aldon Smith's replacement. Defensive coordinator Dave Steckel continues to place a tremendous amount of trust in his unit, especially the defensive backfield. He frequently left his secondary in man coverage when bringing heavy blitzes, at one point leaving third cornerback Kip Edwards on an island with Jeff Fuller, considered to be one of the top receivers in the Big 12. On that play, Edwards rewarded Steckel's faith, just like the secondary has done all year to this point.

The defense gets a big test against Oklahoma next week and everything could all unravel in catastrophic fashion, but through six games, the defense has exceeded even the most unreasonable of expectations.

The Note In Which, At Least For Now, Wes Kemp Is Back

"Where's Wes Kemp?" That question has been asked countless number of times in late 2009 AND early 2010, but Kemp answered that question emphatically on Saturday. Kemp tied with Michael Egnew for the team lead with receptions (10) and finished with 89 yards and two touchdowns, three if you consider a questionable-at-best replay call that cost him another score. Blaine Gabbert targeted Kemp early on screens and hitches to chip away at Texas A&M defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's soft zone coverage. As we saw on Saturday, when teams have to account for Kemp, the Missouri offense opens up an entirely new dimension. Once Texas A&M began crashing down on the screen, it opened up 15-yard deep outs to Michael Egnew and seam routes to T.J. Moe. It was beautifully master planned by the coaching staff, but it was elevation of Kemp's game on Saturday that made it all possible.

The Note In Which A Baffling Decision Might Be Explained

It was hard to find much fault in the decision making of the coaching staff on Saturday, as Missouri brought one of its more flawless efforts in terms of execution and gameplanning in College Station. But Missouri fans were baffled and clueless as to why MIssouri opted to leave Gabbert on the field late in the game and expose his injured hip (read: ribs) to more hits. Gabbert was absolutely drilled by Von Miller on one of the drives, and though James Franklin eventually saw a few plays behind center, the Tigers rode Gabbert almost all the way to the final whistle. Had anything gone terribly wrong, Pinkel would have taken the brunt of the blame, but Gabbert wouldn't have been innocent either. Because of his robotic, NFL-esque interview style, it's hard to imagine Gabbert as vindictive, but that just might be the case. Before the season, Gabbert spoke at the EA Sports Elite 11 Quarterback Camp and explained his "FEPWDM" philosophy, signifying "For Every Person Whoever [sic] Doubted Me." After the game, Dave Matter reported the following about Gabbert's week of practice:

Gabbert was so intent on playing, and playing well, that he didn't want to miss a practice rep.

"There was one period where we moved James Franklin up to the 1s, and Blaine was mad," offensive coordinator David Yost said.

His unwillingness to leave the game on Saturday could well be Gabbert's way of sending a message to the Missouri fans who doubted his health or his toughness throughout the week. Blaine Gabbert: Reserved with the media, vindictive with a football. If that's the type of football Gabbert will play with a chip on his shoulder, it might be time for Missouri to find as many doubters as possible.

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