Should you be bullish on the Missouri Tigers despite what might be bear times for the Big 12? Let's see how Tiger commodities are trading these days:
Moe's stock is trading at Apple-esque prices these days, and his non-conference performance might as well have been the announcement of a new iPhone for his stock. Hopes were high Moe entering the season, but his drops in 2009 and the spring game were an under-the-radar concern. All he's done this season is become Blaine Gabbert's favorite target, catching
31 37 passes (good for third in the FBS) for 394 yards and two huge touchdowns, one that sparked a rally against Illinois and the other a miracle that saved Missouri against San Diego State. If his production continues, his folk hero status should continue its Steve Jobs-like ascent.
Running Back By Committee
The Derrick Washington legal drama was an Enron-style fiasco for the Missouri football program, or at least so it seemed. Instead, this new Mizzou Running Back Corporation is taking the market by storm. Junior De'Vion Moore has been a steadying force and is probably the toughest runner out of the group. True freshman Henry Josey provides the breakaway speed Missouri hasn't seen from the tailback position in quite some time. Sophomore Kendial Lawrence missed one game because of injury but appeared in the Miami game to finally start finishing run and putting it all together. And freshman Marcus Murphy continues to be an enticing fourth option. Critics question whether or not the Missouri coaching staff goes away from the running game too early, but when the blocking has been there, the quartet of Moore, Josey, Lawrence and Murphy has proven itself more than capable, which brings me to our next trend:
Missouri's line was touted before the season as one of the conference's better units, and thus far, the praise seems legitimate. The Tigers have been great in pass protection, as Missouri leads the Big 12 with only four sacks allowed, several of which Blaine Gabbert accepts responsibility for after A) failing to throw the ball away, B) scrambling out of a still-intact pocket, or C) all of the above. Furthermore, when Missouri's running game is clicking, it's usually the offensive line leading the way on counter pulls. This unit really hasn't gotten a significant test yet, something they'll definitely see once they get Von Miller and Jeremy Beal in back-to-back weeks in October.
A good pass rush and a good defensive backfield are like a 401(k) and diversification -- it's better if you don't have one without the other. Whatever the line of reasoning, Missouri's pass defense seems rather improved through four weeks, though much stiffer tests await. The Tigers have nine sacks on the year and appear to have developed extensive depth at the defensive end position, where they now run a minimum of four deep and can make a case for being five-deep depending on your thoughts about Marcus Malbrough. The outside penetration from Aldon Smith, Jacquies Smith, Brad Madison and Michael Sam have been a huge boost to the Missouri pass defense, which has been left hanging in coverage for far less time than in previous seasons. But even when teams are completing passes, the Tiger defensive backs have been right with receivers to minimize the damage. Carl Gettis and Kevin Rutland have always been great tacklers, and their cover skills have continued to develop. Safety Kenji Jackson has broken out of a sophomore slump from a year ago in a major way, and is one of the bigger reasons why this unit is trending up. Beware though: The schedule ahead could mean a major market correction.
Missouri fans had such high hopes that Blaine Gabbert was going to take the next step into the national elite in 2010, and though he hasn't quite made that leap, Gabbert has still been extremely solid through four games. There's a little bit of concern about his pocket presence and his tendency to force throws to certain receivers on occasion, but Gabbert represents a steadier option than most teams in FBS trot out on a regular basis. He's put the ball in the air more times than all but five FBS quarterbacks, but he's completing just shy of 70 percent of his throws. Gabbert has all of the physical tools in the world, but eyes will still be on his development from "cannon-arm" to "true quarterback" even in year two of the Gabbert Era.
Missouri's rushing defense numbers are hovering around the middle in most categories, but save for the two memorable long runs by San Diego State's Ronnie Hillman, teams haven't found much success against Missouri on the ground. For the most part, this is par for the course for the Tigers since about early October in 2007, Texas Bowl appearance selectively not included. Missouri's fast pursuing linebackers and physical secondary on the perimeter give the Tigers a nice counter to outside running plays, but analysts will watch to see how Missouri reacts to a punishing between-the-tackles attack. Christine Michael, DeMarco Murray and Roy Helu will all be more than glad to give 'em a test run.
Missouri's program has gotten to the point where, given the teams they've scheduled, the Tigers should expect to be 4-0 in non-conference. Mizzou got to that point in 2010, but not without a few scares along the way. Though Missouri has finally cultivated a culture in which the players expect to win because that's all they've known, there remains a fine line between overconfidence and swagger. Against San Diego State, the players admitted to succumbing to the former. If you're a glass-half-full kind of investor, then the strength of Missouri's Big 12 schedule and the inability to look over teams might just be your cup of "Buy Low, Sell High" tea. Which brings us to our final market watch:
SELL SELL SELL. More specifically, this section should be relabeled and referred to as "The Stretch." After opening at home against Colorado, the following four-game set awaits Missouri:
Oct. 16 - at Texas A&M
Oct. 23 - vs. Oklahoma
Oct. 30 - at Nebraska
Nov. 6 - at Texas Tech
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