Going into the 2011 college football season, most people thought Mizzou would take a slight step back after losing two key players, including their starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert, in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Yes, the Tigers had a highly recruited player in sophomore James Franklin to take over at quarterback, but most teams that lose a quarterback to the pros see a step back in wins the following year. Most Missouri fans were probably expecting a minimum of 7-8 wins and a maximum of 10 wins coming into this season, which was still a reasonable expectation because of the number of seniors returning on offense and the way this team has played in recent years under Gary Pinkel.
Five games into the season, Missouri is now 2-3 with a number of tough road losses under its belt, struggling to find answers as Big 12 play heats up. Mizzou fans are now wondering if this team has enough wins in it to become bowl eligible in one of the toughest football conferences in the nation.
What's gone wrong? Should Tiger fans reevaluate where this program is at under Pinkel or is this just a tough year that will be looked at as a one-year aberration?
The pass rush, which was supposed to be the strong point of the defense led by All-Big 12 defensive end Brad Madison, has been virtually absent. The Tigers have 11 sacks through five games, but the pressure has not been there on a consistent basis and good quarterbacks throughout the Big 12 will be have more than enough time to pick Mizzou's defense apart.
Before yesterday's 8-catch performance, All-American tight end Michael Egnew was not being included in the offense, which is inexcusable after the season he had in 2010. Franklin is doing a good job of spreading the ball around more than Gabbert did last year, but Egnew is a weapon that must be utilized.
Franklin has looked great a lot of times and has looked like a first-time starting quarterback for the rest of the time, but he hasn't done anything to singlehandedly cost his team games. The blame does not fall on him, especially with the way he has performed in the fourth quarter thus far.
Most importantly, the team has looked extremely undisciplined in the first five weeks of the year. 43 penalties, including some crucial penalties that extended key drives, have been a big part of the downfall of the team.
Slow starts, offensively at least, have killed the team as well. In each of their three losses, the Tigers had to make incredible comebacks in the fourth quarter to make the games close near the final whistle.
The Oklahoma game was an exception, but in each loss, Mizzou has had extreme stretches of dry spells on offense. Henry Josey is clearly the most talented player on offense for the Tigers, but he is only getting 12-15 touches per game.
When you can't pinpoint the problem or problems on the field that are causing poor play from a football team, it is time to start looking at the coaching staff. In this case, you can see what is wrong on the field, but the team has enough talent where these problems shouldn't be present.
I'm not saying all of the problems that this team has is because of the coaching staff, but they are as responsible for the poor start as the players are.This is do-or-die time for Pinkel, Yost and Steckel. They must examine what schemes are not working and make some in-season adjustments. We've seen it before with this team, but we need to see it again for this team to rebound from its slow start.