Editor’s note: We’ve watched the Missouri Tigers sputter and drool all over the field this season because of offensive line injuries and the ongoing week-to-week, up-and-down puzzle that has been James Franklin’s junior year. On the road at Central Florida? What could go wrong there?…..
By Cyle Kitchen
This week, we set our attention on the Missouri Tigers and Central Florida Knights.
Overview: Missouri played on the road for the second-straight week. Coming into the game off of a blowout loss at South Carolina, the Tigers had a tough test from Central Florida but came away with a 21-16 win.
The MU Pessimist
Missouri needed to show not only the college football world but themselves as well that its 2-2 record was more from rust and/or jitters from the beginning of their first season in the SEC and not the norm. Although it won the game on the scoreboard, MU pretty much did nothing to prove it is anywhere close to the top half of the SEC. Offensively, the Tigers moved the ball in their first few possessions, only to end up punting, which sort of set the tone for the rest of the game. They scored their lone touchdown of the first half on a play that should have been stopped for about a 30-yard gain. But, a broken tackle turned the play into an 80-yard score. Otherwise, the Tigers possibly, or maybe even likely, were trailing 10-0 instead of 10-7 at halftime.
Defensively, Dave Steckel’s Tigers were pushed up and down the field for most of the game. Allowing 395 total yards to a UCF offense that had struggled to move the ball in its first few games (74th in total offense entering the game), MU’s defensive performance left more questions than answers as the team dives back into SEC play against Vanderbilt. Among several, the biggest concern for the Tiger defense was the inability to get off the field. The Knights won time of possession by a +7 margin.
Summary: Without a punt return for a touchdown in the second half to give Missouri the lead for good, we could be talking about a team looking for answers after walking out of Florida with a loss. Instead, the Tigers will try and take what little momentum they gained from winning this close game into next week when they get the Commodores at home and try to get MU’s first SEC win. After that? Alabama comes calling.
The UCF Pessimist
This game is a tough one to digest because it was there for the taking. UCF had more yardage than Missouri and controlled the game with a balanced attack — with 267 passing yards and 128 rushing yards. Two plays cost the Knights this football game. A missed tackle in the second quarter allowed a one-play, 80-yard touchdown drive by the Tigers that put the Knights down 7-3. After taking the lead into halftime, and holding it until halfway through the third quarter, the Knights were unable to cover a punt and allowed a 66-yard return for a TD. Even still, UCF still had a chance to win the game, getting the ball back with 2:44 left to go… only to fumble the ball two plays later and seal the loss.
Summary: The Knights come out of this game knowing they could have beaten an SEC team, energized for the start of the conference season. Instead, they now need to shake this loss of quickly with a quick turnaround playing host to East Carolina on Thursday.
The MU Optimist
Missouri came into this game needing a win and took care of business. The game was closer than Missouri would have liked but took plenty of positives away from this game — starting with the highest-ranked recruit in Missouri history showing what he can do when given the opportunity. Down 3-0, Missouri sent Dorial Green-Beckham down the field on a deep post route. James Franklin connected with his big wide out and Green-Beckham ran through the UCF defensive back en route to the end zone. Missouri came into the game averaging 199 yards through the air and passed for 257 against the Knights. Also, Kendial Lawrence had another solid game with 104 yards on 19 carries to help give the Tigers a balanced attack.
Defensively, the Tigers gave up some yardage but held the Knights to only 16 points and created a crucial turnover on UCF’s last possession to preserve the victory.
Summary: Although DGB only caught one pass, it was a good one. MU offensive coordinator David Yost needs to find a way to get him the ball more and in the open field. Lawrence would also benefit (as would Missouri) with more touches as he’s averaging about 6.0 yards a carry on the season. No matter how they got it done, the Tigers came away with a win and head into next week’s game at home against Vanderbilt on a good note.
The UCF Optimist
After the game with Missouri, Central Florida should go into the rest of their games this season with the feeling that they should win. UCF controlled the game throughout. Leading 3-0 after the first quarter, Missouri scores a touchdown on a play that shouldn’t have happened. A poor tackling attempt cost the Knights the lead after allowing an 80-yard touchdown pass on a broken tackle. UCF came back and took the lead three minutes later, which meant a 10-7 halftime lead. Not until Missouri returned a punt for a touchdown halfway through the third quarter did UCF lose the lead for good. Take away a TD on a fluke miss tackle and a punt return, and the Knights lead 10-0 after three quarters. Still, UCF had its chance with about three minutes to go only to fumble the game away on the second play of the drive.
Summary: UCF did everything right in this game except win. If the Knights play this type of game against conference opponents, they have a very good chance to win the conference. That quest begins next week with East Carolina.
The MU Realist
Missouri traveled to UCF looking to establish an identity. Missouri fans may have gotten an answer to that question, although it may not be the answer they are looking for. The passing game has struggled to this point in the season, averaging only 199 yards per game coming in. Yes, they had 257 yards passing against UCF, but 80 of that came on one play. Without the long TD to DGB, Franklin was 18-of-29 for 177 yards. It also needs to be noted that DGB had just the one catch in the game. At this point, it’s a mystery as to what else Kendial Lawrence has to do to earn more carries from the coaching staff. He was averaging 6.5 yds/gm coming into the game, and had a 19-att., 104-yard performance.
Missouri’s defense held the Knights to 16 points but gave up 395 total offensive yards. UCF had a very balanced attack throughout the game. And, if UCF doesn’t fumble the game away on its last possession, one has to wonder if the MU defense would have actually been able to stop the Knights on downs.
Summary: It’s not a secret that Missouri must improve its passing game to compete this season in the SEC or scrap the old “Big 12” passing game plan and switch to running the football more and playing defense. The defense was solid (25th in total defense) before facing the Knights, but MU needs to shore things up before next week given UCF is not an explosive, big-yardage offense and had close to 400 yards. Missouri faces a similar team next week in Vanderbilt, who wants to play the slug ‘em out style UCF played against Missouri.
The UCF Realist
This game probably left a bad taste in the mouth of those who were there to witness UCF outplay a team from the SEC, only to fumble away its hopes of knocking off the Tigers. The truth of the matter is, had it won the game, it would have been a great day for UCF football. However, it would have meant and does mean nothing when it comes to what they truly play for — a conference title. What this game should have done, regardless of the outcome, was to tell the team that if it plays the style the coaches have taught it to play, it has the talent to indeed win the conference. When you outgain an opponent, control time of possession and only have one turnover, most of the time you are going to be in a position to win at the end of the game.
Summary: After playing close games against the likes of Ohio St. and Missouri in the non-conference, this team should definitely not be lacking in confidence. Coaches should remind the players to keep their eye on the prize. Get back to work this week with the focus squarely on East Carolina. Shore up the special teams miscue, focus on executing the little things and play with the fire that you brought to the stadium against Missouri, and this team should be a force to be reckoned with during Conference USA play.
New to Head Games? Check out the first edition, where we offer a primer in addition to the column itself: Kansas State at Oklahoma