Remember when I opened the UNLV article by saying I had no idea what to say? The sentiment is somewhat similar this week. The Missouri game was such a massive change from the previous weeks that it is hard to know what to do with the new information. One game is not enough to just erase what we all saw (to varying extents) the rest of the season. Maybe I can unpack it a bit after a week to reflect.
Lessons We Know Well
I think it is fair to be back down to one topic here. This offense still has a lot of weapons. Ke’shawn had 96 rushing yards on 29 carries with a TD while adding 80 receiving yards on 4 catches, including taking a 61-yard TD. The interesting part is that while Kalija Lipscomb and Jared Pinkney were not called upon often they both had major impacts. Lipscomb was targeted on multiple deep throws, catching one for 34 yards and drawing a penalty on another. Pinkney only had 2 catches, but one was a diving sideline catch from a scrambling Riley Neal on 3rd and 8 preceding the TD.
The special teamers are still rocking it. Harrison Smith had to punt 8 times and averaged 43.1 yards with a long of 58. The return game was good with Justice Shelton-Mosley finding 50 yards on 4 punt returns with a long of 31. That yardage is valuable and was a big boost.
Lessons We Are Learning
The most important point in this article is that the team has NOT given up as I had previously feared. Derek Mason somehow managed to rally the team after a blowout loss to UNLV. Managing that feat is a minor miracle. The finish of the season will need to be more efforts like, or even better, than Missouri to restore any faith in Derek Mason from the outside though.
Mo Hasan may not make the offense explosive, but he makes it more effective and has injected a ton of confidence. Vanderbilt averaged 5.2 yards per play, but they were only successful on 34.40% of their plays. The interesting part is that of the 7 drives where Vanderbilt got a first down (13 drives total and the 1-play TD drive was not counted in the 7), 3 of them did their job. Two of them were TD drives, and the other was the last drive of where the intention was simply to run the clock out. First off, going 3-and-out on 6 of 13 drive is not good enough. If that number could have been cut in half, field position will change dramatically in our favor, especially considering how Harrison Smith is doing punting.
Lessons We Will Study Further
Will the defense sustain the apparent improvement? The Commodores, who had been statistically one of the worst defenses in the country, held an offense averaging almost 40 points per game and 471 yards per game to 293 yards and 14 points. Missouri had not been held under 30 points in the last 11 games they played. It was really an unbelievable change. It needs to be sustained though, and it simply raises questions about why it took so long to get fixed.
Will the offense grow under Mo (if healthy)? It needs to be more of the same but more so. A few more good passes and comfort with Hasan’s in-game decision making from Gdowski could go a long way. It is not necessarily that the kid gloves were on against Missouri, but it is different to run an offense in practice and in a game. We saw enough good things to think Mo can do it … if healthy. That may be the biggest question coming into this game.
Will the team turn this weekend from great to incredible? After not just burning the candle at both ends but dousing the damned thing in gasoline and hitting it with a blowtorch, a wild group (Hey, Will, Scott, Bobby, and Bob if any of you read this!) of 6 has trekked to Columbia. There is a cooler full of an unknown number of quart jars of moonshine along with the normal liquor. I am exhausted and soon to begin enjoying the weekend. Fully expecting a loss, it would take a terrible performance to really ruin the weekend. A win could make it one to remember (but would probably have some blank spots).