Missouri impressed in a 38-10 dismantling of Central Florida on Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
The Knights controlled the clock for three quarters with a deliberate game plan, but the Tigers’ strengths — quarterback Maty Mauk’s playmaking and a relentless pass rush — eventually turned the tide permanently.
Here are some observations from Missouri’s win:
1. Defending the deep ball
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Central Florida baited Mauk into an interception early in the game and played deep to take away those long throws (and potential big plays).
“They were backing up on some of our deep throws and playing their secondary a little looser than they had before,” offensive coordinator Josh Henson said.
After watching Mauk hit several deep balls to Darius White against South Dakota State and another to Bud Sasser against Toledo, it’s a strategy other defenses are likely to mimic.
Mauk loves to take those shots downfield and Missouri’s receivers tend to look for those shots, going deep on option routes when possible.
The encouraging thing is that the Tigers recognized it and adjusted in the second half, working underneath more until the Knights recalibrated as well.
“They were doing some things differently and covering some things differently than we thought that they would, so it got us out of rhythm just a little bit,” Henson said. “As the game went along … I think I did a better job of putting us in better plays to be successful and just take the easy things and not make everything come down the field hard.”
Eventually, the deep ball opened up against and Mauk was able to go over the top for a 22-yard touchdown to Sasser.
“I had to adjust and find the throws that were there,” Mauk said. “Those guys did a great job of finding the open area and being able to move the ball.”
2. Missouri’s pass rush hasn’t missed a beat
Junior defensive end Shane Ray, a Bishop Miege graduate, was a beast — a flat-out, offense-disrupting force of nature.
He had career-best-tying two sacks (for the second straight week) and seven solo tackles, which tied a career high for total tackles and set a career high for solo stops. He also had four tackles for a loss, which tied yet another career high.
But he wasn’t alone.
Senior Markus Golden had 1 1/2 sacks, while defensive tackle Lucas Vincent burst through for the day’s most bone-crunching hit of Knight sophomore quarterback Justin Holman.
He was credited with 1 1/2 sacks (though I suspect that half-sack actually belonged to sophomore Harold Brantley, who started in place of injured Matt Hoch).
Of course, it didn’t stop there.
Sophomore Ricky Hatley finished the game with a sack and forced fumble, while redshirt freshman defensive ends Charles Harris and Marcus Loud also got some pressure on Holman.
The accumulation of hits took a toll, especially in the second half, after Holman had led three drives of at least 10 plays in the first half.
“I guess we were trying to feel them out,” Golden said. “He was getting the ball out pretty quick, but what changed was when we came in at halftime and coach Kool (defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski) just said, ‘Get after them. Bull rush. Put your hands up’ and, after a while, we started winning.”
Boy, did they. Missouri recorded five sacks after halftime and created four turnovers in the second half.
“We realized we needed to pick up the intensity and get back to playing Missouri Tiger football,” Ray said. “We picked up our hustle and picked up our intensity and aggressiveness to get to the quarterback. Things just fell into place for us.”
3. Slow start for offense?
It’s easy to assume that Missouri’s offense was sluggish during the first half against Central Florida.
After all, the Tigers only led 14-10 at halftime, but that wouldn’t really be a fair assessment of the offense’s performance.
During the first 29 minutes, Missouri had only three possessions. One lasted two plays before Mauk was picked off when he was baited into a deep throw into double coverage.
The Tigers scored touchdowns on the other two drives, so that’s really not bad, especially considering a six-for-six performance on third down in the first half.
“Sometimes, I think we feel like, ‘Boy, if we don’t have 35 points at halftime, it’s a failure,’” Henson said. “But I think, if you go back and look at it, we probably played all right.”