Perhaps better practice habits could solve Missouri’s issues on offense.
At least, that was the suggestion from several players in the bowels of Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday after a 21-13 loss against Kentucky.
Asked why the offense lacks consistency, senior running back Tyler Hunt said, “Just showing up to practice every day and giving better effort and working on our fundamentals.”
Sophomore defensive end Charles Harris said enthusiasm at practice is a choice and suggested the defensive line didn’t play with maximum effort against the Wildcats.
“It’s pure effort on my behalf,” said Harris, who finished with six tackles and two for a loss. “That’s my fault on my D-line and I’ll take the blame for it. We weren’t focused. I didn’t get them fired up, so I’ll carry the burden for this game. You didn’t see a pass rush for this game. You didn’t see any really backfield penetration. I guarantee you, that’s going to be fixed.”
Defense lacks pressure
Statistically, the numbers weren’t dismal.
Redshirt freshman Walter Brady had five tackles, including two for a loss with a sack, and at least one uncredited quarterback hurry.
Freshman Terry Beckner Jr. added three tackles, including two for a loss, while junior Josh Augusta and sophomore A.J. Logan each had two tackles.
Still, there wasn’t consistent pressure on Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles, who was sacked six times a week earlier against Florida. He picked apart Missouri, going 22 of 27 for 249 yards with two touchdowns and added 21 yards rushing on nine carries, including a 14-yard touchdown run.
Towles did most of his damage down the middle of the field, including the go-ahead (and ultimately, game-winning) touchdown on a 24-yard lob up the seam to tight end C.J. Conrad, who didn’t have a defender near him.
“It was a blown coverage,” junior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Offense lacks big plays
The offense made its share of mistakes too, including a third-quarter drop by sophomore wide receiver J’Mon Moore that might have been a game-altering touchdown.
It’s the kind of play Missouri is desperate to make right now as its bogged-down offense searches for a spark, but nobody is stepping up to make critical plays at critical times.
“Maybe things would have been different if I would have caught that one,” Moore said. “I’ll watch it in film, see what I could have done better and move forward.”
On a positive note, Missouri didn’t commit any turnovers for the first time this season and totaled 338 yards. The 111 rushing yards were second-most this season (Arkansas State, 140) as were the 227 passing yards (Southeast Missouri, 319).
“Today, I feel like the offense took a step forward from last week,” Moore said. “We just fell short on some plays. The defense wasn’t as strong as they’ve usually been, but we can’t depend on our offense. We’ve got to come with it every time on offense.”
There were a few shots available downfield, but junior quarterback Maty Mauk underthrew several deep balls. That had been his specialty in past seasons, but Mauk’s been consistently leaving throws short this season.
“It’s a little banged up, but there’s no excuses,” Mauk said. “I’m on the field, so I’ve got to produce. I’ve got to get through that and make those throws. … It’s from this year, but it’s nothing too big.”
Backfield lacks depth
Senior running back Russell Hansbrough gave a yeoman’s effort at Kentucky, but it’s clear he’s still not healthy.
Hansbrough was credited with six carries for 11 yards. The highlight was a 7-yard reception for a first down on third-and-long at the Wildcats’ 22-yard line when he bounced off a tackler and powered through another.
Two plays later, Missouri scored a touchdown rather than settling for a field-goal try.
“He did some good things — made that third-down catch, got that first down,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “That was huge, but he is obviously still frustrated. It’s hard for him to keep going (when) he gets sore as he goes. It’s difficult, we will have to see what his status is (Sunday) and Monday. We will have to see as we go. Hopefully, his status is better this time this week than it was a week ago.”
It also looks as if Missouri will be without junior Morgan Steward for the remainder of the season.
Steward missed the 2014 season with a hip injury. He had surgery in November and returned to practice in June, but still isn’t fully recovered.
The Tigers gave Steward a few carries, 10 for 18 yards to be precise, but have opted to shut him down.
“(We) will try to get an additional year back for him because he is not 100 percent,” Pinkel said. “So (we) think we can do that. (I) will discuss that Monday with you.”
Generally, NCAA eligibility rules dictate that a player has five years to complete four seasons of eligibility.
If a player loses two full seasons due to injury, the school can appeal for an additional season of eligibility.
Steward, a redshirt junior, cannot recover 2014, but could appeal to recover this season because he only played in three games. A player who appears in more than one-quarter of a team’s games is ineligible for a medical redshirt.
This would be the second season Steward has missed due to injury.