Campus Corner

Rewind: Mizzou must learn from struggles on defense, offense at LSU

MU’s sophomore quarterback Drew Lock remains the SEC’s leader with 1,675 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers include monster games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.
MU’s sophomore quarterback Drew Lock remains the SEC’s leader with 1,675 passing yards and 14 touchdowns. Those numbers include monster games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State. The Associated Press

First, some housekeeping.

Missouri had two players ejected in the second half Saturday at LSU — sophomore linebacker Brandon Lee for targeting and junior defensive end Charles Harris for unsportsmanlike conduct.

By rule, Lee won’t be eligible to return until the second half at Florida on Oct. 15 because targeting ejections require a player to sit out the next half — e.g. the second half, if the targeting penalty takes place before halftime, or the first half of the next game, if the penalty occurs after halftime.

Harris’ situation was a bit muddier.

Tigers junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore touched off a fracas on the final play before halftime when he got into a jawing match with LSU senior cornerback Tre’Davious White, raising his hand with the football in it to White’s face and poking him in the face mask.

Both teams came together near the Mizzou sideline, and game officials announced offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties on both teams for the dust-up.

That effectively gave every player on both rosters one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Players are automatically ejected for two such penalties in the same game, akin to basketball’s technical foul rule.

“Starting the third quarter, (the referee said officials) would view it as every person on the field had a personal foul,” first-year coach Barry Odom said.

As a result, when Harris and LSU backup offensive lineman Andy Dodd were flagged for offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in the game’s closing minutes, both were ejected.

However, a spokesman for the SEC office told The Star by email on Monday “there is no carryover for those ejections.”

The conference office reserves the right to review all personal fouls and can impose suspensions for egregious conduct as it did in suspending LSU guard Josh Boutte for a blind-side hit against Wisconsin defensive back D’Cota Dixon.

But Harris (and Dodd) won’t be subject to additional discipline, according to the SEC office.

With that cleared up, let’s dig a little deeper into Mizzou’s failings at LSU on Saturday during a 42-7 defeat:

1. Mounting missed tackles

Defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross said Missouri missed “21 or 22 tackles” against LSU — which accounts for a big chunk of the 634 total yards, including 418 rushing yards — in what’s become an alarming trend in 2016.

The Tigers’ inability to tackle is killing its defense.

“It’s disappointing, because we work on it at practice every day,” junior safety Thomas Wilson said. “Having it not translate from the practice field to the game field is disappointing, but tackling is just about want-to and being physical. That’s something everybody, myself included, needs to get better at.”

LSU spread the field more than it had shown in the first four games, stretching Missouri’s defense and creating more space and seams for ball carriers to exploit.

“They did a couple different things, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen,” senior linebacker Michael Scherer said. “It was nothing wild and crazy. It came down to making plays.”

Mizzou simply didn’t make enough of them.

“I haven't watched the film,” Scherer said. “Some of the times, I didn’t know what was going on, but it’s not the same as what was going on against West Virginia. Against West Virginia, guys just basically didn’t know what they were doing. We didn’t know what the play was and didn’t know what we are doing. We were just kind of lining up and playing football. That’s not what it was this time. This time it was more, we knew what we were doing, but we’ve got to execute.”

2. Time of possession struggles

Against Football Bowl Subdivision competition, Missouri is allowing 512.3 yards. That ranks 98th in the country. On the bright side, it’s still better than Kansas (621), but it’s in the same ballpark as Iowa State (521) and defense-challenged Texas (531).

Here’s where it gets interesting: The Tigers rank 59th in average yards per play at 5.91, even after getting gashed for 7.7 yards per play on 82 defensive snaps by LSU. That suggests Mizzou’s biggest problem on defense is simply overexposure.

Missouri’s offense is trying to go up-tempo and it’s been fine when it works because offensive coordinator Josh Heupel’s crew is putting up points and points win football games. Trouble is that it’s only really worked against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State (plus most of the first half against Georgia). The rest of the time, the Tigers have been prone to fruitless short drives that give the defense no time to rest or make adjustments.

At West Virginia, Mizzou had 15 drives (not including a 9-second drive to end the first half) of which 10 lasted less than 1:45 and nine were six plays or fewer. Only one drive lasted longer than 2:42.

Against Georgia, the Tigers had 16 drives, but only one was longer than 2:17 and 12 were 1:41 or shorter. Nine drives were three-and-outs or shorter because of turnovers or quick touchdowns, the latter of which aren’t an issue but also are the exception and not the norm.

At LSU, MU had 12 drives, including five three-and-outs. Only one drive — the fourth-quarter touchdown drive that lasted 3:44 — lasted longer than 2:09 and six drives were 1:04 or shorter.

It doesn’t help that the Tigers also are minus-5 in turnover margin through two SEC games with only one turnover created against four Drew Lock interceptions and two fumbles.

“I have great belief with all of my soul that we’re a much better football team than that,” Odom said. “We will be moving forward. I challenged us — coaching staff, myself and the entire team — we’ve got to make a decision. Let’s draw a line in the dirt and go to work.”

3. What about Lock?

Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock remains the Southeastern Conference leader with 1,675 passing yards and 14 touchdowns.

He’s fifth in the conference in yards per attempt at 8.4 yards and fifth in passer rating at 146.68 — which is ahead of Tennessee’s Josh Dobbs, Alabama’s Jalen Hurts, Texas A&M’s Trevor Knight and Georgia’s Jacob Eason, among others.

Of course, Lock’s numbers also are inflated by monster games against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State.

Against only Power Five competition, Lock’s 109.0 passer rating would rank 11th in the SEC — behind all those previously mentioned players and others like South Carolina’s Perry Orth.

Against LSU, Lock didn’t throw a touchdown for the first time this season, though he did catch one from senior wide receiver Eric Laurent.

Lock also threw his fourth interception and it was a bad throw. There’s no way around that. He was under pressure and threw back across the field and across his body.

“I threw off my back foot and kind of threw it to a spot that we’ve been practicing all week,” said Lock, who said the pass was intended for senior tight end Sean Culkin but wound up closer to Laurent deeper down the field.

Lock finished 17 of 37 for 167 yards against LSU, which had the best secondary Mizzou has faced this season.

“That was the best job any team has done covering us, but at the same time there were a lot of plays there for us to make,” Lock said.

Unfortunately, Lock didn’t get much help from his receivers. Heupel said on Tiger Talk, a weekly radio program in Columbia about Mizzou football, that the team’s outside receivers particularly struggled at LSU.

Mizzou’s offensive line, which hadn’t allowed a sack in three games and had allowed only one all season, gave up two sacks and more pressure than any other game.

Considering the caliber of defensive line LSU has, it wasn’t a bad performance, but it’s clear that the Tigers’ offense, which ranks 72nd in the country with a 5.1-yard average per play against Power Five competition this season, still has room to grow.

Tod Palmer: 816-234-4389, @todpalmer