09

What A Run…And A Run…And A Run…

ATLANTA - I’m really quite torn.

I was in a better place when I exited the Georgia Dome Saturday night than I am now as I write this 24 hours later.

To be clear…my thought process Saturday night was:

The better team won. Quite simple.

And, now, with some time to communicate with a number of people who have played the game in college and/or the NFL, my thought process is:

The better team won, but it’s not quite that simple.

Don’t get me wrong, much like I’ve seen from Bernie Miklasz, Bryan Burwell, and others, I’m stunned that the Missouri defense---ranked #2 in the SEC against the run going into the game---was gashed like they were…but, as I exited the Georgia Dome, in my mind, I
was at relative peace, because even when they were down just one at the half and up three in the 3rd Quarter, it never really felt like they were going to win the game…at least to me. Perhaps it was different for you, but that was how it looked/felt watching the game in Atlanta.

It’s a strange deal when you go to football games as opposed to watch them on TV. At least in my experience it is. I have found that I don’t get nearly as upset about the losses as I do when I’m watching them at home. Sure, in 2013, part of that is reading the Prisoners of The Moment on Twitter and message boards, but I can apply this feeling of detachment by being at games to 2002 as well.

For whatever reason, the pain of Super Bowl XXXVI, perhaps the most miserable loss in the last 25 years in St. Louis sports, was diluted by being in attendance. When Adam Vinatieri’s kick won it for the Patriots, I was standing underneath the Superdome with about 1,500 members of the media, and it didn’t hit me as hard as many back in St. Louis. As a matter of fact, when we landed back in St. Louis from New Orleans the day after the Super Bowl, I recall asking the gentleman from KMOV who picked all of us up at the airport about a Missouri basketball game against Virginia the day before.

“Are you kidding me? This is maybe the worst day in St. Louis sports, and you’re asking me about a Missouri basketball game?” He asked…quite stupefied. And the guy was a big time Missouri fan.

I was in a different world. Nothing new, I suppose. But, by being at the game…I was a little detached.

So, going back to this weekend and the Auburn Track Meet, I was cool with everything initially.

Was.

Sitting there watching the game in the stands, it would’ve been borderline comical if I had no rooting interest. Missouri had no chance to stop them. When it was only 28-27 at halftime, we were all like, “How is it possible that Missouri’s only down 1?”

I recall saying to some of my friends who were with us, “I’m anxious to see the adjustments they make at halftime.”

Uh, yeah.

I’m still waiting to see those adjustments.

Missouri allowed 28 points in the first half. 31 points in the second half.

So much for trying something different.

And, as you may or may not know, Tre Mason may still be running all the way to New York City to be in attendance as Jameis Winston is awarded the Heisman Trophy.

The fact that the defense, which had been so damn good throughout the season, looked helpless is nearly as surprising as the fact that Missouri was in the 2013 SEC Championship Game in the first place.

I expected Missouri to put up points in the fashion they did. DGB had a monster game with six catches, 144 yards, and 2 TD’s. And Henry Josey had 123 yards on the ground. James Franklin threw and ran for a total of 365 yards. Rarely did Auburn stop them.

The problem was that Missouri stopped War Damn Eagle even fewer times.

Missouri scoring 42 points?

I would’ve bought it before the game.

Auburn scoring 59? No, sir.

In fairness, and I want to make sure I make this crystal clear: Auburn is an absolutely brilliant offense both from the Gus Malzahn offensive genius to the execution of the SEC Champion Tigers’ QB, line, and, of course, Mason. Once they put up 300 yards on the ground against Alabama, the fact that they could gash the SEC Runner-Up Tigers was not a surprise.

But, it was the ease and the extent with which they did it that was just mind blowing.

677 yards of total offense?

304 yards on the ground for Mason alone?

And this against a defense that had been #14 in the country going into the game?

It’s hard to believe that with 5:35 left in the 3rd Quarter, Missouri was leading 34-31.

It’s even harder to comprehend less than four minutes later on the game clock that  Missouri was trailing 45-34.

But, that illustrated how quickly and mercilessly Auburn dominated the Missouri defense.

And…it was almost exclusively on the ground.

Which leads me to the whole point of the opening paragraphs of this column.

I was ok with the loss, because I walked out of the Georgia Dome thinking Auburn was better than Missouri…and I still do.

As a matter of fact, it would have been a college football travesty if Ohio State had been in the BCS Championship Game instead of Auburn. So, justice was served in that sense.

But, on the other hand, Ohio State’s “upset” loss to Michigan State shows Missouri fans just how close they were to playing for the BCS National Championship.

Just like 2007…the Tigers were one half away from doing it.

And just like 2007…they let it get away in a loss that looks worse on the scoreboard than the game was.

In 2007, had Missouri gone to play for the BCS National Championship, they likely would’ve won. Ohio State was in over their heads, and they got it handed to them by a two-loss LSU team. Missouri could’ve done the same, but for whatever reason, they played a different style of football in the Big 12 Championship Game. And, as Gary Pinkel said, he didn’t do a great job of preparing his team for that game. In hindsight, he wondered if they were still celebrating beating Kansas four days after the game…and not ready for Oklahoma.

This year, I can’t say I would’ve expected Missouri to beat Florida State.

But, of course, I would’ve liked to have seen them get the shot.

Instead, in one of the most important games in Missouri football history, the Tiger defense allowed the Auburn offense to make SEC history.

And that begs the question: what was going on with Gary Pinkel, Dave Steckel, and the Missouri defense?

Depending on where you are, when you’re sitting in the stands, it’s difficult to see the whole field and the alignments. You get a much better view of the game on TV.

So, after the game, I was conversing with a few guys who have played the game at the college and/or NFL level, and I wanted to get their takes.

To a man, they were shocked that Pinkel, Steckel, and the defense continued to let Auburn just run the same play over and over again…and not adjust. The 4-3? Wasn’t working. Then to a 3 man front? Nope.

As Tyoka Jackson tweeted, “Makes no sense to me, because allows the guards easy access to your LB’s, and they’re running inside.”

Perhaps the outcome would’ve been the same…and perhaps Marshall would’ve thrown the football with success…but at least try and do something different, because what you were doing sure as hell wasn’t coming remotely close to stopping them.

I asked what they would’ve done differently. Here are the responses:

“4-3 w/ safety down in the box. I would’ve sent both ends up field for the option and left my LB’s and SS take care of the inside run. Play man-on-man on the outside with safety in the middle. Really shocking to me. 500 yards and the game is still close. Go ahead and adjust and win the game. THEY ARE RUNNING IT! Make them do what they aren’t comfortable nor built to do. PASS!”

And then there’s this:

“I think with personnel I would’ve gone 4-3 with safety about 10 yards off the ball playing tight. Then would have brought corners on blitzes. The corners might as well not been on field. Way to stop option run is pressure. Disrupt timing. You would have been beat a couple times, but you can score to compensate. I don’t like saying this too often, but I lay loss on coaching. The scheme was so far off. Auburn ran exactly what they did all season. Pack the box and make them throw. Mizzou had secondary to hang in there. Fuck. Mizzou would be playing for National Championship had they made changes at half.”

It was with those conversations and watching Ohio State lose that the sting began to burn more.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Wayne Gretzky said it, and I firmly believe in it.

If something isn’t working, you have an obligation to adjust.

And the Missouri defensive scheme wasn’t just failing, it was doing so at a laughable rate.

Credit Auburn. No question. 100%. They could very well wind up being the National Champions. However, Missouri led the best or second-best team in the country by three with 20 minutes left in the football game. I’m sorry, but I can’t just sit here and say, “Well, it was a great year.” I will say, “It was a great year, BUT, when Missouri went up against its best opposition in its biggest game, the defensive side of the ball---coaches and players---didn’t have an answer.”

You don’t know how many times you’re going to get a shot like this.

Missouri football isn’t Cardinal baseball. And even if the Tigers had the pedigree of the Cardinals, they’re in a conference that produces National Championship contenders in three’s and four’s. The SEC has two Top 10 teams that didn’t even make it to this game.

The experience of being at the SEC Championship was incredible. It was like the Super Bowl…but better, because the Parties In The Parkers who inhabit Super Bowls to validate their existence aren’t there. It’s a packed building of people who care about the outcome…not a corporate circle jerk populated by starfuckers.

As a Missouri fan, it was an absolute thrill to be there, and it was a sporting event I highly recommend to any sports fan…even if you have no dog in the fight.

My hope is that Missouri will be back much sooner rather than much later.

But, with 20 minutes left in the 2013 season, they were up by three points.

20 minutes away from playing for the National Championship.

Cotton Bowl, Sugar Bowl, Capital One Bowl, Independence Bowl. They’re all the same to me. Exhibition games with matchups based on who will bring the most revenue to the host. That’s business. But, it’s not football. It’s not earned on the field. The Tigers had a chance for that one game Saturday in Atlanta.

Incredible run. Phenomenal experience in Atlanta. Excited for the future. But…
…this one still stings.

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