Missouri Football: What We Learned from the Week 1 Game vs. SE Louisiana
Photo courtesy Los Angeles Times (Chris Lee / MCT / September 1, 2012)
Missouri football grades are in for week one, and although it wasn't the high-profile game that Tiger fans will grow accustomed to this season, we did learn some key things in the game against Southeastern Louisiana.
Mizzou made their official debut as an SEC team last Saturday, bringing to Faurot Field not only the high-powered style of offense that they've been used to but also their newly branded fashion statement.
It goes without saying, though, that the next game will be one of the biggest in Missouri's history, and one that will be the answer to trivia questions in the future: The very first SEC game.
Let's take a look at some of the things we learned about the Missouri football squad from last Saturday's game.
Focused on Winning the Turnover Battle
Photo courtesy the Associated Press / L.G. Patterson
Missouri finished on the plus side of the turnover battle in 2011, having a margin of plus three in this all-important department.
How will Missouri fare in 2012? If they can sustain their margin, they already have last season beat as they gave up no turnovers and forced four against Southeastern Louisiana Saturday.
And as we'll talk about in a moment, two of those turnovers translated into points.
If the Tigers plan on having any success in the SEC, they will have to make what happened against the Lions into their blueprint: Put the pressure on early and force the opponent into mistakes.
Kendall Lawrence Can Still Break One
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press / Jeff Roberson
Last year, running back Kendial Lawrence started at the top of the Missouri depth chart. After sustaining an injury that saw Henry Josey step in and become the Big 12's leading rusher, Josey's season ending injury has caused plenty of uneasiness.
Will Kendial Lawrence be able to keep the Missouri rushing attack among the best in the country?
For all the questions, Lawrence had one big answer.
In the first quarter, Lawrence busted out a 76-yard romp for a touchdown, turning his jets on and dusting the FCS defense of Southeastern Louisiana.
Lawrence finished with 121 of the 261 total rushing yards.
The Tigers are still running by committee, but it's good to know that your top tailback is still capable of the single, game-changing play.
Houston, We Have a Playmaker
Photo courtesy the Associated Press / L.G. Patterson
If I'd told you before Saturday's game that there would be two kick returns for touchdowns by the same player, you might think that Dorial Green-Beckham was given a chance at running the ball back.
But that was not the case, as the Tigers got a few style points from sophomore Marcus Murphy.
Missouri has not traditionally had someone who can return kicks sitting on their shelf. Before Jeremy Maclin dazzled Mizzou fans, it had been since 1981 that the Tigers had seen a kick return for a touchdown.
Now, players who aren't being expected to return at a high level are making statements.
The performance has undoubtedly put Murphy's name on the mind of Missouri fans, and it will be interesting to see what he can do from here in big games.
Defense Is Hungry for Points
It wasn't enough that the Tigers won the turnover battle—on two occasions those turnovers turned into immediate points.
Zaviar Gooden started the defensive scoring on the first play shown here, grabbing an interception and taking it back 20 yards for the touchdown.
Sophomore Michael Sam kept it rolling in the first quarter with a seven yard return on a fumble recovery for a score, really deflating the Lions at this point in the game.
The video also shows both of Marcus Murphy's returns for touchdowns.
To get points like this from the team when the offense isn't on the field is great, and something that will win Missouri some big games this season if they can continue play like this in the SEC.
It Was a Victory by Committee
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press / L.G. Patterson
The defense and special teams got in on the scoring, so the responsibility for the final score was spread all around.
Of the nine touchdowns scored, seven different players got in on the action.
T.J. Moe started the season off with a 2-yard score from James Franklin. Zaviar Gooden then got his interception for a touchdown. Kendial Lawrence got his 76-yard score on the next Missouri drive and then Michael Sam's fumble return rounded out the touchdowns in the first quarter.
Lawrence popped in on a quick running score to start the third quarter, and then it became the Marcus Murphy Show as he ran the first of two punts back 70 yards for a touchdown.
Jimmie Hunt caught a 10-yard touchdown pass to end the third quarter, then heralded Lee's Summit, Mo. recruit Corbin Berkstresser got in for a 1-yard score to begin his Missouri career.
With just under 10 minutes left in the game, Murphy got a hold of another punt and outdid his previous return, running this one back for 72 yards.
Missouri Is Confident
Photo courtesy St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Chris Lee
Coming into this game it was no real surprise that Missouri excelled the way they did on the scoreboard. Southeastern Louisiana was an unimpressive 3-8 last season in the FCS's Southland Conference.
Missouri fans may now feel like there is a return weapon in Marcus Murphy, and they wouldn't be the only ones to notice. Murphy was named the SEC Special Teams Player of the Week by the conference on Monday.
The passing game was rolling on all cylinders. Several players got in on the running game. The defense was sound. Everything that the Tigers wanted to start out well on worked the way they planned.
All that said it's a far cry in competition from Missouri's next opponent, Georgia. The Bulldogs are coming in to Columbia expecting to dust Mizzou. And why not? After all, Georgia is the No. 6 ranked team in the country.
But going through the motions the right way has given the Tigers a ton of confidence in an era where pulling off the big victory isn't as unthinkable as it has been.
We Finally Got to See Berkstresser
Photo courtesy the Columbia Missourian
If quarterback James Franklin takes an injury or can't be in for any reason, the Tigers will be in good hands this season, and Missouri fans finally got to see why on Saturday.
Corbin Berkstresser of Lee's Summit, Rivals.com 2011 no. 3 overall Missouri prospect, was finally out on a field playing football again, this time in a Missouri uniform.
Ranked as the No. 16 pro-style quarterback in the nation by Rivals.com, there has been a lot of positive buzz about Berkstresser coming out of Columbia this summer.
While top quarterback James Franklin was out recovering from off-season surgery, Berkstresser worked with the No. 1 offense. This experience will be invaluable to the redshirt freshman's approach later in the season when he will be called upon in a big situation.
Berkstresser went five-for-five with 60 passing yards and a rushing touchdown in his limited action.
Photo courtesy the Columbia Missourian / Stuart Palley
The game against Southeastern Louisiana played out as it was supposed to. Missouri didn't beat themselves and flexed their strengths.
All fans realize that Georgia won't be a walk in the park, but also remember the Missouri team that beat BCS No. 1 ranked Oklahoma on the same field less than two seasons ago. There's no doubt Missouri will be feeling good about going for an upset.
The other important thing about the previous game is what we're not talking about—the injuries. No significant setbacks happened to healthy Tiger players.
I will admit that I was wrong when I that Dorial Green-Beckham would score the first touchdown of the season for Missouri, it was T.J. Moe.
However, in just a slight toot of the old horn here, I didn't get the 55-3 score I predicted to be the outcome, but my 52-point predicted margin of victory was dead on.
But it all gets different for Georgia.