Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Missouri season review
By ESPN.com staff
Missouri was the biggest mystery team in the Big 12 coming into the season.
The Tigers played to those expectations in a rollercoaster 8-4 season that started with a four-game winning streak and finished with a three-game winning streak. In between, there was an inexplicable home loss to Baylor and a nasty three-game losing streak.
Some of the uncertainty should have been expected, considering all of the top talent that left the Tigers from last season's division champions.
Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert had a strong first season as a starter as he ranked 11th nationally in total offense, passing for 3,302 yards and 23 touchdowns. He gamely tried to play through a sprained ankle, but his decreased mobility was one of the prime reasons for the midseason tailspin.
After scoring only 36 points in the three-game losing streak to Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas, the Tigers surged at the end of the season as Danario Alexander emerged as the nation’s hottest receiver. His late charge, along with Gabbert’s return to health, helped the Tigers score at least 32 points in each of their last five games as they finished 4-1.
The defense struggled at times under first-year coordinator Dave Steckel, but had a knack of coming up with big plays despite getting gashed for big yardage. That was typified in their 41-39 season finale victory over Kansas, where they were torched by Todd Reesing for 498 passing yards but came up with a big stand at the end of the game to set up the victory.
Offensive MVP WR Danario Alexander
After struggling with injuries most of his college career, Alexander blossomed as arguably the nation’s most productive receiver at the end of the season. He produced 107 receptions for a conference-leading 1,644 yards and 13 touchdowns, ranking first nationally in receiving yards per game and third in receptions per game. He finished the season with 200-yard games in three of his last four contests, accounting for 49 receptions during the late charge.
Defensive MVP LB Sean Weatherspoon
While freshman defensive end Aldon Smith displayed some freakish pass-rushing abilities, Weatherspoon was a steady force on a defense that needed one. Weatherspoon led the team with 104 tackles and ranked second with 14 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. He helped the defense find an identity with all of the new blood on the squad.
Turning point Oct. 8 vs. Nebraska
The Tigers were nursing a 12-0 lead over Nebraska heading into the fourth quarter and appeared to have the game firmly in control on a nasty, rainy night against their prime North Division rivals. Instead, Zac Lee found lightning in a bottle by throwing three touchdown passes in a period of 3 minutes and 22 seconds, which pulled the Cornhuskers to a dramatic comeback. Even worse, Blaine Gabbert sprained his ankle and would struggle during the next several weeks, paving the way for a three-game losing streak that killed the Tigers’ hopes of earning their third straight North Division title.
Despite the loss of key playmakers like Weatherspoon and Alexander, the Tigers have a strong young collection of talent that will benefit from the extra practice this month. The Tigers earned a favorable Texas Bowl matchup against a Navy team that likely will not be able to exploit their pass defense liabilities. And with another year of development for Gabbert as well as losing only two offensive and three defensive starters, the Tigers should be back in North Division contention next season.