Grading the Tigers: Iowa State

Grading the Tigers: Iowa State

With only pride on the line, Missouri had one of its best performances of the year in a 17-14 overtime win at Iowa State on Saturday. The win will not propel the Tigers to a bowl game, but it will keep the Cyclones out of the Big 12 Championship. Read on for the marks the Tigers deserve after snapping their five-game losing streak.

Offense: Overall grade: B

Passing game: This was the kind of performance the Missouri coaching staff has been expecting from junior quarterback Brad Smith all season long. Smith was neither flashy nor spectacular, but he made smart throws and put them in the right place the majority of the time. And the conditions were not the most conducive for that, either; both quarterbacks dealt with winds of up to 35 miles per hour throughout the game.

Smith's final passing statistics are nothing special -- 13-of-24 for 150 yards and an interceptions -- but they are a marked improvement. The interception was a fluke play and not Smith's fault, while the completion percentage was much improved. Smith hit seven different receivers on the afternoon and, if he had turned in passing performances like this throughout the season, the Tigers would be preparing for the Big 12 Championship game right now. Grade: B

Rushing game: Disappointing production from one runner, but marquee days by the other two. Junior Damien Nash finished with 26 yards on 12 carries, with a long of just six yards. Given an opportunity in the second and fourth quarters and overtime, freshman Marcus Woods showed why he had the coaching staff salivating before the season.

Smith also had his best rushing performance of the season, gaining 101 yards on 21 carries and rarely being dropped behind the line. The blocking was more consistent than in weeks past, while Woods and Smith showed an ability to make defenders miss that Nash could not. Again, this is the kind of performance the offense was capable of all season; seeing the unit produce like this in a game that had no meaning is as frustrating as it is surprising. Grade: A-

Quarterbacks: Smith finished with 251 total yards, not the most dominant performance of his career but a solid one nonetheless. Generally, he had more time in the pocket than he had at any point during the Tigers' losing skid, and his results bare that out. His 36-yard touchdown run to put the Tigers ahead 14-7 was a fantastic call and showed what Smith can do when the offensive line performs to its capabilities. Smith also made the biggest play of the game, tackling Iowa State safety Steve Paris to save a touchdown. It was a solid end to a disappointing junior year for Smith, one that should give him plenty of motivation heading into the offseason. Grade: B+

Tailbacks: Woods showed an elusiveness, a cutability if you will, that the backs have been lacking all season. He finished with 81 yards on 17 carries, becoming the focal point of the running game after a strong series in the second quarter. On that drive, Woods had runs of two, six, 24 and five yards, the last of which put the Tigers in the end zone and ahead 7-0. Somebody on the Missouri coaching staff needs to pinpoint what ignited Woods before this game; perhaps it was his lack of involvement against Kansas last week, when he rushed the ball just once. Regardless, Woods' performance opens the door for him beating out Nash for the top spot in spring football. Since freshman Tony Temple did not play, the likelihood of him receiving a medical hardship redshirt greatly increases. Grade: B

Wide receivers: Four receivers made a catch, the starters and freshman William Franklin, who finished with one catch for five yards. After not denting the stat sheet until the fourth quarter, junior Sean Coffey ended up as the group's top target, finishing with three grabs for 44 yards. Coffey did not find the end zone, however, unable to extend his school record of single-season touchdown receptions. Senior Thomson Omboga performed well in his final collegiate game, although his fumble in the fourth quarter was his biggest play of the game. (That said, I'm not convinced it was a fumble; I never saw a replay that confirmed the ball was coming out of Omboga's hands before his knee hit the ground.) Sophomore Brad Ekwerekwu continued to be less than impressive, although both of his two catches gave the Tigers first downs. Grade: B-

Tight ends: Finally, the tight ends got more involved in the passing game. Senior Victor Sesay finished with two catches for 37 yards, while freshman Martin Rucker's one grab for 26 yards should have gone longer, if a holding penalty by Coffey had not brought the play back quite a bit. Still, Saturday's outcome shows the Tiger passing game is much more impressive when the tight ends get involved. When Smith got away from that formula, the Tigers did not seem to win. Grade: B

Offensive line: Overall, it was one of the line's best performances of the year. Freshman Tyler Luellen returned to the starting lineup, replacing senior Tony Clinker. He made a great block on Smith's touchdown run, but appeared to injure his shoulder on the play, put Clinker back on the field. The Cyclones had seven tackles for loss, surely a few more than the line wanted to give up, but they still finished without allowing a sack. Senior Scott Paffrath showed an atypical lack of focus in committing a personal foul penalty, but he was strong in his final collegiate game. Grade: B+

Defense: Overall grade B+

Pass defense: Bret Meyer finished with 206 yards on 16-of-28 passing, a decent performance. At times, he was unstoppable, racking up big chunks of yards against the Big 12's best defense. At other times, Meyer could barely move the ball with his arm, forcing him to rely on his feet instead. And, of course, cornerback A.J. Kincade made the biggest play of the Tigers' season, intercepting a Meyer pass in overtime to give the Tigers the win. Grade: B

Rush defense: Stevie Hicks is not the most imposing runner in the Big 12, but coming off a career-high performance against Kansas State last weekend, he had plenty of confidence. The Tigers almost completely shut him down, letting him gain just 49 yards on 24 carries. Hicks' ineffectiveness forced Meyer to run more than he has in the past, and he was successful, finishing with 61 yards on 20 carries. The Cyclones also found success with an end-around to wide receiver Jon Davis, who gained 40 yards the three times the Cyclones ran the play. The biggest plays came in overtime, when the Tigers stopped the Cyclones twice for negative three yards, forcing Iowa State into a passing situation on third down. Overall, the Tigers allowed 143 rushing yards, not a bad performance against a team that focuses on establishing the run. Grade: B+

Defensive line: A balanced performance from the line, as all four starters contributed a big play. Three line members -- tackles C.J. Mosley and Atiyyah Ellison and end Brian Smith -- all chipped in a sack, while senior Zach Ville might have had the strongest afternoon of all. Ville appeared to force two fumbles, although both plays were ruled forward passes and incomplete. He finished with two tackles and a pass breakup. End Lorenzo Williams had another strong day in reserve duty, chipping in two tackles, while tackle Phil Pitts finished his collegiate career with one tackle. Grade: A-

Linebackers: Senior Henry Sweat had a fantastic game, recording 13 tackles, 12 of them solo stops, three tackles for loss and a sack. His tackle total led the Tigers, five ahead of senior James Kinney. Sophomore Marcus Bacon continues to be a steady contributor, chipping in five tackles on the afternoon. Dedrick Harrington also finished his sophomore year strong, recording four stops, including one for loss. Grade: B-

Cornerbacks: How fitting was it that Kincade, who lost his starting job to junior Marcus King early in conference play, made the defining play of the Tigers' season? He made the play on a poorly thrown Meyer pass, attempting to return it downfield although the game was already over. Shirdonya Mitchell had another strong game, finishing with three tackles, while King chipped in three. The Tigers didn't exactly shut down the Cyclone passing game, but it was a solid performance. Grade: A-

Safeties: A standout job by senior Nino Williams, who made several big plays on his way to eight tackles. Williams was joined by steady junior Jason Simpson, who made a few mistakes that led to missed tackles but still finished with seven, including one for loss. After leading the team in stops against Kansas, David Overstreet only recorded one against the Cyclones. Grade: B+

Special teams: Overall grade B+

Placekicking: Freshman Adam Crossett became the man in charge of all of the kick duties last week, and he fared pretty well in his second time around. He made the Tigers' only field goal attempt of the afternoon, converting from 25 yards in overtime in what became the game-winning play. Not a bad performance for a kid who had yet to make a collegiate field goal coming into the game. Grade: A

Punting: The numbers aren't pretty, as Crossett finished with a 36.8-yard average on his eight punts. Crossett dealt with strong winds all afternoon, which helped him boom one kick 56 yards and limited him to a 20-yarder in the fourth quarter. Still, an impressive performance by the Tigers' third-string punter. Grade: B+

Long snapper and holder: Senior Zach Strom had a few high snaps, but Ekwerekwu did not have a problem on the one ball he put down. Grade: B

Returners: Omboga continued to be unsure on his returns, letting a few balls bounce that deep into Tiger territory that he should have fair caught. He returned one punt for one yard. Mitchell and freshman Alex Woodley were strong on the kick team, returning three kicks for an average of 18.3 yards. Grade: B-

Coverage teams: Not too many opportunities here, either. The Tigers got a lot of pressure on Iowa State's missed fourth-quarter field goal, but didn't appear to get a paw on the kick. The coverage team was bailed out by a block in the back penalty on one long kick return, but the coverage was good otherwise. Grade: B+

Looking back, it's amazing to think that, if the Tigers had beaten Kansas last week, or Kansas State or Oklahoma State earlier in the season, Missouri fans would be booking hotel rooms in Kansas City right now. In such a dreadful year for the Big 12 North, the Tigers could not take advantage of the opportunities presented to them and will not reach a bowl game.

Spinning it from a different angle, the Tigers defeated the two teams that tied for the North crown. With all that went wrong, it's good to have the season end on such an uplifting note. This year will be remembered as one high expectations followed by great disappointment, but Saturday's win might save a few heads from rolling on the coaching staff. At the least, it will give Missouri fans some hope during the long offseason.

Final Grade: B+

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