We’re now five days removed from the Cotton Bowl. Enough time to analyze the game without too much pain. Strange game, Missouri’s 41-31 victory over OSU. Both offensives were totally sluggish through three quarters, then both defenses collapsed.
The last three college football games I covered — Bedlam, Sugar Bowl and Cotton Bowl — all ended the same way. All three games went to the last minute or so, with the team trailing down by a touchdown or less and in possession of the ball, and all three possessions ended with a defensive touchdown.
“Tough way to lose the last two games,” Mike Gundy said. “Essentially we came up short the last two games of the year on basically what would be the last play of the game. So we have to find a way to win those games.”
Here’s what I saw and heard.
* Missouri was good and solid. But I guess I expected more out of an SEC division champ. A team that with a victory ended up fifth in the final AP poll.
I mean, OSU didn’t play all that well and easily could have won. The game came down to one play, with a minute to go.
“Obviously you don’t get into double-digit wins playing in a major conference like they play in and we play in without being a very good football team,” Gundy said..
* OSU’s gameplan seemed passive. Maybe offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich feared the Missouri pass rush, and with good reason, though the Cowboy line ended up protecting Clint Chelf well.
Here are Chelf’s passes on OSU’s first four possessions:
1. Swing pass to Josh Stewart (nine yards);
2. Swing pass to Stewart (two yards);
3. Throwaway a dump pass;
4. Rollout incompletion to Marcel Ateman on an out pattern;
5. A deep out for Stewart, woefully underthrown and intercepted;
6. Hitch pattern to Charlie Moore, basically a sideways pass (seven yards);
7. Slant pattern to Stewart, touchdown (40 yards).
So on OSU’s first four possessions, Chelf threw just one of seven passes downfield or even intermediate.
After that, the shackles came off, to some degree. The rest of the quarter, Chelf threw two passes, a slant and a curl.
In the second quarter, Chelf threw 11 passes — six out patterns, three slants, one hitch and one deep ball.
In the third quarter, Chelf threw 16 passes — three out patterns, two curls, five slants, two hitches, one swing, one dumpoff and two deep balls.
In the fourth quarter, Chelf threw 15 passes — four out patterns, two slants, two crossing patterns and seven deep balls.
So in the game’s first 13 minutes, Chelf threw four basically-sideways passes. In the next 47 minutes, Chelf threw five sideways passes.
The Cowboys clearly got more aggressive the longer the game went on. Some of that was by necessity. But some of it was by design. Maybe the short passing game was supposed to open the downfield throws, and maybe they did. But perhaps a more aggressive gameplan at the start would have opened the OSU run game.
And aggression is generally a good thing anyway. That’s the kind of mentality that wins games.
* Third-and-short was a disaster for OSU. The Cowboys had three third downs, needing less than four yards. They converted just three. A good offense should be well above 50 percent.
I didn’t have a big problem with the play-calling. OSU ran four times on third-and-short and passed four times. They succeeded twice on passes, once on runs.
On three third-and-ones, OSU ran twice and passed once. The only success came on Des Roland’s one-yard run in the first quarter.
On two third-and-twos, Clint Chelf passed both times, converting one, a seven-yard gain to Tracy Moore on a slant pattern.
On three third-and-threes, OSU ran twice and failed both, threw once and succeeded, on Chelf’s big 22-yard completion to Moore on a streak pattern.
So if you’re looking for complaints, start there. Third-and-three seemed a little long for the OSU run game on this night.
* OSU had 18 possessions. One ended the game. So in the other 17 possessions, OSU had eight punts, a missed field goal, three turnovers, four touchdowns and one field goal. That’s offensive efficiency of .265. Not terrible. But not good.
“We just couldn’t get in a rhythm,” Chelf said. “It seemed like we’d get a good gain, then we’d kind of stall out. We never really got our rhythm going. Once we kind of found it, obviously we started rolling.
“Anytime you turn the ball over three times, that’s obviously going to limit your opportunity to score points. That and not getting into rhythm were the big keys.”
* Missouri had 17 possessions. Mizzou scored four touchdowns, kicked two field goals, punted seven times, committed three turnovers and was stopped on fourth down once. That’s .294 offensive efficiency. Not terrible, not all that good. A little better than OSU.
But what has to gall the Cowboys is that when Ben Grogan’s field goal gave OSU a 17-17 tie with 13:32 left in the game, Missouri’s offense took the field having produced two touchdowns and one field goal, in 14 possessions. That’s dominant defense. Yet the Cowboys wilted down the stretch.
In those final three possessions, Mizzou made 10 first downs. Only two came on third-down plays. The Tiger offense went into high gear.
Missouri ran 20 plays on those three drives. And produced gains of 18, 12, 25, 14, 10, 12, 13, 27 and 16 yards.
Of course, Missouri’s defense collapsed, too. OSU had 305 yards on 62 snaps through three quarters. Then the Cowboys had 243 yards in the fourth quarter on 34 plays.
Chelf alone threw for 156 yards and ran for 57 yards in the final period.
The difference? Missouri got the big stop. The sack and fumble and touchdown return in the final minute that sealed the game.
* Sorry, but Mizzou’s James Franklin did not show much as a quarterback. He was a little shaky two years ago, when we saw him in the Big 12. He seems to have progressed little. Franklin completed 15 of 40 for 174 yards, one interception, no touchdowns. At one point, Franklin was 4-of-16, and two of the completions came only after video review wiped out the officials’ call.
The Cowboys were fortunate that Missouri played backup Maty Mauk only two series. Mauk took Mizzou on a quick touchdown drive to open the second quarter — six plays, 80 yards — and played only three more snaps. Late third quarter, a Mauk series led to a quick punt.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said the plan was to use Mauk exactly like that.
The Mauk TD drive was particularly disappointing to OSU. A penalty put Missouri in a 2nd-and-18 situation, then Mauk scrambled for 35 yards. Later, two straight penalties sent Missouri to a first-and-goal at the OSU 24-yard line, and Mauk threw a 24-yard TD pass.
* Before we get too far along, I agree with the pass interference penalty against Tyler Patmon on the play in which he intercepted a Franklin pass and returned it for a touchdown, when the game was tied 24-24 midway through the fourth quarter.
The flag seemed late, and the Big Ten crew seemed lost a good part of the game, but that was interference. Patmon got a handful of Dorial Green-Beckham’s jersey and twisted the Missouri receiver around, just before snaring the interception.
* OSU won the quarterback derby in the Cotton Bowl, but Chelf still was out of sync. Nothing like he had been at Baylor.
After that monster game against the Bears — 19 of 25, 370 yards, three TDs, no picks — Chelf played back-to-back mediocre games. Chelf was a combined 52 of 92 for 577 yards, three TDs, three interceptions.
But more than the numbers, Chelf’s accuracy just wasn’t what it needed to be or what it was for the Texas/Baylor games (74.5 percent).
For instance, second quarter, after all that short passing game stuff early, Yurcich had a great call. A stop-and-go pattern got Stewart wide open behind the Missouri secondary. This should have been an easy 53-yard touchdown, but Chelf overthrow Stewart by a big distance. Just float it out there, let Stewart run under it. Instead, OSU punted.
“We missed some throws early in the game,” Gundy said. “Clint will tell you. We had two or three throws that would have gotten us down the field. I think one time we had a throw out there to Josh
Stewart, pretty much catches it, he’s going to score. You miss a few throws. When you’re playing a team as good as they are, there’s not much room for error.”
* OSU’s kicking game was not good. Remember when special teams were dominant in Stillwater?
Justin Gilbert really wasn’t healthy, so the kickoff returns were expected to fall. But the punt returns weren’t much, either — Charlie Moore had a 12-yarder, Stewart two for four yards. Meanwhile, Missouri got a 38-yard punt return and a 31-yard kickoff return from Marcus Murphy.
And the kicking wasn’t any better. Mizzou’s Andrew Baggett nailed field goals of 35 and 46 yards. Grogan made from 25 but missed from 34. Which was the difference in the game.
Missouri also won the punting duel — Christian Brinser averaged 41 yards a punt and dropped three inside the 20-yard line. OSU’s Kip Smith averaged 37.2 yards a punt and had two inside the 20.
“For the most part, it came down to the kicking game,” Gundy said. “We missed a fairly easy field goal and at that time the game would have been tied. They won the kicking game by hitting their field goals. One time they hit a long one, I think a 47-yarder. We missed a short one. Those things add up in close games when you’re playing teams ranked as high as they are. There’s not much room for error.”
* I know everyone thinks OSU ran too much on third-and-short, but I say the Cowboys didn’t run enough. OSU had seven first-half possessions. Three of the seven had zero tailback runs. And in the first half, Chelf had one run, a three-yard quarterback draw, discounting two sacks.
At halftime, OSU had 11 tailback runs, plus a couple of Stewart runs when he went in motion from flanker into the backfield.
In the second half, OSU was more serious about running the ball.
Roland, Jeremy Smith and Rennie Childs combined for 15 runs, plus Chelf had six designed runs. Chelf had quarterback draws of two, minus-three and 23 yards, and Chelf had read option runs of 23, 16 and five yards. The Cowboys ran hardly any option in the first half, for reasons that remain mysterious.
“We made some adjustments at halftime,” Gundy said. “That helped us as the game went on. Missouri has been good up front and defended the running game until we made those adjustments.”
* Jimmy Bean was outstanding at defensive end. Three tackles for loss.
“Missouri played a great game,” Bean said. “We had our backs against the wall the whole time. We were fighting. It’s what we’re used to. We knew it would be a defensive game.”
* After the game, much was made of Caleb Lavey not intercepting a pass that deflected off Green-Beckham’s hands with 31/2 minutes remaining. But cut Lavey some slack. He’s a linebacker, bearing in to help with pass coverage, and the ball went off DGB’s hands, requiring Lavey to adjust his feet and his hands. Maybe an elite receiver or even DB makes that play, but there’s no reason to think a linebacker ought to.
“Shaun had told me to push through on that,” Lavey said. “They were checking down to it. He told me right before the play, come off fast, he’s going to be throwing the ball. What do you know, he was right. So I had my hands on it. But I wasn’t able to reel it in. Looking back on it now, I wished I would have brought that sucker in. You can’t dwell on the plays behind us. It’s just one of those things.”
* The game’s biggest play immediately followed. Patmon played Green-Beckham tight, in press coverage; Green-Beckham fought to get past him, Franklin bought some time by stepping up in the pocket and DGB finally got past Patmon. Franklin, for once, threw a good pass down the left sideline. The 27-yard gain swung momentum to Missouri. Henry Josey ran 16 yards for a touchdown on the next play, and Mizzou led 34-31 with 3:08 left.
* The Cowboys did a good job on DGB, a 6-foot-5 phenom. Green-Beckham had four catches for 53 yards, and two of the catches came courtesy of replay review on sideline catches. Both Gilbert and Patmon battled DGB.
“One time early in the game he kind of pushed me off to the side,” Gilbert said. “I was able to absorb that, feel how physical he is and adjust. I gave it to him from there on out.”
But of course, Green-Beckham came up big at the end.
* The Cowboys didn’t play it safe after reaching Missouri territory on the fateful ensuing drive. When Chelf ran 23 yards to the Missouri 26, 1:39 still remained. OSU down three.
The Cowboys didn’t play for a field goal. The first-down handoff to Roland was a good call. Didn’t work, he gained just one yard, but it was a good call. Might have caught Missouri napping.
Then Chelf went for the home run, throwing to Charlie Moore at the pylon, but Edmond’s Randy Ponder — who made a bunch of excellent plays — produced great coverage, and the pass fell incomplete.
On third down, Chelf rolled left, was popped from behind by all-American Michael Sam, resulting in the fumble that ended the game.
“Michael Sam just made a great move and we couldn’t shift our line to block him,” said OSU guard Parker Graham.
But I think OSU was right to stay aggressive. The last thing the Cowboys wanted to do was rely on Grogan for a game-tying 43-yard field goal. And besides, you never want to go to overtime with a deficiency at kicker.
“We were going to take a shot at the end zone, kind of a deeper pass play,” Chelf said. “A drop-back. Felt some pressure. I was trying to get rid of it. About to throw it away. Don’t know what happened. Got hit from behind. Bad ball security.”
* Missouri’s first six possessions of the second half: punt, punt, punt, lost fumble, punt, lost fumble. One of the fumbles was an unforced error, but the other came when linebacker Shaun Lewis blew up an option play.
I have a hard time blaming this game on the OSU defense when it had a stretch like that.
* Of course, during stretches of the second and third quarters, after Grogan’s missed field goal, OSU’s offense went: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, interception.
“The defense was the key for us,” said OSU receiver Jhajuan Seales. “They did a great job of getting the ball back and keeping us in the game when the offense was struggling. Then we picked it up.”
* The game lasted four hours 12 minutes. Has to be the longest regulation game I’ve ever attended. Or watched on TV. Or even read about.
It was a perfect storm. Lots of incompletions — 48 combined. When’s the last time you saw teams combined for 48 incompletions, plus three interceptions. Lots of possessions — 35. Several video reviews. Plus the game was on FOX, and FOX loves long commercial breaks.
“Instant replay,” Gundy said. “I mean, that’s what caused it, right? There was how many reviews? Four, five. I’m going to guess that pushes it over the four-hour limit. There were a lot of forward passes: 40 for them and 57 for us. I think your instant replay pushes the game. There’s timeouts. A lot of timeouts in a game like this, people have to pay, pay the bills. I think there’s a lot of timeouts.
“You know, it’s the same for both. It’s like they said about the layoff. It’s the same for both teams. I think all of us would probably like the games to move along faster, but the networks put a lot of time and effort, it’s where the money comes from, it’s probably not going to ever change.”