Senior wide receiver T.J. Moe called Missouri’s receiving corps “one of the deepest in the country.”
Offensive coordinator David Yost compared this current stable of pass-catchers to the 2007 group.
That group consisted of Danario Alexander, Chase Coffman, Will Franklin, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Ray, Martin Rucker and Tommy Saunders. It briefly had the Tigers at No. 1 in the national polls.
“These guys haven’t done it yet on the field, but talent-wise or skill-wise, we’re approaching that,” Yost said back in August.
Now, a quarter of the way through the season, this Tiger offense has yet to evoke memories of those explosive Chase Daniel-led teams.
Of the No. 1 offense’s 11 scoring drives this year, only five have been 50 yards or more, with the two longest coming against Southeastern Louisiana.
Unless given fantastic starting field positioning, which they’ve gotten a lot of thus far, the Tigers have struggled to string together consistent positive plays.
Due mostly to a lack of trying to throw downfield, the Tigers have just six passing plays of 20 yards or more through three games. Yet when they have looked deep, they’ve generally been successful, like with touchdown passes of 41 and 69 yards against Georgia.
Last week, with redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser at quarterback and junior James Franklin sidelined against Arizona State, only three of the 41 passes were thrown more than 20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Thirty-two of his 41 throws fell within the range of 10 yards or less.
Granted a banged-up quarterback and a quarterback making his first career start have been running the offense behind an injury-plagued offensive line that has struggled to keep the signal-callers upright. But both Yost and coach Gary Pinkel admitted at Monday’s press conference that the Tigers need to throw deep more often.
“We’re trying to come up with ways to get the ball downfield because that helps everything else out,” Yost said.
Pinkel said aggressive play-calling is a risky approach but one the team expects to take more.
“When you’re struggling moving the ball the last thing you want to do is to start with a 2nd-and-10 after throwing incomplete downfield,” Pinkel said. “Now if you make those throws, chances are it might stretch the defense and allow other things to open, so it’s a should-I or should-I-not type thing … We should throw the ball downfield a bit more. We should but it’ll be based on trying to keep the chains moving.”
If the game plan goes according to coaches, Tiger fans can expect to see less bubble and tunnel screens and a few more deep balls Saturday against No. 7 South Carolina, who is without standout free safety D.J. Swearinger, suspended for an illegal hit last week against Alabama-Birmingham.
On the ground, coaches said they expect Franklin to continue to keep defenses guessing with his feet.
In the Southeastern Conference opener against Georgia, the game in which he suffered the shoulder injury that sidelined him last week, Franklin ran the ball 20 times for just 25 yards. The 20 carries were six more than tailbacks Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy had combined. Last week against Arizona State, with the starting quarterback shelved, Berkstresser led the team in rushing attempts, carrying the ball 18 times for 25 yards.
In the last two games, Tiger quarterbacks have run the ball 38 times for an average of 1.3 yards per carry.
When asked about the impact the increased carries against UGA had on Franklin, Pinkel praised the way the quarterback performed, noting that Franklin “felt great aside from the sore spot in his shoulder” the Sunday following the loss.
“He ran a lot different in that game,” Pinkel said. “He went down a lot more. He was smart about how he did it. He went more to the sidelines when he got outside. He didn’t take on very many big hits at all.”
Moe saw no problem with the backup, Berkstresser, taking a high volume of hits in Franklin’s absence.
“Injuries are part of the game, you can’t stress about them or you’ll lose your mind,” Moe said. “If you’re playing not to get hurt you’re not playing very well.”