Missouri looks to get offense back on track

After a fast start to the season, the Tigers have scored just 21 points in their last two games.

In Missouri’s stunning loss in Wyoming to open the season, the offense wasn’t an issue. Quarterback Kelly Bryant passed for 423 yards as the Tigers put up 31 points in the six-point loss.

In its last two games though, Missouri has had a pair of equally disheartening losses to teams with inferior records. The offense scored 14 and 7 points in those contests, its two lowest outputs of the year.

First was a 21-14 loss to Vanderbilt, a team that hadn’t won a game in Southeastern Conference play.

“We weren’t ready to play well,” offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said. “We didn’t coach well. We didn’t play well. I didn’t think that that was the case in the Kentucky game. I thought we were ready. I thought we had a good plan.

The Kentucky game Dooley alluded to came a week later. Missouri struggled to move the ball in the pouring Lexington rain in a 29-7 defeat.

“We came and had a great drive going, and then the circumstances, that’s what we didn’t handle well,” Dooley said.

The circumstances Dooley referred to were the harsh weather conditions that night and Bryant injuring his hamstring early on what could have been a promising drive. The normally mobile quarterback was mostly confined to the pocket for the rest of the game before exiting in the third quarter.

“It eliminated a lot of what we could do offensively,” Dooley said. “Kind of had to hone in on handing the ball off or dropback. So that limited us. And then we didn’t handle the rain very well in the dropback game. We had a lot of guys open. Throwing and catching, we needed to do better.”

The running game was dormant in both games, with running backs averaging less than 100 yards per game. Bryant said, however, the offensive struggles have many sources.

“We haven’t been in a rhythm as an offense,” he said. “We haven’t really been playing with our tempo and executing. Just doing the small things: a lot of penalties, a lot of yards we left in those two games.”

A lack of production from tight end Albert Okwuegbunam hasn’t made Bryant’s job any easier. In 2018, Okwuegbunam established himself as one of the top tight ends in the nation, catching 43 passes for 466 yards and six touchdowns in just nine games. The redshirt junior hasn’t found the same success this year. At 6-foot-5, he’s still a reliable red zone target, but he hasn’t been as consistent on an every-down basis. Against Vanderbilt, he had two catches for 10 yards. Kentucky kept him completely off the stat sheet. With a road game against No. 6 Georgia looming, coach Barry Odom has taken it upon his coaching staff to get one of their go-to pass catchers back on track.

“We’ve still got to find ways to [get Okwuegbunam involved],” Odom said. “There’s been times when we’ve had designed plays for a tight end, and hopefully Albert’s in the game during that. [We] match that up and whether the coverage doesn’t allow us to get there, the pressure doesn’t, or the read that we initially have, they take it away.”

Okweugbunam is optimistic this week will be the one where he gets back to his production level of last year. In Missouri’s 2018 matchup with Georgia, he hauled in nine receptions for 81 yards.

“I feel like they definitely have a lot of good stuff for me in this gameplan,” he said. “[I] got a lot of good mismatches against the Georgia defense which we’re kind of sorting through, and I think it’s gonna look really well.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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