Speed settles Missouri into true debut of Dooley offense

A 97-yard drive deep in the first half against Wyoming sped things up for the Tigers and allowed them to ease back into their deliberate, pro-style offense the rest of the way.
Quarterback Drew Lock waits in the shotgun before a play call from the sideline in the first half of Missouri's matchup with Wyoming on September 9, 2018.

The sixth possession of Missouri's week two outing started with a Drew Lock scramble for 1 yard. Nine plays and 97 yards later, it ended with a Drew Lock scramble for a touchdown.

Everything in between was near perfection.

Near perfection, and unlike anything the Tigers had exhibited for the first 25 minutes against Wyoming’s stout defense on Saturday night. Even so, the breakthrough drive in an eventual 40-13 win felt familiar.

Maybe because, for the first time in a sluggish game, Missouri was running its far-from-sluggish offense displayed the previous week — and the previous year.

“We kind of mixed in high tempo,” senior receiver Emanuel Hall said.

To describe this drive's tempo best is to put it in terms of musical composition — allegro.

That speed is especially important in the context of this particular game. Hall put it best last week after the season opener against Tennessee-Martin: “We didn’t really run our offense. Against a team like this, we just decided that calling the whole play-sheet is not necessarily what we want to do.”

Amid speculation surrounding what changes new offensive coordinator Derek Dooley would bring to Missouri’s already-efficient offense, not much changed in week one. That was never the plan. Rather, Wyoming would present the true debut to a pro-style playbook and mellowed tempo.

“We look at the different ways you can play with tempo,” coach Barry Odom said. “Whether it’s as fast as you can go or whether it’s being a little more deliberate.”

For the first quarter-and-a-half on Saturday, “deliberate” was especially the case. The Tigers got more experimental than they had been in a long time with slowing things down.

The result, at least at first, was a lack of rhythm. The Tigers couldn’t put together a successful series in Wyoming territory. They missed field goals. They punted. They turned the ball over. After five possessions and deep into the first half, they led 3-0.

Then on third-and-6 at its own 7-yard line, Missouri went back to its roots. Hall took his favorite “9-ball” fade route down the left sideline, Lock tossed a dime and Missouri picked up 36 yards on an athletic back-shoulder catch.

“I think competitively in the wide receiver room, once one guy makes a big play, everybody wants to out-do that person,” Hall said. “So I think [the catch] did give us a spark.”

That would be evident from the offensive production later on, but for the time being, it sparked a footrace 36 yards to the line of scrimmage. Missouri’s sudden hurry-up created an illegal substitution penalty against Wyoming. Five more yards. The Tigers were already going up-tempo, and hey, it was working — why not try again?

“It just depends on the situation of the game,” Hall said.

This situation was the right one. Lock threw 19 yards over the middle to receiver Johnathon Johnson, eager to out-do Hall. The tempo was turned on, and it was smooth. Soon enough, Lock was confident enough to have another go at scrambling, and he juked his way 12 yards for the first touchdown of the game with 5:32 left in the half.

“He said he made a guy miss,” Odom said. “I don’t know if that's true or not.”

From there, it was smooth sailing all the way as Missouri eased back into the Dooley-style offense. It added another touchdown by halftime and rolled over Wyoming’s takeaway-prone defense with 24 more points in the second half. The offensive style wasn’t too different before and after that 97-yard drive, but the manner in which Missouri approached it was.

“We adjusted,” Hall said.

An adjustment in swagger was evident almost immediately. Lock scrambled again on a third-and-7, but instead of safely sliding, he put his head down and took on two defenders, barreling across the line to gain then letting his opponent know about it.

“I was like: ‘Dude, do we have Lamar Jackson or is this Drew?’” Hall said of Lock's legs.

While slowing down tempo will ultimately be necessary if Missouri wants any chance against tougher opponents this season such as Georgia and Alabama, the Tigers may have been better suited with a quick-moving offense from the start against a team like Wyoming. The Cowboys were undeniably an underdog, but one that still had the capability to suffocate the run game and slow things down in the trenches.

A slow Missouri offense is what Wyoming wanted. It’s what kept things close until Missouri flexed its muscles with the 97-yard drive, a drive that later spurred Lock to flex his own muscles — right in the Cowboys’ faces.

“I want Drew to be himself,” Odom said. “He understands that the entire team is looking at the way he approaches every move he makes. He’s understanding what we need him to do each week and he’s thriving on that.”

Then there’s his connection with Hall. The receiver’s usage under the playbook was perhaps the most significantly displayed change. He had spoken about it frequently at preseason camp; playing for Dooley means proving to people that he can do more than beat corners going deep.

His first two catches were on slant routes, and several times throughout the evening he was targeted coming off screens or running a curl route within 15 yards. In large part due to that, Hall finished with 10 catches for 171 yards.

“But that’s when the deep balls come into play,” he says.

Wyoming was forced to adjust as he became more efficient in the short field, which opened up an opportunity in the third quarter to pull in a 28-yard touchdown pass on a fade to the back left corner of the end zone.

It was a full-circle kind of moment for Missouri. The circle started with that 36-yard reception down the same sideline. Thirty-six yards quickly escalated to 97 yards. Ninety-seven yards quickly escalated to 40 points.

“No one play is gonna determine the outcome of the game or a drive,” Odom said, “but that was huge.”

Edited by Adam Cole | acole@themaneater.com

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