• Fast pace tests young O-Line's endurance.
• Good strategy for not requiring inexperienced
O'Line to hold long blocks.
• Tight ends will need to be used more for success.
Despite being a Bob Stoops disciple, it became clear Saturday that Josh Heupel has decided to model his new Missouri offense on that of Baylor. The Tigers snapped an astonishing 100 plays from scrimmage against West Virginia and if you had been playing a drinking game based on the play-by-play guys using the word “tempo,” you’d have been snookered by halftime.
This is a big change from the plodding and methodical approach that Josh Henson employed last year and will likely be quite welcome to beleaguered Mizzou fans. Just what this new scheme means for 2016 remains to be seen, but based on what we know of our current roster and what we saw Saturday, we can draw some assumptions.
First, let’s look at some problems. To run a Baylor-style offense, you’ve got to have the right personnel. The play-by-play guys mentioned that Mizzou was borrowing from Baylor’s offense but simplistically stated that the Tigers didn’t have the horses to make it work. Mizzou has the talent and speed but what they seem to lack are the right guys for the right spots. Within the Baylor game plan, plays come fast and the offense is constantly on the move. This immediately makes me think of our young offensive line. It’s asking a lot of the big fellas to take that many snaps. One good thing about young linemen is that they’re generally more lithe. Lighter and faster is better and what they may lack in experience, they may benefit in endurance.
Another aspect of the Baylor spread is constant threat of a quarterback tucking and running. It takes a very special type (think Cam Newton) to threaten equally both through the air and on the ground. This is where I think Josh Heupel is particularly vexed. Drew Lock appears to be easily the best quarterback on the squad, but Marvin Zanders might be more perfectly built for the system. Against West Virginia, we saw Heupel put Lock in harms way with a couple early designed runs, and they both ended predictably impotently. Lock has a lot of skills, but up-the-gut designed running isn’t one of them.
The primary threat from this up-tempo offense is the air assault. The formation is spread out and tends to use tight ends as H-backs to keep the defensive line and linebackers honest, meanwhile the stretched out receivers combine a set of wheel routes and crossing patterns to keep the defensive backs on their heels. We did see our tight ends line up as H-backs, but we barely saw them used as receiving threats. Saturday, the Tigers got behind early and it’s likely the offensive strategy quickly changed to play catch up, but I expected more contributions from Sean Culkin and Jason Reese.
The Tigers lined up three receivers and two running backs most often and also ran a lot of four receiver, one back sets. This worked okay on passing plays but it never seemed to open anything up on the run. This works out well with Baylor because the quarterback adds a triple-threat, but with Lock’s relative immobility, West Viginia’s disciplined defensive line easily managed to read the handoffs easily and plugged gaps before they caused trouble.
Things should be very different this weekend against Eastern Michigan when we are very unlikely to get down early. We will likely see Heupel’s high-tempo offense as he imagines it to look. I’m anxious to see more short and intermediate passes and how Heupel will use the running attack to open it all up. I’m also eager to see if more receivers can get involved. If our new speed attack is going to work, we’re going to need to see more than just Moore and Chris Black making big plays. I expect that to be a priority for Heupel. Finally, I want to see Alex Ross cement his position as the Tigers’ every down back. I know Heupel is going to platoon his running backs, as is wise in this type of offense, but last week Ross saw 52 snaps to Ish Witter’s 33. I’d like to see that margin grow.
Last Saturday’s game gave confidence that Mizzou can successfully run and gun. As the players accommodate to their roles and if they can begin sustaining drives into the end zone, there’s a high ceiling for this offense even in this clear rebuilding year.