Vertical passing game allows Missouri to open up offense, blow out Paladins

Saturday, September 19, 2009 | 5:29 p.m. CDT; updated 8:07 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 19, 2009
From right, Mizzou wide receiver Danario Alexander celebrates with teammate Jerrell Jackson after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter of Saturday's game against the Furman Paladins at Memorial Stadium Sept. 19.

COLUMBIA — It seemed like a simple replay. It looked like last week's sputtering frustration all over again.

For the second straight week, defensive backs lining four different zones across the field helped cause the Missouri offense to struggle on its first possession.

On second and 10, Danario Alexander couldn't hang onto a short crossing route as a defender followed closely behind. And even with no pass rush, Blaine Gabbert overthrew Jared Perry on third down after the senior receiver was forced to break deep to escape the congestion.

The results weren't much different the next time out. The Tigers went three-and-out on a quick possession that involved two more Gabbert incompletions.

Another team was doing its best to take away the easy pitch-and-catch routes that have helped make the Tigers' offense often look effortless in the past several years. There would be no nibbling away to an easy lead.

So it decided to chomp it off all at once.

On the third Tiger possession, Gabbert took the shotgun snap from the Furman 40-yard line and threw the ball back to Alexander for what looked like a quick screen pass. That is until Alexander pulled up, drew the ball back and found senior wide receiver Jared Perry for a 40-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 7-0.

"We had it in the game plan last week, didn't get it called, and actually it was scripted for a little earlier in the game," offensive coordinator David Yost said of the play.

The offense set up the play with some of the formations it ran last week, and Yost said eventually the situation and the down and distance allowed him to throw the play in.

The next Missouri drive started inside Furman territory, and the Tigers didn't waste much time. Gabbert took the snap, pump-faked, and hit Perry on an easy 48-yard hookup. The rout was on.

A week after they leaned on the deep ball to carry them back into the game against Bowling Green, the Tigers once again used their passing game as a means of opening up the offense in Missouri's 52-12 win over Furman on Saturday.

While "explosive plays", or plays of over 20 yards, are usually a focus of any offense, the need for Missouri to exert its ability to complete deep passes is a necessary part of countering how many defenses attempt to stop the Tiger offense.

"We always have (deep passes) in the plan," Yost said. "It's just getting it called, and I've got to do a better job with that."

Connecting on long pass plays doesn't simply allow Missouri to put points on the board quickly. It also allows the Tiger offense to operate the way Yost ideally envisions it, by extending drives and methodically driving the ball.

"The best way for us to attack is to get first downs," Yost said. "We study these things. When we get two first downs on a drive a lot of those drives end up in points. Some of that's because you're gaining yards, but it's also because the defense gets tired."

Perry's pair of touchdowns gave the Tigers what amounted to an insurmountable lead, but it also opened up the short to intermediate zones that allow Missouri to drive the ball effectively.

And on the first sustained drive after Perry's touchdowns (the subsequent lasted only 55 seconds after a 40-yard Gabbert TD run) Missouri exploited the effects of its  quick-strike ability.

As Perry streaked down the sideline on third down, the Furman corner abandoned the left flat to stick with him, leaving plenty of space for Jerrell Jackson to find a spot in the void and haul in an easy 11-yard reception from Gabbert.

"They really try to stop the deep stuff as a cover 4 team," Jackson said.

"They know we've got some deep bomb threats, and Blaine with the strong arm, and that really opens up everything down low."

Two plays later, as several of his teammates ran deeper routes, Perry moved across a defender-less middle of the field for an 11-yard reception and an easy Tiger first down.

While the strategy associated with attacking a defense deep looks easy in principle, implementing it is still dependent on a team's personnel. Adequate pass protection to allow the deeper routes to develop as well as a quarterback with the arm strength to stretch the defense. The Tigers showed throughout Saturday's contest that they have both.

Gabbert looked very comfortable on the touchdown pass to Perry as well as on a 32-yard strike to Perry later in the game. And more importantly, he wasn't sacked, and was barely pressured, over the course of the entire game.

"The offensive line did a great job in protections," Yost said. "For a lot of it, Blaine was back there at his own pace with everything. When you're gonna throw the ball deep and you're gonna hold it that's gonna put stress on somebody else. And that stress point is the offensive line."


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