TIGER KICKOFF: Simplified offense leads to second-half success for Missouri running backs

Friday, September 10, 2010 | 5:00 a.m. CDT
Running back Kendial Lawrence finds an opening against Illinois. Lawrence said the Missouri tailbacks have lots of options in the offense the Tigers use. "We just had to figure out where we were and what their defense was doing."

COLUMBIA — Of all the problems the Missouri football team displayed Saturday in the first half against Illinois, deficiencies in the Tigers' running game was possibly the most glaring.

Whether the ball was given to De'Vion Moore or Kendial Lawrence, Missouri's first-half running game was unsuccessful. The ground attack wasn't going anywhere, and there was no way that a 1.9 yard-per-carry average was going to carry the Tigers' offense to a victory.

What's an offensive coordinator to do? 

Missouri's Dave Yost decided to simplify the running game in the second half — a move that resulted in 99 second-half rushing yards.

Yost said he asked his fellow Missouri coaches at halftime for their four favorite running plays from the first half. Yost said those four plays became the new, simplified running gameplan for the second half.

"Pretty much in the second half we ran those four plays," Yost said. "That's how we work at halftimes, we figure out what our best things are and just do those."

The majority of those running plays involved lining up tailbacks as wide receivers to start a play, but then bringing them into the backfield before the ball was snapped.

Co-offensive line coach Josh Henson said that the running plays used in the second half against Illinois will now be the go-to plays for the Tigers for the rest of the season. 

"A lot of the motion stuff, that's going to be our normal run game," Henson said. "It brings us a lot of different looks ... it breaks defensive tendencies."

Kendial Lawrence, who will split time as Missouri's starting tailback, said he likes starting on the line of scrimmage in running plays. From the different starting position, Lawrence can go out for a pass, a block, or take a handoff for an inside or outside run.  

"There are a lot of different things to do in this offense," Lawrence said. "We just had to figure out where we were and what their defense was doing, and on those plays we can see what is open."

Sometimes the running back will make those decisions on the fly. If the running back sees a linebacker is going to rush toward the middle of the field, he will take the handoff and run toward the sideline. A linebacker cheating to the outside will illicit an upfield cut. 

The empty backfield offensive formation became a favorite for the Tigers in spring and fall camps. But Missouri fell in love with the formation with versatile running back Derrick Washington in the backfield, often times using Washington as a fifth wide receiver. Coaches and teammates said Washington had the best pass-catching hands on the team, but Washington is no longer a member of the Tigers, and three running backs will try to replace his skill set.

Freshman Henry Josey is the speed, Moore is the open field runner and Lawrence is the bruising between-the-tackles back.

On Saturday, Missouri coaches found a successful formula in the second half for getting each player the ball. But on a team that is yet to declare a starting running back, that formula could change in upcoming weeks.

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