COLUMBIA — It started with a short pass to T.J. Moe over the middle. It wasn’t a flashy play, nothing that would necessarily turn a head, but it was a first down.
That was the theme of the opening drive of the Missouri football team's final preseason scrimmage Thursday. It culminated in a 10-yard touchdown catch for Moe, who muscled his way through a defender and into the end zone.
The drive had a crispness to it that wasn't present in the two prior scrimmages. The tempo was quicker, and it appeared the Tigers offense, shaky at times during camp, was finally clicking.
Moe summed it up best with a simple question.
“Looked good, didn’t it?” he said.
The buzzword for the offensive players was “up-tempo.” In the past, Missouri has been known for its quick style of offense. The team has been among the top 40 in the nation in offensive plays per game over the past seven seasons, and finished fourth in the category in its 2007-08, when the team was just a win away from reaching the national championship game.
“It’s get up, snap it and go,” quarterback James Franklin said of the tempo of Thursday’s opening drive. “It’s something that I really like to do.”
But playing quickly isn’t quite as simple as just making the decision to do it. It requires execution. Regardless of how quickly an offense snaps the ball, if it doesn’t advance the ball forward, it’s going to have to punt.
“We’ve been trying to play faster, but when you don’t throw completions and you have negative plays, it’s hard to play fast,” offensive coordinator David Yost said. “What happened today is we got a few plays together, got a few first downs, and all of the sudden you could see what that does to a defense.”
And Missouri's No. 1 defense was without safeties Matt White and Kenji Jackson, cornerback Kip Edwards and linebackers Zaviar Gooden and Will Ebner due to injuries and illness.
Despite the depleted defense, Franklin’s progress during preseason camp was evident in that first drive and throughout the scrimmage, in which he went 9-for-12 passing for 82 yards and one touchdown. Yost said Franklin was definitely a better quarterback Thursday than he was at the beginning of camp and called his ability to shake off mistakes as one of his best attributes.
“He is about as good as I’ve been around as far as letting the previous play go and competing on the next play,” Yost said. “Brad (Smith) was pretty good with it, Chase (Daniel) was mad about the picks for the next six days and Blaine Gabbert was mad at himself, me and everybody else every time he threw an interception.”
Before camp, Franklin made a list of things on which he could improve, and though he declined to share any of them — he called the list “a secret” — he did say that he felt that he had gotten better at each and every item on the list. But he isn’t allowing today’s success, any previous struggles, or anything else to cloud his thoughts as the preseason comes to a close.
He said he wouldn’t even think about football when he went to bed on Thursday.
“I’m just thinking about tomorrow. We have classes, and then we have an NCAA meeting, and a barbecue too,” Franklin said. “I’ll brush my teeth, say my prayers, say goodnight to Molly and go to bed and wake up.” Molly is Franklin's girlfriend.
Of course, Franklin can’t control what might creep into his subconscious regarding the opener against Miami of Ohio, which is just nine days away.
“I may have a dream,” he said, smiling. “But I can’t control what I dream about.”