COLUMBIA — While running downfield, Missouri receiver L'Damian Washington turned around, leaped and reached over the defense to catch the football, securing it for a 23-yard gain.
The Missouri football team's first-team offense quickly set up again. On the next play, quarterback James Franklin completed a 17-yard pass to junior receiver Marcus Lucas.
Players held out of the scrimmage included: tight end Eric Waters (knee), running back Greg White (shoulder), receiver Darius White (hamstring), receiver T.J. Moe (hamstring), offensive lineman Chris Freeman (knee), offensive lineman Taylor Chappell (knee), running back Henry Josey (knee), offensive lineman Justin Britt (foot), running back Russell Hansbrough (ankle), cornerback Kip Edwards (leg) and defensive tackle Lucas Vincent (pectoral muscle).
The team has Sunday off before training camp resumes Monday with two-a-day practices.
Near the end of Saturday's scrimmage, the first of the preseason, the offense was aggressive and looked in rhythm Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Franklin finished with 18 completions on 22 passes for 228 yards. However, pressure from the defensive line caused many of his completions to be short, including six to running back Kendial Lawrence and even one to himself after a throw got batted by a defensive lineman.
In the end, the defense won the scrimmage 16-12, but during the two-minute drill at the close of play, the offense moved down the field quickly, getting the receivers involved more than on any other drive in the scrimmage. Washington, Lucas and Gahn McGaffie all caught passes on the drive.
"We like to go four verticals. And we like to throw down the field 'cause it opens up things down low and we like going over the top," Franklin said. "And so we know to hit them (the receivers) downfield is something that's exciting and gets the offense going."
David Yost, the Tigers' offensive coordinator, said the deep completions help the offense pick up the pace and keep the defense off balance.
"Now when you start going fast, they've (the defense) got to run downfield," Yost said. "You have a chance to kind of really step on them, and kind of attack them."
Yost said the coaches simplify the play selection for the two-minute offense, so players don't have to think too much. This gives them more confidence and allows them to play faster and more aggressively, Yost said.
"I actually like when we go up-tempo, like the 2-minute offense," Franklin said. "I like when we do that, and for some reason I have, like, a different mindset. And it's just like, 'It's open.' And I hit it."
But Yost said Franklin is beginning to play more aggressively throughout games.
"He is starting to attack the defense, which is the same thing Chase (Daniel) did in his second year. It's the same thing Blaine (Gabbert) started doing in his second year," Yost said. "He sees the defense. He sees the reaction. And then he can kinda, attack them as opposed to waiting for them to (attack)."
Daniel and Gabbert each led the Tigers to improved win totals in their second year as the starting quarterback. Like Daniel and Gabbert, Franklin won eight games in his first year as the starter. Daniel improved to 12 wins while Gabbert improved to 10 wins. Franklin wants to improve as well.
As proof of the Franklin's development, Yost pointed out something he noticed about the quarterback's decision-making.
"He hit the one to L'Damian in the 2-minute. He's only hit that a couple times in his career here so far," Yost said. "Normally, he gets out to the outside guy and throws our little come-back deal. Which, I'm not going to be mad that we complete a 12-yard pass, but, you hit L'Damian down that seam, if we hit him running, the game might be over right then."
Last season, Franklin and the Tigers scored 143 fourth-quarter points, while scoring just 61 in the third. They outscored their opponents in nine of the team's 13 fourth quarters. Franklin sparked Missouri's late-game success when the team went to the fast-paced offense, but it often came with the Tigers trailing games, so the success was usually too little, too late.
The inconsistency of the offense last season was not simply because of play calling. Yost said the coaching staff called more vertical routes than ever last season because Franklin boosts the success rate of deep passing plays by dumping the ball to running backs when they are open.
"You call (vertical passing plays) with some quarterbacks, and I've had this before, if you called four verticals, guess what? He was gonna throw it down the field and you were gonna complete about 30 percent of those," Yost said. "Well with James, he'll take what they give him. He also takes the swing and then also you take the swing and the dump, and the different things we do underneath. What it does is it opens up the downfield. But he was close to almost 70 percent last year when we called verticals, that he got a completion. Which, when I know seven out of 10 times, we are going to complete the ball, it's a lot easier to call those plays."
But Franklin reached the efficient completion percentage on the aggressive play calls with some conservative throws. Much like in the scrimmage, Franklin would not throw downfield as much until late in the game. With the coaches calling more vertical routes, the offense's aggressiveness will be determined by the quarterback.
"I guess I should just tell myself 'two-minute' every time I go out there," Franklin said.
Franklin wants to find the right balance between short completions and longer passes down field.
"I actually want to go fast, but I still want to be under control," Franklin said. "And its just the mindset. I want to try to get that this year so we can really move the ball down the field and take what they give us."