COLUMBIA — Missouri football has never been so fast.
On Saturday night against Murray State, Missouri's offense was the model of efficiency, running 56 plays in the first half in just over 15 minutes of possession for an average of one play every 16 seconds.
The up-tempo first half put the Tigers on pace for 112 plays. To put that number in perspective, Marshall ran an NCAA-best 90.6 plays per game in 2012. Missouri averaged 75.7 plays per game.
Missouri also piled up 427 yards of offense and 30 points in the first half alone. Not a bad start, even if it was against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent.
"We just decided to do some different things there, and amongst some other things, the tempo thing worked well in the first half," coach Gary Pinkel said. "We kind of backed off a bit. We’re trying to make it a good part of who we are. I think we have to improve on it, get better at it but we made some good strides.”
The fast pace on offense is something the team stressed during fall camp. Plenty of teams talk about running an up-tempo attack, but it's more difficult in practice.
Play calls have to be shorter and simpler, the quarterback has to have a stronger handle on the offense, and perhaps most important, players have to be in shape.
Especially in the 100-degree heat of Saturday's game, conditioning becomes a concern. Seven different wide receivers caught a pass from James Franklin and all three running backs received a carry as the Tigers drove up and down the field on the Racers' defense, subbing in and out at a frantic pace.
"There's no set rotation," wide receiver L'Damian Washington said. "If you get tired, you tap out. But if we're going at a certain tempo, we really can't tap out. I think some of the backups do a great job of stepping in, and we don't lose any talent at the receiver spot."
But Pinkel admits Missouri took its foot off the gas pedal in the second half, not wanting to reveal too many secrets but still finishing with 87 plays. He saw enough of his new offensive wrinkle but knows his team can get even better. A fumble and a few inaccurate throws from Franklin stalled Missouri's pace a bit.
"It's not enough to be fast," senior guard Max Copeland said. "You have to execute. Fast and sloppy is just sloppy."
Still, 56 plays in one half of football is a tough number to replicate. But the Tigers aren't trying to replicate it. They are trying to improve on it, as crazy as that sounds.
"We've been training for that," Copeland said. "Let's go for 57."