COLUMBIA — It’s another summer afternoon. You're 8 years old and you challenge your 12-year old brother to a race.
He’s faster than you are, but like many times before, you're confident that you can beat him this time.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21.
How to watch: Big Ten Network
“First one to the stop sign wins,” he says. “Go.”
Right from the start, you're helplessly behind. It’s not even fair. With a few effortless strides your brother is leaving you in the dust again. You have to think of something quick, and that’s when you hit the ground and let out a yelp.
You're not really hurt, you just need to make him think that. He starts walking back toward you, checking to see if you're all right as you clutch your ankle. Once he gets close enough, you spring to your feet and sprint toward the stop sign — victorious.
Was it the fair thing to do? Of course not. But it worked.
Now, defenses in football are starting to pull the same trick.
The hurry-up, spread offense is like your older brother. Faster, more efficient and tough to beat. More and more teams in college football are running four and five wide receiver sets, spreading the field, ditching offensive huddles and keeping defenses off balance by running plays faster.
How do you slow it down? Well, defenses have started to fake injuries, which stops play and gives them a chance to catch their breath. It also stalls the offense’s momentum.
Even in the NFL, the Denver Broncos and Philadelphia Eagles have complained that players on opposing defenses are faking injuries to close the gap on the up-tempo offense.
Missouri will have that dilemma when it travels to Indiana to take on a fast-paced Hoosiers offense. Indiana plays what Missouri coach Gary Pinkel calls “fast ball.” The Hoosiers’ offense averages 339 passing yards per game and has four players with three or more receiving touchdowns.
Pinkel was vague about his team’s plan to slow down Indiana’s passing attack, but he wanted to make it known that he holds his team to a high moral standard.
“We would never, ever, ever say ‘Okay, by the way, if this gets tight, fall on the ground and grab your hamstring,’” Pinkel assured the media on Monday. “Never.There’s ethics there.”
So faking injuries is out of the question. That leaves the Tigers searching for answers to their toughest test of the season. However, they don't think those answers are far away.
“I honestly haven’t seen an offense work faster than our offense,” cornerback E.J. Gaines said. “We feel like we’re ready for it.”
Since spring practice, Missouri has emphasized a faster tempo on offense. New offensive coordinator Josh Henson likes to put pressure on the defense by limiting how much they can substitute.
"It’s just really hard for us to get back there when they’re releasing the ball so fast," defensive tackle Lucas Vincent said.
After practices in the August heat, Missouri's defensive players complained about the pace. It was getting to them, wearing them down. But they claim that made them better. The pace tested their depth, conditioned them.
Now comes an actual test. Murray State and Toledo didn't provide much of a challenge for Missouri's defense, so the Tigers are eagerly awaiting Saturday night's prime-time, non-conference game.
They aren't worried about their conditioning. They will put more defensive backs on the field to counter how many wide receivers Indiana throws at them. They will also have to be more aware of when to substitute.
Most importantly, they won't fake injuries. No matter how grueling it gets or how hard Indiana's offense is to keep in check. That's the right thing to do.
Know thy enemy
Get ready for a shootout on Saturday night. Missouri and Indiana both have high-powered offenses, and the over-under for total points in Saturday's game has been set at 71. These teams will score a lot.
For Indiana, where those points will come from is a bit of a mystery. The Hoosiers have thrown for over 1,000 yards through three games this season and have done so with three different quarterbacks. Nate Sudfeld and Tre Roberson have both started games for Indiana, while Cameron Coffman has also featured.
"We still have what we think are three No. 1's," Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said in a conference call Wednesday.
That makes it tough to game plan for the Hoosiers. Without knowing who will be under center, the defense will have to adjust on the fly. Pinkel has been most impressed with Sudfeld, who is a true freshman.
"The way (Sudfeld) has been playing, I suggest he might play more or the whole game, but we've got to be ready for all three of them," Pinkel said.
One thing the Tigers do know is who will be catching passes. The Hoosiers have a deep group of receivers, but wide receivers Kofi Hughes and Cody Latimer are the two to focus on. Indiana also likes to pass to tight end Ted Bosler, who has caught four touchdowns this season.
"We've played a lot of nickel (three defensive backs) thus far this year as it is, and that is part of our strategy and our personnel-making decisions," Pinkel said.
The bye week came at the perfect time for Missouri. The Tigers enter Saturday's game with the same lineup that played against Toledo, despite suffering a few injuries in the Week 2 game.
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.