Spreading the love for Tigers’ offense

MU coaches and players laud the system that Florida executed to win the national title.
Sunday, March 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)

If you venture onto a Missouri football message board, you’re likely to see complaints from Missouri fans about the type of offense that the Tigers run.

Some say it isn’t physical enough, or that it’s difficult to gain yardage when the main goal is to milk the clock. But those on the football team are quick to dispel criticism of the spread offense.

“The biggest thing people talk about is, ‘Why do the running backs run east and west?’” running back Tony Temple said.

In the spread offense that Missouri runs, quarterback Chase Daniel lines up in the shotgun. Usually four or five receivers, including the tight ends, are wide. The goal is to create as much space as possible for whatever play is called.

“You’re playing in space, blocking in space and running in space,” Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said. “It’s a different type of game.”

It’s a type of game that helped Florida win the national championship in January, the first title for a team running the spread offense.

Does Florida’s victory give the spread offense credibility?

“I think it does. Everyone thinks that it’s just a throw it and catch it finesse offense,” said quarterback Chase Daniel, who has been playing in the spread since high school.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel prefers not to answer the question.

“Maybe. Honestly, I don’t really look at that. I don’t know what anyone says about it because it doesn’t matter to me.”

At Florida, coach Urban Meyer tailored the game plan to his quarterback. His starter, Chris Leak, was primarily a thrower, while Tim Tebow, a freshman who received significant playing time, was much more of a running threat.

The ability to tailor the offense to the quarterback is what Christensen loves about it, pointing to the adjustment in offensive philosophy in the transition from Brad Smith to Daniel.

“That’s the beauty of the offense. You can rely on what your strengths are. Brad was an excellent runner, so we utilized a lot more options,” Christensen said.

What doesn’t endear the spread to more traditional football fans is how the formation works near the goal line. Instead of keeping everyone tight to the offensive line, Missouri sticks to its offensive philosophy.

Many onlookers quickly point out the inability of the Tigers’ offense to score from inside the 10-yard line in the final minute of last year’s late-season loss to Iowa State as a convincing case against the spread.

“Every time down there next to the end zone we were shotgun,” Daniel said. “That’s what we want to do is spread them out.”

Said Temple: “Part of you wants to go in there and just punch it in. But our offense is kind of like a 50-50 chance. You never know what we’re going to do.”

The no-huddle appearance can fool fans into thinking it’s also a hurry-up offense, but Daniel is quick to point out the offense’s ability to chew up the clock when needed.

“We have so many runs that we can run, and we have passes we know that we can complete to kill the clock,” Daniel said. “Against Texas Tech, we got it up by 12 with nine minutes left in the fourth quarter and ran it down to 1:10 in seven plays.”

According to Pinkel, a bigger issue with the offense is the defense since it plays against the spread offense in practice every day.

“Some say the defense isn’t physical enough,” Pinkel said, “because they practice against the offense all of the time.”

To help prepare the defense for what it’s more likely to see on Saturdays, Pinkel and his staff have instituted 10-minute sessions where the offense runs plays out of an I-formation.

And if Saturday’s practice, which was moved indoors to the Devine Pavilion because of snow was any indication, physicality won’t be an issue for Missouri.

“I thought we were a very physical team last year, but we weren’t physical enough to win a championship. That was the most physical practice I have ever seen today,” Pinkel said.

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