Brad Smith had security.
Whenever Smith was in trouble last season, Justin Gage was usually there to bail him out. This season Smith has yet to find a go-to receiver.
Gage completed his eligibility last season and took his 80 catches, 1,075 yards and nine touchdowns with him. In Missouri’s two games this season, Smith has thrown for 214 yards and two touchdowns. No Tigers receiver has more than Thomson Omboga’s seven catches and 82 yards. Gage had seven catches in the first game a year ago.
“Right now we have guys that we can spread the ball around to, and each one of them has a chance to contribute a different part to the game,” Smith said. “Justin Gage was a great receiver, but I think right now we’re at an advantage because defenses can’t just key in on one receiver. It opens our offense up more.”
Smith has plenty of options in the passing game. Darius Outlaw, who like Gage is a former quarterback, caught 46 passes a year ago and was expected to step into Gage’s role. Outlaw has six catches for 46 yards this season, but made the touchdown catch to win the game in Missouri’s victory against Illinois.
Missouri’s production through the air might be less than last season, but it might be because coach Gary Pinkel is waiting to open up the offense until Big 12 Conference play begins. Pinkel has used a variety of screens and play-action rollouts instead of throwing downfield.
Pinkel said starting receiver Sean Coffey’s lack of production is one area that needs to improve. Coffey has made one catch for 6 yards in two games. Pinkel said Coffey, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound playmaker, needs to contribute more to the offense.
“I think it’s real early to look at all those numbers, but I think having your Z position, which Sean Coffey’s playing, having one catch isn’t very good,” Pinkel said. A 21-yard completion to tight end J.D. McCoy is the Tigers’ longest pass play of the season and McCoy did most of the work, catching the ball about 10 yards downfield and running the other 11. Pinkel said McCoy’s expanded role in the offense is by design.
McCoy has five catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. Victor Sesay, who spells McCoy, made his first touchdown grab against Ball State and could become a factor.
Pinkel said Missouri must continue to make a concerted effort to get the tight ends involved.
“We would like to spread the ball around more than we have in the first two games,” Pinkel said.
Although no player has emerged as this year’s Gage, Pinkel doesn’t seem too worried. Pinkel said he hopes that his team has more than one player who can perform in key situations.
“I think it would be nice to have a football team with two or three go-to guys,” Pinkel said.