After running over its opponents last year for the sixth best rushing attack in the country, the Missouri football team is looking to go to the air.
The emphasis on improving the passing game has been evident in preseason scrimmages, with the offense running far more passing plays than rushing. The Tigers are relying on Sean Coffey, Brad Ekwerekwu and Thomson Omboga, three of the teams more experienced receivers, to produce for the first team offense.
“Our goal is to be able to come in and pass the ball for 300 yards a game and not rely on our running game to save us and win every game,” Omboga said. “We want to go out and show that we can throw the football.”
Missouri rushed for 237.5 yards per game in 2003, but the passing game suffered, gaining 166 yards per game and putting the total offense at 36th in the country.
“We worked really hard in the (preseason),” Ekwerekwu said after Thursday’s scrimmage. “That was probably one of the main focuses, to improve the passing game and I think it will come along as time goes on.”
The competition for the wide receiver spots has been one of the toughest on the team, with many young receivers vying for playing time. Coach Gary Pinkel went with experience in the final preseason scrimmage on
Thursday, though, putting Omboga, a senior, and Coffey, a junior, on the first team with Ekwerekwu, who played in nine games as a true freshman last year.
“We all have different things we can bring to the table,” Coffey said. “We just have to keep getting the timing better and better every day and get our mix together and we can be a good crew.”
Injuries prevented the three from working together at times in the preseason. A separated shoulder forced Coffey to miss a few practices at the end of the first week and a bruised rib stopped Omboga from participating in drills during the second week of practice.
Ekwerekwu said it has helped him to have them healthy for the second half of the preseason.
“(Coffey and Omboga) are guys I looked up to, and those are guys that I wanted to learn from and just absorb as much as I could from their games,” Ekwerekwu said. “Now I’m out there and they kind of take me under their wings when I fall or stumble.”
Omboga is looking to repeat as Missouri’s top receiver after catching 52 passes for 466 yards and a touchdown last year. He said his rib feels fine, with the exception of occasional soreness, and he anticipates an impressive season from the receivers.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of young guys that can catch the football,” Omboga said. “The more receivers that we get that can play will help us out.”
The wide receivers ability to get open will be important in taking defensive pressure off quarterback Brad Smith, who led the team in rushing yards, with 1,406 in 2003.
Coffey said the receivers welcome that pressure and are intent on improving the passing game from last year.
“That’s our job, to catch the ball,” Coffey said. “If you’re not confident with what you do then you shouldn’t be out here.”