Missouri quarterback Brad Smith developed into a Heisman Trophy contender with two seasons of dazzling runs through the heart of defenses.
On Saturday, however, it was Oklahoma State quarterback Donovan Woods who did damage running through the Missouri defense. He faked a handoff to Cowboys running back Vernand Morency and headed in the opposite direction. That counter play is a staple of the Tigers’ offense.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said it was a maneuver the Cowboys had yet to run this season, and caught the Missouri defense by surprise.
“We see people that play us put in a play they see Brad (Smith) play the week before they played us,” Pinkel said. “Oklahoma State didn’t run that counter play, they never ran it until last week and I suggest they got it from the way Brad runs it.”
After the success that Smith, a junior, posted his first two seasons, rushing for 2,435 yards and 24 touchdowns, more and more teams are copying successful plays to use for mobile quarterbacks. The counter or zone-read play the Cowboys ran is a play Texas quarterback Vince Young used against Texas Tech for 158 yards rushing and a school-record four rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
“The last few years you see a little bit more people doing it, I mean people that have their quarterbacks do some of the things that we do,” Pinkel said. “It enables you also to be able to run the football in the shotgun, so that’s some of it too; it enables you to do quite a few plays. It used to be very restrictive on the shotgun what you can do. Now with the shotgun there are multiple number of running plays you can do and everybody cheats off of everybody else and watches. It’s been something that’s been kind of gradual.”
Pinkel cited an example of borrowing plays with the zone blitz on defense. He said that several years ago nobody ran the zone blitz, and now it is a play most teams use. With more teams using quarterback running plays, teams are more prepared to face Smith.
“You have to understand that a lot of people do what we do now,” Pinkel said. “I think more people are seeing it and you see it from more people, so that when they come to play us obviously they are a little bit more prepared. That’s why it’s been a little bit more difficult to get him out in space.”
Smith said while he has yet to make the big plays this season as he did previously, he still has faith in his ability to make that play.
“I’m confident with what I can do and what I can do for the team, and just getting up to play at a higher level,” Smith said. “I’m working on making more plays for us and helping the team.”
Smith has rushed for 410 yards and three touchdowns.
In addition to having seen more plays and quarterbacks like Smith, Pinkel said that is not the only reason for Smith’s inability to make the same kind of impact running the football this season. He said when teams prepare for the Tigers, Smith is the focus of the defensive game plan.
“I think they’re very cautious of him,” Pinkel said. “I think they send safeties down and they have some people spy, defensive people linebackers on him, spying and almost assign a player to him. They don’t let him get out and contain, they stay home... they are very disciplined, that’s pretty smart, so it’s been a little more difficult to get him out in person.”
Smith said the change in defensive coverage is noticeable, but is only frustrating in the success teams’ have had using it.
“They’re definitely doing some things,” Smith said. “They always drop safeties and do that kind of thing and they’ve been doing a pretty good job of it.”