[Note: this story has been modified since its original posting.]
Gary Pinkel did a lot of shopping last December, but not at the mall. After a 5-6 season that saw offensive production drop dramatically, the Missouri football coach was after something new. What he found was the spread formation.
With four or even five receivers spread from sideline to sideline, the formation gives more passing options on any given play and spreads defenders thin on running plays.
“If you ask defensive coordinators to list the five offenses that present the most problems and that you do not like preparing for, this would be right at the top,” Pinkel said. “I know because I talked to many of them last December when I tried to get a feel for what would really help us the most.
“Utah ran the ball 60 percent of the time and passed it 40 percent. Bowling Green did the opposite,” Pinkel said. “That’s the beauty of it. If you want to lean on the run and be a good running football team, you can do that. If you want to lean on the pass and fire it down the field you can too.”
After deciding to use the spread, Pinkel combed through playbooks, picking out plays like a parent scours through their child’s Halloween candy, hoping to snag their favorite piece.
“What we do is we go steal what’s good,” Pinkel said. “That’s what happens in college football. Everyone sends their coaches out to try to find out what’s working.”
Pinkel began implementing the offense the first day of spring practice.
“It’s very difficult to execute,” Pinkel said. “Your quarterback has to be very good at it.”
Last Saturday, Brad Smith looked good at it. Sure it was only Division-IA Arkansas State and a double-digit blowout was not shocking and even expected.
But the Missouri football team’s offense didn’t just go out and win big Saturday, it racked up 657 yards of total offense, the second most in NCAA Division-I last week, illustrating that the offense is more than just new, it is improved.
The Tigers outgained Utah and Bowling Green, the teams Gary Pinkel said influenced him most to implement the system.
Tiger quarterback Brad Smith threw for more than 300 yards for only the second time in his three-plus years at Missouri en route to Big 12 Conference Player of the Week honors. He had his highest pass completion percentage (78.4 percent) since the Tigers played Division-IAA Eastern Illinois in 2003.
Part of Smith’s success came from having a balanced rushing game. Smith and tailbacks Marcus Woods and Tony Temple each carried seven or more times for 8 or more yards per carry. The trio also showed big play capability, breaking runs for 20 or more yards.
Pinkel said he knows every game will not be as easy as Arkansas State.
“We understand that the competition is going to get a lot greater,” he said. “It’s naive to think that defenses won’t try to catch up with it. Then it’ll be about making adjustments.”
He said having dual threat quarterbacks like Brad Smith and freshman Chase Daniel will help mix things up.
“With not only a good running quarterback, but a good throwing quarterback, you can go a lot of directions.”