COLUMBIA - Before every game, MU football coach Gary Pinkel hands the officials the key to his Ferarri.
The key is a folder filled with trick plays and unusual formations that the coaching staff has worked into the week’s playbook. The Ferrari, of course, is the Tigers’ high-octane offense.
“I give it to (the officials), and I just tell them, ‘Don’t give it to our opponents,’” Pinkel said.
The referees kept quiet and Pinkel kept his Ferrari in mint condition. His offense used a combination of trickery and lightning-strike plays on Saturday to beat Western Michigan 52-24 in the Tigers’ first home game of the season.
The MU offense struggled in the first quarter against Illinois and Ole Miss, scoring just seven combined points, but it took just 2 minutes and 5 seconds for the Tigers (3-0) to equal that margin against the Broncos (0-3). Quarterback Chase Daniel hit receiver Jeremy Maclin for a 24-yard touchdown catch on the opening drive, and the Tigers went on to score the most points in a game since beating Troy 52-21 two years ago.
“It’s big time,” said Daniel, who threw for more than 300 yards in his sixth-straight game. “We haven’t scored a touchdown on the first drive in the first three games. It is definitely good to get out there, score and get our passing game going.”
The Tigers also got their running game going. Tony Temple ran for 97 yards and two of the team’s five rushing touchdowns, the most the Tigers have had in a single game since they scored six against Iowa State in 2003.
The consistent offense kept the Broncos on their heels, but it was the trick plays that knocked them off their feet. Pinkel was worried that the referees would be equally confused by the unusual formations and call a penalty on the offense. That’s why he gave them his playbook beforehand.
The gesture paid off. On one drive, the Tigers ran a flea flicker to tight end Martin Rucker that netted 12 yards and a direct snap to Maclin that resulted in a touchdown. Later in the game, the Tigers ran a play called “Monster” where each lineman stood about three yards apart from each other and Daniel threw a screen pass to receiver Tommy Saunders.
“We have offensive tackles sometimes at wide receiver, we have a tight end back as an offensive guard,” Pinkel said. “Any formation you line up there, the defense has to line up and say ‘How are we going to cover this if they’re going to throw the ball, if they’re going to run the ball?’”
The trick plays obviously flustered the Broncos’ defense as seven different Tigers combined for 272 rushing yards. After averaging 10.2 yards per rushing attempt in the first quarter, Temple didn’t get a single carry in the second. But with so many viable options, he said it’s good the team doesn’t have to depend solely on him.
“We tried to run hard for four quarters,” Temple said. “That was the emphasis we had this week. There’s a lot of people that can touch the ball and make things happen. It’s very fortunate to have on the team.”
As efficient as the Tigers’ offense was, you would have missed it if you blinked. The first four scoring drives took a combined 5 minutes and 5 seconds, and it wasn’t until the final touchdown that the Tigers put together a scoring drive that lasted more than five minutes.
But that, Pinkel said, is how the Tigers operate. Fast.
Like a Ferrari.