DALLAS – For Missouri offensive coordinator Dave Christensen, Sunday is his “Invention Day.”
“I try and tinker around and come up with different plays — something that comes off of a play we have run or something that can give us a big play and is difficult for the defense to adjust to,” Christensen said. “Oddity plays that are fun to come up with and keep the players excited.”
Like the highly unorthodox “Monster” formation — where offensive linemen are split ten yards apart and some even split out as receivers. The formation, a Christensen original, turned the heads of Tiger fans, Tiger opponents and, as we now find out, Tiger players.
“When he drew up that monster formation and he drew up that screen play, we would call the play ‘Good Luck’ because no one thought it would work,” senior tight end Martin Rucker said. “So whenever Tommy Saunders would line up next to me to take the screen, I’d say to him ‘good luck.’ So that’s one of those plays we thought would never work.”
A lot has worked for Christensen’s spread offensive scheme since it was implemented three seasons ago — including the previously mentioned screen play.
Almost. According to Christensen, Saunders was one block, or ingredient, from scoring against Western Michigan. Nonetheless, Christensen’s spread attacks have been ranked in the top ten nationally in each of the past two seasons. “Coach C”, as the players affectionately refer to him, predicates the offensive game plan on distributing the ball and covering all parts of the field.
The Tiger offensive philosophy is simple: getting the ball in the hands of any and every Tiger skill player possible. Christensen’s objective of getting all involved on the offensive end has created a team-first attitude among players.
“He wants to do everything he can to set this team up to be successful, “ running back Tony Temple said. “Him having an unselfish attitude has trickled down to our team because now we are unselfish because we know he is going to spread the ball around and get everyone involved.”
Unselfishness seems to follow Christensen in his off-the-field decisions as well. Successful coordinators are pursued when head coaching jobs become available toward the end of the season. And after crafting one of the most consistently explosive offenses for the last three seasons, Christensen’s name naturally has been mentioned recently as a candidate for some of these jobs.
It would have been easy for Christensen to take his ball and go somewhere else without regard for the people it could affect the most: the players.
He didn’t do that.
“A lot of coaches in this business would care less as you have seen in these last couple of weeks and Coach C is not that guy cause he actually talked to us about it and we expressed our feelings,” receiver Will Franklin said. “He didn’t have to do that but that’s the unselfishness and the care he has for us as a team.”
Christensen joined coach Gary Pinkel’s staff at the University of Toledo and has been with him for the past 15 years, coaching the offensive line and eventually the entire offensive unit.
Christensen’s roots lie in power football. Plays with lead blockers and a grind-it-out mentality gave way to long passes and larger splits once he instituted the spread.
The transformation from one extreme to another was a big one, Christensen said, with the two offenses being different in just about every way possible.
He also said that sticking to the plan and getting his players to buy into it is ultimately what has driven the offense to the jaw-dropping numbers it has generated.
Christensen appreciates the faith his players have in him, calling the offensive unit the most unselfish one he has ever worked with. And they will take that mood into Tuesday’s Cotton Bowl. Christensen has had almost a month to concoct something new to throw at the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Something maybe even more odd than the “Monster” formation that no one thought would work. If you thought linemen split out wide looked goofy, try wrapping you head around a receiver manning the interior offensive line.
If it’s what it takes to win, Christensen believes his players will do it.
“They will do anything I ask of them to win,” Christensen said. “I guarantee you if I ask Will Franklin to go play guard for me, Will Franklin will go play guard for me because he wants to win.”