Missouri offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s decision to line up left tackle Yasir Durant at wide receiver for one play Saturday received no lack of attention.
It’s difficult, after all, to miss a 6-foot-7, 330-pound man lined up at a position where some of the lightest and quickest athletes play. The chances of Durant getting the football were slim to none, but the distraction worked in some way as Kelly Bryant hit running back Tyler Badie on a screen pass to the opposite side of the field. The confused Ole Miss defense failed to stop Badie en route to the end zone.
Most people who watched Missouri’s victory over Ole Miss likely noticed Dooley’s creativity on this play. But it was one of many plays Saturday in which Dooley showed a willingness to try different formations and personnel groupings to keep the defense guessing.
To understand Dooley’s deviations Saturday, it’s important to first understand what he runs most often.
Dooley, as many offensive coordinators do, likes to employ the 11 personnel grouping more than any other. That would be the offense’s equivalent of a base defense. The 11 means there is one running back and one tight end. The rest of the skill players are receivers. This grouping allows a multitude of pass and run plays. Right behind the 11 personnel in popularity for Dooley is the 12 personnel grouping, which equates to one running back and two tight ends.
In personnel groupings, the universal style is that the first number is the amount of running backs and the second number is tight ends. Every personnel grouping that Dooley selected in the first five games had at least a one in front of it because he never ran an offensive play without at least one running back.
That changed Saturday against Ole Miss.
Dooley called not one but two plays in which he rolled out four receivers and a tight end – Albert Okwuegbunam.
And each time, Bryant completed a pass to redshirt senior Johnathon Johnson.
Dooley, who like other assistant coaches is not available to the media after games, selected this personnel grouping on the second play of the first series and the third series. One resulted in a four-yard completion, the other five yards.
Then, during the fourth series of the game, Dooley debuted another new look that no Missouri opponent had seen this season: Larry Rountree III and Badie on the field at the same time.
The only time the two were on the field together before Saturday came during kneel downs at the end of a game.
The two-back look proved productive, too. Ole Miss gave up a 14-yard run to Badie on this play.
Outside of the Badie touchdown, none of Dooley’s new personnel groupings translated to game-changing plays. But Dooley introducing new looks will only keep future opponents in a state of uncertainty, having to react as the offensive coordinator draws on his creativity.
He certainly showed a willingness to do so Saturday.
Here’s what else we learned from Missouri’s fifth victory of the season:
Johnathon Johnson efficient, trusted
After Saturday’s game, there’s little doubt that Bryant trusts Johnson.
Johnson played in 26 of Missouri’s 78 snaps, exactly one-third. For comparison, receiver Jonathan Nance was on the field for 75 of them. But Johnson caught eight passes for 110 yards while Nance only had two receptions.
That’s a Johnson reception about every three snaps.
“He is a gritty player,” Missouri coach Barry Odom said after the game. “He has made a lot of plays for Mizzou over the years. (Saturday) was one of his biggest nights.”
Jordan Elliott not stopping strong season anytime soon
Missouri defensive tackle Jordan Elliott continues to supplement his draft résumé.
Against Ole Miss, Elliott proved staunch again in the middle, tallying a season high five tackles, two of which went for loss. His six tackles for loss lead Missouri through six games.
One of those tackles for loss came when Elliott broke through the line of scrimmage and put Ole Miss running back Jerrion Ealy on his back. Elliott’s efforts helped hold an explosive Ole Miss running game to 204 yards on the ground.
“He makes a lot of plays when he is not making the tackle,” Odom said. “We’ve got to continue that because his quickness, his explosion, his change of direction, the way he plays, pad level, hand placement, leverage wise, he’s a really, really good defensive tackle.”