Columbia — Here are a few thoughts on Missouri's offense after re-watching the tape of the Tigers' 21-16 win over Central Florida. Hopefully these are some things you may not have noticed.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
(FYI, I’m no coach or anything, so I got a chance to run some of these thoughts past MU’s players and coaches on Monday.)
Breaking down Franklin's performance
As I detailed in last week’s film room, Missouri not only threw a disproportionate amount of passes toward the boundary against South Carolina, Tigers quarterback James Franklin also struggled to go downfield, as he threw four passes that traveled more than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, all incomplete.
Well, give Franklin and offensive coordinator David Yost credit for making the necessary adjustments against UCF, despite the fact the Tigers failed to run 50 percent of their gameplan for the second straight week.
"You like to be in the 65-70 percent (range)," said Yost, whose offense ran only 59 plays all game.
Believe it or not, the Knights lined up almost exclusively in the same nickel defensive formation that South Carolina used the week before, though UCF used a backup defensive back (Lyle Dankening) in the slot instead of a linebacker.
By halftime, MU had passed for 159 yards, but rushed seven times for -5 yards. This gap makes sense; like the Gamecocks, UCF routinely put four linemen and two linebackers on the field, outnumbering MU’s five offensive linemen.
“The first half, with them really loading the box, they dared us to throw the football,” Yost said
(Bonus note: MU threw the screen three times on Saturday. Yost said the Tigers didn't throw it as much as they wanted to against South Carolina.)
Franklin finished the game 19 of 30 for 257 yards, but honestly, as Moe said here, he played better than that. He completed 19 of 26 passes at one point, and that includes 4-5 drops on catchable balls (by my count). He threw seven passes that traveled more than 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage – four of which were caught – and threw to the field side nine times, seven of which were caught.
“He made a conscious effort to get the ball down the field,” Yost said. “I think I did a little better job of actually calling more things that were down the field so we could have those shots, too.”
Let’s take a look at some of two of Franklin's most memorable plays.
*Dorial Green-Beckham’s touchdown catch was another example of how much more effective Franklin was last week. MU lined up in a four-wide set, and UCF is in that oh-so-familiar nickel look. Franklin fakes the handoff to Murphy, and sees that the safety is keying on T.J. Moe, the primary read. So he stood in the pocket (with the rush closing in) and found Green-Beckham, who found a seam in the zone and raced to the end zone.
“T.J. is the first read on that, and then they went to a one safety look so it becomes the boundary post to Marcus (Lucas) or to Dorial on kind of a skinny post out there,” Yost said. “With them going to a one safety look and the safety coming down on T.J., that’s kind of the next progression.”
One more encouraging thing for MU fans; to get the ball to DGB, Franklin had to throw it 10 yards downfield and to the field side, two things he struggled with the previous week against South Carolina. The pass was a tad behind Green-Beckham, but it’s hard to argue with the result.
*Franklin took some initial criticism for his third-quarter interception, which came in the red zone. However, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that tight end Eric Waters – the intended target – cut his route a tad short – and that appears to be the case. I’m not confident he was that open, but look at his feet as he comes across the middle. He’s stationary while the safety is still running toward the ball.
Now, Franklin obviously was not perfect. He showed a little hesitation at times, and misfired on a couple of throws – most noticeably this first-and-10 throw early in the fourth quarter, which arguably could have been caught. However, a better throw would have led to a big play.
One last thing about Franklin: I also thought he showed toughness by standing in the pocket and delivering the football in the face of the rush. Take this third-and-7 at the end of the first half, for example, when the defensive end comes crashing from the right, and Franklin still delivered a decent pass to Marcus Lucas that probably could have been caught.
STUNTIN’ IS A HABIT
UCF used a lot of twists and stunts up front (at least in the first half), which Yost said was a change from a.) what the Knights had shown on tape all season and b.) the Tigers saw the previous week against South Carolina.
Still, it’s worth noting that of the season-high five sacks MU allowed on Saturday, only two (by my count) came on plays where UCF ran a stunt. So let’s run through all five sacks and see where the breakdowns happened.
*The first sack came as a result of a stunt, but co-offensive line coach Josh Henson said it was hard to blame any of the O-linemen for it. Franklin rolled out of the pocket and one of the D-linemen came running free.
*The second sack was the result of a bad snap to Franklin, who had to leap high to catch the ball. By the time he came down and gathered himself, he was being swarmed. He might have gotten the ball away without the bad snap.
*On the third sack, Troy Davis – UCF’s best defensive end – lined up as a tackle on third-and-7, and swam past the guard for the sack.
*On third-and-5, UCF ran a stunt but it doesn’t matter, as end Cam Henderson simply sped past the tackle for the sack. Franklin had no chance.
*UCF got its last sack in the fourth quarter, with MU facing second-and-7. Davis swam inside, beat the tackle and forced Franklin to move up in the pocket, and Henderson simply disengaged the tackle to record the sack.
“It just comes back to poor technique,” Henson said. “And it’s not every snap, but when you play good people, and it’s third-and-9, and they know you’re throwing it, they’re gonna bring it. And to their credit, they got to the quarterback.”
FYI - two of the sacks MU allowed came on third down, so Henson had a point.
REDISCOVERING THE RUNNING GAME
After carrying the ball one time for 3 yards in the first half, senior running back Kendial Lawrence toted the rock 18 times for 101 yards in the second half. Lawrence said there were a few more designed runs for him after halftime, though Franklin still fed him the ball on a few reads.
You also can’t ignore the larger role MU gave tight end Eric Waters. After logging 12 snaps against South Carolina, Waters had 28 on Saturday, including 18 after halftime. And did you know Lawrence carried the ball 15 times with Waters on the field during the second half?
Yost said this usage of Waters, who was often put in motion, gave MU even numbers in the box vs. UCF’s four linemen and two linebackers, thus making it easier to run the ball.
"When we get six on six," Yost said, "normally we're in pretty good shape."
Remember, the Tigers threw decently against this look in the first half, but Yost said the Tigers weren't making the Knights pay enough for loading the box. So he turned to bringing in the extra blocker, which pleased his offensive line coach.
“Having Eric in there and using him to get even numbers, it was a good thing,” Henson said. “I think he gave us the ability to have some cutbacks on running plays.”
Lawrence loved it, too.
“He played a big role,” Lawrence said of Waters. “He blocked left, blocked right, blocked right up the gut…he did a lot of good things out there blocking, opening up lanes and just making it easier on me.”
But while Waters helped MU establish the running game, Lawrence did a lot of the heavy lifting on his own, too.
“He made some plays when we didn’t block it perfect,” Yost said.
Let’s run through a few memorable plays, which provide examples of all the above.
*On the Lawrence’s big 33-yard run that set up MU’s game-winning score, Waters went in motion, and Franklin handed the ball off to Lawrence on what looks like a designed run (Franklin has his back to the line). Waters effectively doubled the end with tackle Justin Britt, but with penetration coming up the middle, Lawrence did the heavy lifting, as he made the unblocked defended miss and found a massive hole on the weakside (thanks in part to right tackle Jack Meiners). Lawrence made another guy miss before he was tripped up.
*On the very next play – a 10-yard go-ahead touchdown run – Waters went in motion and blocked the end, who was pursuing the play. Lawrence was about to be swarmed, but he cut back again to the weakside, where Franklin made the block on this guy and this guy to escort Lawrence into the end zone.
*MU broke out the I-formation on its second-to-last drive of the game, with Waters lining up as a traditional tight end. Fullback Jared McGriff-Culver (who logged five total offensive snaps after logging zero against South Carolina) also made an appearance.
After being stopped for no gain on first down, Lawrence carried for seven yards on the next play, as Waters blocked down on the end well enough to keep his tailback out of trouble.
Meanwhile, Britt – who lost his footing a play earlier – crushed a linebacker on the play. MU was eventually forced to punt, but after a UCF turnover, the Tigers again handed the ball to Lawrence four straight times out of the shotgun, effectively ending the game.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.