Missouri is doing things it’s never done before on Gary Pinkel’s watch.
Offensively, that isn’t a good thing.
For the first time since 1999, the Tigers have generated fewer than 300 yards of total offense in three consecutive games.
If there’s a bright side, Pinkel’s squad is 2-1 over that span — pulling a 21-20 win from the fire Sept. 27 at South Carolina and relying on special teams and defense to crush Florida, sandwiched around the program’s first shutout loss since 2002 versus Georgia.
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The fact remains that Missouri managed only 280 yards against the Gamecocks, 147 versus the Bulldogs and 119 against the Gators — the fewest in any game since Pinkel took over in 2001.
“Myself, as a leader and as a captain of this team and being on the offense, I don’t want to see my unit struggling — at all, ever,” senior wide receiver Bud Sasser said. “When you see that, you just know that you have stuff you need to work on.”
Lack of execution became a common refrain during the last month for the Tigers, but perhaps Saturday presents an opportunity to get the offense cranked up against struggling Vanderbilt.
Under first-year coach Derek Mason, the Commodores, 2-5 and 0-4 in conference, rank at or near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in nearly every defensive category.
Vanderbilt is last in scoring defense (34.0 points per game), 11th in total defense (415.9 yards), 12th in rushing defense (178.4 yards) and passing defense (237.4 yards) and last in defensive pass efficiency (140.9 rating).
Just don’t expect Missouri, 5-2 and 2-1 in the SEC, to provide any bulletin board material ahead of Saturday’s 3 p.m. kickoff at Memorial Stadium on the SEC Network.
“We can’t sleep on anybody in this conference,” senior left tackle Mitch Morse said. “We have to approach it like we do every week. It’s an SEC team trying to come win here, and we have to focus on making sure that doesn’t happen.”
Missouri’s struggles in the passing game have been particularly acute.
Quarterback Maty Mauk is 27 of 73 for 249 yards with five interceptions and zero touchdowns in the last three games combined. That works out to a 51.94 pass efficiency rating.
At Monday’s weekly news conference, Pinkel was peppered with questions about his struggling offense right off the bat.
Eventually, his replies became terse.
Asked if he saw encouraging signs from the offense in the first half at Florida, Pinkel replied, “We’re working real hard to improve our offense. That’s what we’re doing.”
No doubt, it’s frustrating.
The Tigers bludgeoned the Gators 42-13 thanks to Marcus Murphy’s return touchdowns and a pair of scores by a defense that forced six turnovers.
That excellence was blotted out, at least in part, by Mauk’s six-for-18, 20-yard outing.
Missouri hadn’t completed so few passes in a game since 1999 and last threw for 20 yards or less in 1998.
Put simply, the Tigers’ offense isn’t pulling its weight.
“We knew,” Sasser said. “At the end of that game, we knew we still had stuff to work and not to be complacent with this win at all. Really, we’re proud of our defense and our special teams for playing just a heck of a game.”
Missouri ran only 13 second-half plays at Florida under orders from Pinkel to go ultraconservative with a six-touchdown lead, so that excuses some but certainly not all of the meager production.
Rest assured, 119 yards, which is 10 yards fewer than the Tigers managed in a 42-10 loss against Alabama in 2012, won’t be deemed good enough against the Commodores.
“Vanderbilt’s a good football team,” Pinkel said. “It’s important to get something established every week, OK? There’s nothing magical here. I’ve been here before. And you keep working hard, you stay positive and I think we’ll do OK.”
Worst offensive games
These are Missouri’s worst football games by fewest total yards of offense under coach Gary Pinkel:
Oct. 18, 2014
Oct. 13, 2012
Oct. 11, 2014
Oct. 24, 2009
Oct. 29, 2005
Nov. 23, 2002
vs. Kansas State
Sept. 27, 2003