Last season, Missouri scored touchdowns on barely half of its red-zone chances, finding the end zone on only 20 of 39 drives inside the opponents’ 20-yard line.
Changing that will be among the keys to the Tigers’ hopes for returning to a bowl game after a disappointing, injury-plagued 5-7 campaign in 2012.
So far, so good — with the caveat that Missouri is eight for 11 scoring touchdowns in the red zone against Murray State and Toledo.
“We’re doing a little bit better and I think we’re mixing things up a little bit more, but we still have to — offensively, I think we can be a lot more consistent, a lot more consistent,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “We’ll have to see where we’re going with that.”
The real test, of course, will come in SEC play, but the Tigers were only 10 of 15 scoring touchdowns in the red zone during non-conference play last season.
It’s encouraging that Missouri has been better through two games in 2013. One of Missouri’s non-touchdown drives in the red zone came on the final drive of a 38-23 win against Toledo when the Tigers took a knee at the Rockets’ 6.
“We work real hard in the red zone and we’re trying to get better at it and get more efficient,” Pinkel said. “I think we have the making of a good football team. We’ve just got to clean a lot of little things up.”
Of course, all of that misses the point a bit.
It’s the way Missouri has approached its red zone chances that makes this season even more remarkable.
Missouri’s second drive against Toledo featured three straight snaps inside the Toledo 5 with quarterback James Franklin under center — an unusual sight in recent Tigers history.
Missouri ditched the wide splits it has used in recent years, even at the goal line, and often remained in that same alignment near the goal line, eschewing traditional power football when on the end zone’s doorstep.
It took three plays, including an incomplete pass and a 1-yard run by Russell Hansbrough, but eventually Missouri’s power game worked with Henry Josey bulling into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown.
“How impressed were you?” Pinkel replied in jest when asked about the new-look goal line set for the Tigers. “We’re just trying to, within our offense, have several different things we can do and bring game to game. That worked out pretty good.”
And it could be an important factor moving forward that helps Missouri make the most more often of its red-zone chances, which could yield another win or two and a bowl game.
It’s certainly worth keeping on how the Tigers’ red-zone philosophy continues to evolve under first-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson.