It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
Missouri was supposed to be at its best with the ball in its hands. Even after moving from the offensive-packed Big 12 to the more defensive-minded SEC, this team had enough firepower and speed to challenge its new defensive counterparts.
The Tigers expected their spread offense to work, and they were supposed to be a legitimate contender in the SEC East.
But at the halfway point of the season, Missouri's offense is sputtering around and has been pushed around by SEC defenses. Missouri is 0-3 in conference play after having been outscored 91-45. The explosion we expected from the passing game has been relatively nonexistent and the Tigers are getting worn down in the second half of games.
Injuries to the offensive line and quarterback James Franklin's inability to stay healthy have certainly contributed to Missouri’s struggles, but with the second half of the season approaching, the Tigers have to find answers to all their offensive problems or this team won’t make it to a bowl.
“We can start making some plays,” senior wide receiver T.J. Moe said. “We have guys who can make plays.
“How you turn it around is you start playing like [former Missouri wide receiver] Danario Alexander and when your offense struggles you throw it to a guy and he has four consecutive 200-yard games. That’s how you turn it around. You don’t have to fix the offense; guys just need to start making plays. We have a lot of talent, we just need to start catching better and blocking better because it’s not just going to do it itself,” Moe said.
From top to bottom, this offense has been uninspiring since the first half of the Georgia game. For a team that ranked 12th nationally in total offense last year, averaging 475.5 yards per game, the Tigers are currently 12th in the SEC in total offense, averaging over 100 yards less.
Only once this season has Missouri had a quarterback pass for 200 or more yards and a running back rush for 100 yards or more in the same game.
Injuries up front have obviously been a problem, as all five of Mizzou’s preseason starters -- Justin Britt, Elvis Fisher, Jack Meiners, Mitch Morse and Travis Ruth -- have suffered injuries since fall camp and backups Taylor Chappell and Mark Hill are out for the season. Ruth has yet to play this season, while Meiners has been in and out and just underwent knee surgery that will keep him out a few weeks. Redshirt freshman Brad McNulty replaces Morse at center after Morse went down with a knee injury against Vanderbilt last week.
“Being football, you’re going to have your injuries here and there but you need to be able to have people, like we do, on your team that can go up there and play multiple positions on the line,” quarterback Corbin Berkstresser said.
Fighting through injuries is part of the game, as Berkstresser is finding out. He replaces Franklin, who will be out for a few weeks with a knee injury of his own.
Players are invested in Mizzou’s backups, but all of the up-and-down movement on offense is frustrating.
“I have confidence, I have confidence in our guys -- but it’s hard to have confidence in a torn MCL, like half of our offensive line [has] and it’s hard to have confidence in your quarterback when he’s sitting on the bench,” Moe said. “We’ve had some tough breaks and we haven’t played yet to the best of our ability.”
Now, Missouri gets No. 1 Alabama, which is first nationally in scoring defense and total defense and ranks in the top four in rushing and passing defense. Nothing says going backward on offense like playing against Alabama.
So, simplifying things is the next step, coach Gary Pinkel said. Pinkel is hoping less is more for the Tigers. It should help with the players’ comfort level and restore some confidence. It could also help with consistency.
In the end, Mizzou has to rediscover its big-play persona. Without it, the Tigers are toast in this league. Simplifying things is a start, but execution has to be there, regardless of who's banged up.
“When you’re out there, you probably have nine or 10 guys doing their job and then there are one or two who mess up and it messes it up for the whole scheme of things,” Fisher said. “So you've got to be able to get everyone on the same page for the majority of the game and for everyone to do their job -- that’s all you can really ask for.”