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SEC confounds Mizzou's spread offense

2012-10-24T00:00:00Z 2012-10-24T20:24:38Z SEC confounds Mizzou's spread offenseBY VAHE GREGORIAN • vgregorian@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8199 stltoday.com

COLUMBIA, Mo. • Entering Mizzou's first football season in the Southeastern Conference, the most notable mystery and most crucial X-factor in the transition was obvious.

Would an MU spread offense that in Big 12 league games averaged 41.9 points in 2007, 30 a year ago and no fewer than 26.7 in between confound the rugged defenses of the SEC that were unaccustomed to the scheme?

Or would the SEC make mincemeat of the curiosity?

With the early ballots in as the Tigers (3-4 overall, 0-4 SEC) prepare to start the second half of the league season Saturday against visiting Kentucky (1-7, 0-5) the ledger is lopsided for the latter.

In conference games, MU is 12th in the 14-team league in scoring (13.8 points a game); 12th in total offense (287.5 yards a game); 13th in first downs per game (14.0), 11th in pass efficiency (104.6 rating) and last in third-down conversions (15 of 64, 23.4 percent).

Key injuries have played a role in that, most notably on an ever-jumbled offensive line that already had lost three starters from a year ago and at quarterback.

Two separate shoulder injuries already had hamstrung James Franklin before he suffered a knee injury against Vanderbilt that is expected to keep him out for a second straight game on Saturday.

With that has come overexposure of inexperienced players and a lack of continuity and coordination that has made the offense look overmatched.

In a sense, though, there is some good news with that bad news from offensive coordinator David Yost's perspective.

By his estimation in MU's 42-10 loss to Alabama, for instance, 20 or so of MU's 57 offensive plays were 'self-stopped" by unforced lack of execution, from protection mistakes to the quarterback not dumping the ball to dropped passes …

"Guess what? We're making the other team's defense way better than what they are," he said. "Alabama's a great defense, but we made them better than what they are on too many plays."

He added: "We have to stop the Mizzou beating Mizzou part of it … And I've got to do a better job calling plays, so you don't sit there and say at the end of the game that there were seven times when the scheme wasn't good enough. Which (has) happened too many times this year, too.

"So it's in all different directions, from all different angles."

While that calls other questions into play — why can't MU get more corrected? — it isn't the same as saying the spread is dead.

Noting the 'self-inflicted" aspects again, Yost said, "If it was a matter of our guys are executing and we just can't run this, we can't block this … I would think that way. But until you really go out and execute and you see a team completely stop you, I don't think you sit there and say, 'Well, this can't work.'

"Now, is it working for us? Not well enough at this time."

He added, "It's been infrequent this year, but when you see it, you say, "Wow, we can do things.' But we have to do it way higher percentage-wise than what we've been doing."

Toward that end, Yost said MU spent the bye week doing "probably a little bit more" self-study than it has in the past.

"What are you doing well, and what are you not doing well, and why aren't you doing those things well?" he said. "Are they things you can fix and you can adjust, or are they things that, bottom line, you're not very good at, so don't waste your time with them?"

So simplifying is one of the likely outcomes going forward. But what that means can vary with the quarterback.

Franklin last season was a dual-threat who amassed the fourth-most prolific total offense season in MU history behind Chase Daniel's top three.

His backup, redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser, is a less refined vertical passer, isn't a true running threat and is inclined to stand in the pocket longer, which showed with his fumble in the Alabama red zone and his tendency to take a hit as he tries to learn how much time he really has.

"We've had this discussion: Throwing it as you're getting hit doesn't normally result in the ball going where you want it to," Yost said.

So this week's game plan will seek to contour Berkstresser's strengths but also account for the fact he's not the ground threat Franklin can be.

"Our running game changes, too, because your secondary run threat isn't always going to be Corbin; it's going to be when we motion T.J. (Moe) or Jimmie (Hunt) in the backfield, or (having) Marcus Murphy" as a second back, Yost said.

Yost is perceived as pass-first and run-averse, but his broader strategic point is to put defenders in run-pass "conflict." And tweaking the offense toward formations with more interior blocking capacity is no panacea.

The defense "can add people (inside), too, and it becomes that never-ending cycle," he said.

With one common denominator.

"You've got to make plays," he said.

And no one wants them made more than Yost, who insists first and foremost he has to coach better.

"It's frustrating; it's disappointing," he said, adding, "I feel responsible for the offense personally, so when we're not executing well it bothers me, and it keeps me up and it makes me want to work harder and do more. …

"Which is fine. Whatever it takes. And we're going to dig ourselves out of this. But it's up to us to do that. It's not going to happen just because we want to. No one else is going to do it for you."

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