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November 5, 2009

Two-back set opens up the offense

Nobody will cover the 2009 season like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free seven-day trial.

And the fan base said, "AMEN!"

Last weekend, the Missouri Tiger offense finally did what many had been hoping it would do for weeks. The Tigers ran 75 plays against Colorado. Forty-five of them-60 percent-were running plays. It was the second week in a row the Tigers ran the ball more than they threw it, and the highest percentage of running plays since a 41-10 win over Texas Tech on October 20, 2007, when Mizzou ran 50 times and threw only 20.

The seeds for the rushing attack that rolled up 184 yards against the Buffaloes were actually planted in the previous week's 41-7 loss to Texas, perhaps proving that it truly is darkest just before the dawn.

"The Texas game, we ran for over 100 yards, all the running backs together, and that gave us a lot of confidence," said Derrick Washington, who came up just a yard short of 100 by himself against Colorado. "Then this game, we ran the ball extremely well."

It was not just the sheer number of times the Tigers ran the ball, but the way in which they went about it. Missouri often lined up in a two-back set with a pair of Washington, De'Vion Moore or Kendial Lawrence flanking quarterback Blaine Gabbert in the shotgun.

"I think it does a lot of things for us," Gary Pinkel said of the two-back formation. "It allows you to get an extra blocker in, in the passing game and the running game. In the passing game, it allows you to protect if you choose to do that with another blocker in there. The running game, we can get more misdirection."

"We're usually in the shotgun and the running back's lined up on one side and usually if we run the ball, it's gonna be to the opposite side," Washington said. "Now, we've got two backs and defenses can't really scheme up for it because you don't know which side the ball's gonna go to or who's going to get it."

The Tigers had used the set at times earlier in the season. The formation had gone on the shelf for a few weeks since then, not by choice, but by necessity.

"The only reason we can do that is we have three really good, I think pretty high-level guys. That allows you depth-wise to do it," Pinkel said. "If you only have two there, you can't do it because you can't take the time to work on that package and in one play the package is over with. And the risk when two players are in-even Kendial's in-there's a risk involved in terms of injury, numbers wise."

Moore did not play against Furman and had just one carry for three yards against Nevada while battling a sprained ankle suffered in the Illinois game. Since his return against Nebraska, the Tigers have featured multiple backs more often.

"When you get two backs on the field at the same time, it gets a defense wondering, 'Okay, who should we read this time, what's going on?'" Moore said. "I think that just gives us a little bit more of an advantage. If you can always get a defense to think on their heels and 'Oh my God, what's going on,' that's something we want to do all the time."

But Moore's injury was not the only one limiting the effect of the ground game. In Missouri's four non-conference games, Gabbert ran 29 times for 80 yards. In the three games since spraining his ankle, the Tiger quarterback had 17 rushing attempts that had lost 25 yards.

"That's a tremendous thing right there," Moore said. "In the past weeks, with Blaine not being able to be as mobile as he usually is, teams take it to their advantage and they jump a lot of our plays. A lot of our plays, we do off of a read basis. So when you get a quarterback who really ain't that mobile at the time, it makes things a little bit more difficult. But Blaine is getting extremely better and it's gonna cause a lot of problems for a team."

The additional back also gives Gabbert added help in the passing game.

"It adds a little more blocking for protection and lets the running backs get out into the flat routes and just kind of spread everything out a little bit," the quarterback said. "Derrick and De'Vion are awesome in pass protection because they're not going to fear away from a blitzer. They're going to get their blocks done and do their job."

With Danario Alexander and Jared Perry combining for more than half of Missouri's pass receptions on the season, it makes sense to add an extra running back to the formation even if it frequently means taking a receiver out.

"Like I've always said, we try to adjust our personnel to those that make plays and give us a chance to execute better," Pinkel said. "It's worked out well for us."

Nobody will cover the 2009 season like PowerMizzou.com. If you are not yet a member, just try out our free seven-day trial.


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