Struggling offense looks to rebound

The Tigers looked were so cautious on Saturday, they almost didn't have enough to win. Against Ball St., they'll have a chance to prove they can throw the ball down the field.

The way the offense was going on Saturday, some might have thought it was George Bush on the field and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney up in the press box calling the shots.

No, it was still coach Gary Pinkel, offensive coordinator Dave Christenson and quarterbacks coach Dave Yost up there, but the Missouri offense against Illinois on Saturday was certainly conservative.

Halfback delay to Zack Abron. Screen pass to Abron or a tight end. Brad Smith quarterback keeper. Take away Missouri's two touchdowns, and that pretty describes the Missouri offense on Saturday.

"When things aren't going well, it's a struggle," Pinkel said. "We weren't getting the ball downfield like we wanted to. They did a lot of things to prevent the ball from going downfield."

After making 57 plays of 20 yards or more last season, the Tigers didn't have one play go for more than 20 on Saturday. The longest? A 19-yard screen pass to Abron where he came up with moves he didn't even know he had.

"They shut down some of the stuff that we were doing, and we didn't execute our offense really well," Christenson said. "It wasn't all they took things away from us as much as it was us not executing what we were trying to do."

The Tigers didn't make many shots deep, but Illinois set the tone early by shutting that down. Pinkel said he called plays that had deep options, but Smith didn't have many options. As Missouri adjusted, it allowed Illinois to play closer and closer to the line. Missouri had trouble rushing and passing, gaining only 20 yards in the first quarter and only 30 in the third quarter.

"When you only run 60 plays, you can't run all of your plays," Christenson said. "We need to get more yardage on first and second down. The first two third downs of the game, we got nine yards. If you get nine yards on every third down, you're going to be doing pretty good, unless you're not getting any on first and second. That was our problem."

More than a third of the Tigers' 223 total yards came on the Tigers' winning drive, when Smith led them to a 78-yard stamped down the field for a touchdown, giving Missouri the lead for good, 22-15.

"All of the sudden they take the lead, and we get a 70-yard or however many yard drive it was right down the field and score," Pinkel said. "Why all of the sudden you can get the 70 yards there and struggle so much throughout the game? I don't have an answer for that."

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