Super 6 Gives 'Skill Positions' New Meaning
Almost half a season is in the books and Missouri is undefeated, largely because of offense has yet to be held below 38 points. At times, the Tigers' attack has been a well-oiled machine; at others, it's Maserati on jet fuel. At no time has it idled for long.
Take the individual breakdown from Missouri's 41-6 romp over No. 24 Nebraska Saturday, for instance:
--- A quarterback, junior Chase Daniel, who passed for 401 yards and two touchdown passes and rushed for 73 yards and two more scores.
--- A tight end, senior Martin Rucker, who may have cinched his All-America reservation by making the Huskers' defensive backs look like Midget Leaguers en route to 100-plus yards and a touchdown.
--- Another All-America caliber tight end, junior Chase Coffman, who caught one touchdown pass and seemingly snagged another, only to have his sensational leaping grab taken from him by what appeared to be an officiating mistake.
--- A 6-foot-5 burgeoning star wideout, sophomore Danario Alexander, who marked his return from a broken wrist by sprinting through the secondary for a beautiful 48-yard touchdown catch-and-run.
--- Another budding star wide receiver, freshman Jeremy Maclin, whose speed led to big gains in both the running and passing game, and who continues to lead the Big 12 in all-purpose yards by a large margin.
--- One senior, wide receiver Will Franklin, who was his usual reliable self and is predicted to go in the first four rounds of the next NFL Draft. Another senior, running back Tony Temple, who is the leading returning rusher in the conference from last year, yet the offense didn't skip a beat after he left with an ankle injury.
"We have a lot of perimeter [threats]," Pinkel said.
Through five games, the aforementioned group of players has produced 740 yards and seven touchdowns rushing, along with 1,456 yards and 12 touchdowns receiving. That's six players, including Daniel, combining for 439.2 yards and 3.8 touchdowns per game – while only accounting once for Daniel's and his receivers' combined statistics.
Their names are sprayed throughout the Big 12's statistical rankings, but only Daniel (second to Texas Tech's Graham Harrell in passing and total offense) and Maclin (first in all-purpose yardage) are listed among the top three players in any particular offensive category.
This, keep in mind, is a good thing -- just ask the man responsible for making certain the wealth is shared and each of the playmakers touches the ball enough.
"The difference between us and a lot of teams in this league is, a lot of them are going to have a running back or a receiver [who is] number one or number two statistically," said offensive coordinator Dave Christensen.
"Well, we're never going to have that this year because we've got too many weapons."
Junior wide receiver Tommy Saunders is another steady performer who catches a couple balls a game and is the holder on field goals and extra points, but he could probably post more significant stats on a team without such a gluttonous talent pool.
"We have so many good players. You've got to play your role on this team. Some games you might not have any passes, some games you might have 10 passes," Saunders said. "The ball's gonna come you way, you've just got to make plays when it comes."
The spread offense seems the perfect system to take advantage of the team's array of weapons. The players are lined up from one sideline to the other, causing myriad problems for opposing defenses. They aren't able to cover all of Mizzou's playmakers, and they can't blitz Daniel because it creates even more windows for big plays.
"They spread you so far out. They spread you from sideline-to-sideline … You can't fill all those passing lanes and they are going to put people in spots," said Nebraska defensive backs coach Phil Elmassian.
"They've got it all. They really have it all."
Each of the Super Six has could potentially play in the NFL, especially impressive because none arrived in Columbia with high school All-America clippings. Coffman, rated the No. 9 tight end in the Class of 2005, was the closest thing to a blue-chip recruit. Daniel is emerging as a possible Heisman Trophy contender despite being rated the No. 26 senior quarterback in the nation that same year.
Having made child's play of Christensen's complex spread attack, Daniel seems to have a magnet implanted in his face mask, constantly directing his vision toward the open man. His 380 yards per game worth of total offense rank him third in college football.
"He's doing a great job, the line's doing a great job of getting him time, and the receivers are out there making plays. It's all just fitting together just like we planned it," said Coffman, part of a ‘co-starter' tandem at tight end along with Rucker.
Christensen has employed a variety of reverse handoffs and plays designed to get the ball to Rucker or Maclin, either on handoffs from Daniel or direct snaps to one of the two out of the shotgun formation. For most teams, they're considered trick plays. For Christensen and Missouri, though, they're part of the base offensive package.
"He's on quite a roll, double reverse passes, reverses, it's unbelievable," Daniel said of Christensen. "We're not just running the same dull plays over and over again and it also gives them more to think about. It's good stuff."
Christensen, in his seventh year at Mizzou, was asked Monday if he has a hard time understanding how he's being showered with praise by the same fans who at times have clamored for his dismissal.
"Who wanted to do that? They don't control my job," he said. "That goes with the territory. That goes with the environment. I'm blessed to be able to work with these guys.
"When things are going good, I'm not different from when things are going bad. I'm the same coach," he said.
The addition of Maclin, who missed all of last season with a badly torn ACL in his knee, has made the job easier for Christensen and Daniel. The redshirt freshman from St. Louis has been a revelation, using his blistering speed to post 214 yards per game worth of kick and punt returns, runs and catches. He's No. 1 nationally in all-purpose yardage and is on pace to break Marshall Faulk's NCAA freshman record in the category. He also leads the team in touchdowns (six) and headaches caused for opposing coaches (many).
Despite joining a crowded group of talented and experienced receivers, Maclin has quickly become a top option for Daniel and Christensen, second only to Rucker. He's returned two punts for touchdowns and averages 16 yards per return, is second on the team in receptions (25) and has rushed 16 times for 175 yards (10.9 yards per carry).
And not once has he been tackled behind the line of scrimmage.
"He still amazes me every time I watch him play," Saunders said.
Missouri's experience-laden offensive line, in part aided by opponents' reluctance to take runs at Daniel, has been fantastic as well. Daniel has been sacked five times in as many games – tied for second-least in the Big 12 – and went untouched against Nebraska.
"We have some amazing threats on offense and it's really pleasurable blocking for them. It's fun to play with the caliber of people like these guys," said senior center Adam Spieker.
"We never really know until they're in the endzone and we look up. We're like, ‘Oh. Nice.'"
The offense was sensational against Nebraska, scoring on seven of eight possessions before finally calling off the dogs late in the game. But no one seemed to believe this was at good as it will get.
"There's room to get better," Maclin said.
"There's always room for improvement. We can do a lot better," added Coffman.
And that is a scary thought.
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