The Tigers are among the latest to adopt an Urban Meyer-type spread offense, following an ill-fated season in which Mizzou coaches tried their darnedest to turn the talented Mister Smith into a pocket passer. The result was a 5-6 campaign that saw Smith's Heisman bid end with his team's shocking loss to the men of Troy (that would be the Alabama variety, not the Southern Cal juggernaut) last September. Smith is the NCAA's active leader in total offense (10,570 yards) but saw his rushing total drop from 1,406 yards in 2004 to 553 yards last year.
These days, MU coaches want Smith on the move and have incorporated more designed run plays and sprint-out passes.
"Their passing game is more wide open," Chizik said. "They're giving (Smith) more of an opportunity to get on the perimeter and throw the ball. They spread the offense wider to try to get him some vision and try to get different receivers into different areas. The running game is different simply because they're getting the ball more in his hands and giving him choices with what to do with the ball."
So far, the Tigers have opened to mixed results. Mizzou failed to emerge unscathed from a creampuff non-conference slate (falling at home to New Mexico 45-35 while dismissing Arkansas State and Troy), but Smith has put up some dazzling numbers in the early going. He is the team's leading rusher with 113.7 ypg (Big 12 No. 4, NCAA No. 16) while his 362.3 yards of total offense per game ranks third nationally.
"They have a really good option with him," Chizik said. "Any time you can get a guy like that on the perimeter, who is so big and so fast, and with different options with whether he's going to pitch it or keep it, then they're smart in what they do. That's basically their bread-and-butter: putting the ball in his hands and then he has the option to do what he feels is best with the ball."
"Option football used to be where you'd get everybody in tight, like with the wishbone," Chizik said. "Now it's the same theory but they spread everybody out. It's really hard to defend. It puts some strains on you in a lot of places."
Thanks primarily to Smith, Missouri is averaging 553.7 ypg (NCAA No. 6). The Tigers also carry the nation's third-ranked rushing offense at 287.3 ypg after averaging just 165 ypg in 2004 (NCAA No. 48).
"This will be a really good gauge to see what progress we've made from game one to now," Chizik said.
Chizik's unit ranks eighth nationally in total defense, yielding 234 ypg and just two yards off the pace of league-leading Nebraska. Still, Saturday's matchup shapes up as a key matchup between Smith and Texas' defensive ends. Junior Brian Robison is the most improved member of the Longhorn D while junior Tim Crowder is eyeing his 25th career start Saturday.
"I think (Crowder) is really playing well and, as the season goes on, I think he'll keep getting better and better," Chizik commented. "This will be a nice week to watch him, and our defensive ends, in general, because this is such a perimeter game. It will be interesting to see how they play."
Philosophically, Chizik prefers not to assign a defender to "spy" on a particular offensive standout.
"I just think it's hard to do a lot of times because sometimes, if you've got a guy doing that, if their guy is that good he's probably better than the guy you've got spying on him. I'm not trying to be funny. We just try to contain him in other ways."
Chizik has analyzed some of Utah's game films in scouting for MU but he has also looked at New Mexico's upset of the Tigers three weeks ago. The Lobos scored the game's last 10 points in the final five minutes, capitalizing on three Tiger turnovers in that one.
"New Mexico blitzed them quite a bit," Chizik said. "New Mexico has a different defensive philosophy up front: three down linemen is pretty much their whole game and they were blitzing from everywhere."
Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. (Central) in an ABC telecast.