After two mediocre performances against lesser opponents, concern for the Missouri Tigers has focused entirely on the offense. The offensive line seems to live perpetually in their own backfield. Every running back not named Russell Hansbrough has been easier to bring down than a Jenga tower on a sailboat. Maty Mauk has shown that he spent his summer learning absolutely nothing, having chucked up three awful interceptions just has he has done for the past two seasons. In addition to all of this, Mizzou’s corps of young talented receivers spent most of last Saturday dropping easily catchable touchdown passes.
Mizzouri offense running out of warm-ups
These messy performances have come against an FCS team and a Sun Belt Conference school. The Tigers’ defense thus far has been made of cast iron, which has allowed the offense to sputter without too much injury. Soon however, the competition level will rise dramatically and even a frighteningly efficient defense won’t be able to compensate for an entirely inept offense.
This weekend, the Tigers take on the UConn Huskies in Columbia, and this will likely be the last weekend that Maty Mauk and company can flounder around helplessly and still bag a win. There is little reason to believe they will look any better this week either. Hansbrough will be sidelined due to a lingering ankle sprain. The deficient offensive line hasn’t seen any midweek changes that could indicate improvement, and you can count on Mauk to heave up a couple of highly ill-advised passes into triple-coverage. I haven’t checked into his official scholarship agreement, but I am suspicious that he may be contractually obligated to make at least two of these types of passes per game.
I realize how negative this all sounds for a team that is 2-0 and nationally ranked, but I guarantee that Gary Pinkel and Josh Henson, his offensive coordinator have the exact same concerns going into the SEC schedule. All is not lost however. Let’s look at the glass as half full. The combined factors of Hansbrough’s injury, the lack of production from his backups, and growing confidence in Drew Lock, the Tiger backup quarterback, Josh Henson rediscovered a weapon that hasn’t been used much since 2013; Maty Mauk’s legs.
Mauk ran a number of designed draws that gave him room for big runs, and they worked nearly every time. In lieu of having a capable running back who can do damage between the tackles, Mauk’s ability to not only scramble but purposefully gain yards on foot will cause even top SEC defenses headaches.
Mauk has also proven he can at times be a dangerous passer. This reality has been somewhat camoflauged by his unwatchable bad passes and the numerous times his young receivers have dropped perfectly catchable balls. He is a lock to make bone-headed mistakes, but Mauk continues to be a threat that defenses will struggle to account for.
Hungry for more optimism? Missouri’s raw receiving corps has shown that they are fast and they are athletic. When they’re not cutting their teeth with rookie alligator-arm drops, they’re outrunning defensive backs and running strong routes. As this season proceeds, we are bound to see some exciting plays from these kids.
Wait! I’ve got more! When Russell Hansbrough’s ankle heals, he’s going to be a shot in the arm to the Missouri offense. He’s a proven back and even with a shaky line in front of him, his smarts and patience will see holes that Ish Witter has yet to wait for. That on top of the fact that every backup back is nursing some kind of injury means that increased strength and experience is bound to improve rushing stats.
There’s a high upside if these pieces begin fitting together, but there’s not a lot of time for it to happen. UConn this week should provide a safe primer for the Tigers, but next week the conference campaign kicks off against a much-improved Kentucky team. Note, all sportswiters are required by law – maybe Obamacare, not quite sure – to add the words “much-improved” before “Kentucky” this season.
If Mauk and company can put up just enough points to win over the next couple of weeks, the ferocious defense should be able to do the rest. But for Missouri to have success in the remainder of 2015, their offensive questions will require some answers.