Missouri seeks improvement after recent offensive struggles

Missouri’s offense was clicking during its first four games of the season.

In wins against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, the Tigers totaled 61 and 79 points respectively, seemingly far removed from a year ago, when it averaged about 13 points and ranked second-to-last nationally in offensive efficiency.

In its Southeastern Conference opener, Missouri scored 27 points and led then 16th-ranked Georgia for much of the second half before surrendering a game-winning touchdown pass on fourth down with a minute remaining. By comparison, in two games against ranked opponents in 2015, Missouri scored a combined 16 points, managing a single touchdown.

However, as Missouri (2-4, 0-3 SEC) approaches the thick of its conference schedule, it seems the offense has stalled. The next opportunity to work out the offensive kinks comes Saturday when the Tigers host Middle Tennessee State in the school’s 105th annual homecoming celebration.

After averaging nearly 83 plays per game, the tempo of Missouri’s ‘pace and space’ offense has slowed. The Tigers managed just 64 plays per game in their last two outings, falling 42-7 to LSU on Oct. 1 and 40-14 to No. 18 Florida last Saturday.

Missouri has gained 30 first downs in its last 29 drives, with an average time of possession of 1:23. It also punted 18 times and has gone 3-and-out 14 times in that span.

Missouri coach Barry Odom stressed the importance of gaining a first down on the initial possession in the Tiger’s offense, something they have failed to do the last two games.

“We’ve got to be better at getting a first down to get the drive going,” Odom said. “When you talk any tempo teams, the most important thing is getting the first one.”

Odom isn’t the only one concerned.

“It’s very frustrating,” Missouri wide receiver Chris Black said of the offensive struggles. “A lot of miscues…Eleven guys have to be doing the right things at one time.”

Right guard Alec Ablen said he felt the Tiger’s offensive line took a step backward from LSU to Florida.

“Honestly, I wish up front we’d be better physically,” Ablen said. “More physical point of attack, better finishers. We got a couple of big runs and that’s great, but we still need to do more up front.”

Missouri quarterback Drew Lock ranks second in the conference in passing yards per game, second in pass attempts and is tied for second in passing touchdowns with 14. But against Florida’s top-ranked pass defense, Lock was just 4 of 18 for 39 yards and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns. Backup quarterback Marvin Zanders had significant playing time in light of Lock’s inefficiency, completing 3 of 4 pass attempts for 59 yards while rushing 8 times for 31 yards.

“We’ve got to find a way to get our guys open,” Odom said. “Once we get into position and the ball is delivered, in a passing offense, you’ve got to be able to play catch. We didn’t do that very well (against Florida.)”

Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel was displeased with his unit’s performance against Florida.

“Obviously, we’ve got to do a better job of getting things started and starting things quickly,” Heupel said. “I hate saying this, but the truth of the matter is we truly got outcompeted. From snap to whistle, they played harder than we did. They played with more energy than we did. One hundred percent of the time, you’re going to lose when that happens, so we’re taking steps to correct that this week.”

For the first time this season, neither quarterbacks Lock nor Zanders was available for comment.

“I wanted both of them to clear their minds and get prepared for what is needed out of that position moving forward,” Odom said.

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