October 29, 2009

2009 Tiger Mailbag: 34th Edition

jeross asks: What gives with Blane Gabbert's injury? I was on the sideline on Saturday and the kid is hurt. He is immobile and a serious injury waiting to happen. He is definitely a tough guy, but I think our season and any additional wins are in jeopardy with him not healthy. Is our program in that bad of shape at the quarterback position that we have to play a guy that is obviously not well ahead of any healthy option?

First off, I agree he is hurt. But from what I can tell, it's an injury that one week off won't improve. He'd have to take five or six weeks off to get completely healthy. And he can't do that. Basically, it's a thing where it can feel pretty good, but the first time it gets rolled over, he's back to square one. And from people I've talked to, that's the case whether he'd played the last two weeks or not. It's not getting worse by playing, but the only way it's going to get better is after the season. As far as the program being in bad shape at the quarterback position, pretty much, there's not another option. I think that's been shown in the last two weeks. I'm not trying to say something bad about Jimmy Costello. Whether I think he can play or not isn't a factor. But by not putting him in either of the last two games until Gabbert basically couldn't walk, it seems fairly apparent that the thought is whatever percentage they're getting out of Gabbert is better than 100 percent of anyone else on the roster.

TgrWeir asks: How do you see CMA's recruiting class at the end of the signing period. For fun who do you see as the team's leading scorers?

The Tigers have room to add one more player. The top options at this point are Tony Mitchell and Ricardo Ratliffe. If you forced me to make a prediction, I think they're gonna get Mitchell. And that's a heck of a class.

As far as the leading scorers, I think Zaire Taylor is capable of leading this team. But I think you're going to see a monster year from Kim English. I've talked to two people have watched practices this week (I'll be there today). Neither can remember Kimmie even missing a shot. The chance will be there for him. I think Laurence Bowers will put up nice numbers and J.T. Tiller will be a better offensive player, along with Justin Safford, but I think English and Taylor will be the top two.

Mizzou-Eddie asks: Thinking back to when MU adopted the spread style offense (I believe it was Brad Smith's JR year), we initially ran it much like Urban Meyer ran it at Utah (he eventually incorporated a fullback when he realized it wouldn't be as effective in the SEC). We used a lot of wide receiver motion and incorporated the slot receiver in the option game. We also used the shovel pass quite often and the QB was a weapon in the running game. It was essentially a run first offense. From what I remember we really only stuck with this for one season before adopting the pass happy, side to side running attack we use now. We also seemed to reduce the number of designed QB runs, even when Brad Smith was still here. Now to my question... Why? Being close to the program, do you have any idea why the staff decided to scrap that style of spread so quickly.

Couple of things. First of all, I have always maintained that the spread was installed because Missouri knew it had Chase Daniel coming in and wanted to jump start the rest of the team getting ready for what was going to be the base offense (which is the one you saw from 2006-08). Nobody will ever admit that, but I think that's the case.

In 2005, which was Daniel's freshman year and Brad's senior year, the quarterback run was a HUGE part of the offense. Brad threw the ball 376 times and ran it 208. The top two tailbacks combined for 157 carries (Woods 93, Temple 64). So your recollection that the Tigers went away from the quarterback run in Brad's senior year is off.

In 2006, Daniel threw it 376 times and ran it 129. Same number of passing attempts (though the Rivals stats list Graham Harrell as also throwing 55 passes for Missouri that year. WHAT?), but far fewer runs. The 79 carries that went away from the QB position went to the tailbacks as Temple ran it 154 times. Those numbers suggest to me that Missouri was going away from the quarterback run, but didn't yet have the confidence that their quarterback had enough experience to fling it all over the field.

The version of the spread we're seeing now really took root in 2007. That season, Daniel threw 563 passes, a jump of nearly 200. However, he ran the ball only 20 fewer times and Temple actually had 32 MORE carries. That indicates not only a heavier lean on the pass, but also the "hurry up" version of the spread where the Tigers really began to run plays as quickly as possible and get as many snaps as they could.

Last year, Daniel threw 528 passes, but his runs were cut nearly in half to 69 (a reason I have long maintained led to Missouri's offensive struggles in the second half of the season). Derrick Washington had 177 carries, right about on par with what Temple had the season before. The offensive philosophy was virtually identical outside of fewer called runs for the quarterback.

This season, Blaine Gabbert is on pace to throw 401 passes. Washington is on pace to carry the ball 187 times (these numbers are based on 12 games, not 14 as the Tigers have played the last two seasons). De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence are also getting more carries than the second- and third-string backs in recent seasons. So, bottom line, the thought the Tigers aren't running the ball more simply aren't true. They are running it A LOT more. Gabbert is on pace to attempt slightly more passes than Daniel did as a sophomore, but the Tigers are also on pace to run it just about the same number of times. So, bottom line, this year's offense is almost identical to the one that was run in 2006 when Daniel was a first-year starter, with the exception that Gabbert is running less than Chase did, a fact that can be almost completely attributed to the ankle injury. You want to know the difference? Gabbert is completing 57.3% of his passes and is on pace for nine interceptions. Daniel completed 64.2% of his throws and threw eight picks. It may not seem like a big difference, but in an offense that is predicated on playing pitch-and-catch, it's seven percent is fairly significant.

Due to the sheer volume of questions, we can't answer every one every week. If your question did not get answered, give it a shot again for next Thursday. The Mailbag will run every Thursday on the site.

The 2009 Tiger Mailbag is sponsored by The Sports Scene. Make sure to stop in at 309 SE Douglas in Lee's Summit, MO to get all your Tiger apparel and official PowerMizzou.com merchandise.

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