Pro-tempo on display for first time in opening game against Alabama

The Tigers’ offensive scheme begins to take shape in 38-19 loss to the Crimson Tide.
Running back Tyler Badie hauls in a touchdown pass at Faurot Field on Sept. 26, 2020 SEC Media Portal

With 7:45 remaining in the first quarter of Missouri’s opening game against Alabama, quarterback Shawn Robinson took the snap, quickly rolled out to his right and found junior receiver Jalen Knox in the flat with plenty of open grass in front of him. The completion went for 23 yards and was the Tigers’ second-longest play from scrimmage of the afternoon.

A sub-30-yard gain may not be anything to write home about, especially considering the fact that Alabama put up plays of 46 and 34 yards later in the half. But it was a sequence that seemed to jump start the offense, at least for a series or two in the first half.

Throughout fall camp, first year head coach Eliah Drinkwitz and his players talked about running a pro-tempo offense and the versatility it brings. With so much happening in the backfield, having two versatile threats at running back provides multiple options for Robinson. If Larry Rountree or Tyler Badie doesn’t end up with the ball, maybe the wide receiver does on some sort of sweep, as we saw with Knox. It gives the offense plenty of options, and there were glimpses of the effects it could have on display Saturday night.

“[The pre-snap motion] does a nice job of hiding our tendencies,” Drinkwitz said.

The Crimson Tide –– like most teams Missouri will face in its all-SEC schedule –– employ a strong defense. To beat it, teams have to be creative because stale play calling won’t cut it. That means additional pre-snap motion and getting the ball out quick; we saw a little bit of that against Alabama.

Oftentimes the motion came from Knox, who Drinkwitz utilized all over the offense.The six-foot receiver from Texas led the Tigers offense with 63 yards on five targets.

“I did a lot of motion in high school so that part of the game is easy,” Knox said. “Getting to move around and be eye candy to defenses, I love it.”

With just over eight minutes remaining in the first half, Knox lined up out wide and went into motion, bringing his defender with him. That opened up enough space for Rountree to take a handoff, attack the gap that Knox helped create and pick up the first down.

“We knew coming in what we were going to do,” Rountree said. “It was the same thing we did in practice which was go fast, but it wasn’t enough today. I had no uncertainty of running or the pace of our offense. I already knew that we were going to come out with pressure.”

For Missouri’s first touchdown of the night, Robinson faked a handoff to Badie, who slipped away from his man and found himself wide open along the left sideline. Robinson got him the ball and it was a footrace to the end zone for a 54-yard touchdown. Those are just a few examples of what Drinkwitz wants to do with his pro-tempo offense, and if Saturday night’s game is any indication, he’ll have plenty of tricks up his sleeve each week.

The Missouri offense put up just 322 total yards on Saturday night, struggling with Alabama's speed which often blew up plays before they could develop. Just six plays went for greater than ten yards. But the addition of speed alongside pre-snap motion and misdirection should be enough to give opponents headaches and keep defenses honest over the course of the season.

Many teams will have to squint to find the positives against Alabama this season. According to Vegas, the Tigers’ were 27.5-point underdogs on Saturday, but the offense displayed plenty of signs that there is something to build on.

Against Alabama, some of Missouri’s most creative plays only generated 15 or 20 yards, but what could this offense do against Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Arkansas? It may have just been one game in a long, grueling season, but you could at least see a tiny slimmer of what Drikwitz wants his offense to be this season. And it’s enticing.

Edited by Eli Hoff | ehoff@themaneater.com

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