Spring Football Post-Mortem: The Offense

Because this is the last time I get to review an actual Mizzou "game" (relatively speaking) for almost five months, I'm going to take advantage and write far too many words about Saturday's B&G Game.  All typical disclaimers aside--this was only one scrimmage, it was just a scrimmage, it's only spring football, you can't glean much from "Mizzou vs Mizzou" situations, etc.--there was still a lot to watch and a lot of impressions to be made on Saturday, and today we'll take a look at what the offense did.

Quarterback

If I were grading QB performances from the Black & Gold game, I'd be tempted to give an Incomplete all the way around due to the injuries in the receiving corps.  Because of injuries, the 1st-string WRs were really more like 2nd-string, 2nd more like 3rd, etc.  Regardless, though, the performances were a bit shaky on Saturday.  Dave Matter was quick to remind us that it couldn't have been any different the previous Saturday, when Blaine Gabbert owned the proceedings, using Jerrell Jackson and Wes Kemp to pick the D apart.

In all, what I saw in Gabbert on Saturday was a QB whose receivers dropped a couple of balls, who looked good on about 80% of his passes...and who could have had as many as three of his 17 tosses picked off.  He trusted his arm to make a throw it couldn't make in telegraphing a pick to Kip Edwards, and on the next throw he got flustered and threw into double coverage, getting a ball tipped and almost picked by Del Howard.  Later on, he threw a ball right into the chest of Dominique "Don't Throw It to Stone Hands" Hamilton, who had dropped back in coverage.  It was an uneven performance in which we saw Gabbert make all the confused mistakes you'd expect a young, new starter to make.

That said, there's plenty to like, of course.  First of all, the dude really does have a freaking cannon.  Nevermind the "rolling left, fling it 55 yards" toss he uncorked in the first half--he really did seem pretty accurate on his short and medium-range throws, which was good to see.  And he's got some wheels.  He scrambled left for a long gain in the first half, and on the play he not only showed off legs but brains.  He could have taken off a second earlier, but he waited for the D-linemen to commit to going for the sack for another beat, and it opened up the left side of the field big-time.  Instead of having to run horizontally for a while to get out of the reach of the D-linemen, by waiting and relying on his agility to evade the rushers, he was able to move upfield pretty much immediately.  He understands the pocket extremely well for his experience level, and that's a very good thing.  Now he just needs to learn which throws to make and not make.

And of course, if not for the silly touch rules (seriously, can we at least make it 2-below or something?), he'd have had a pretty easy rushing TD in the redzone.

In all, I wasn't pleased to see him make the mistakes on the three passes, but I'm going to give him a lot of benefit of doubt considering a) his running skills will be even more pronounced when it doesn't take a fingertip to blow the play dead, b) he actually has his full arsenal of receiving targets available to him, and c) Derrick Washington is on the field for more than a handful of plays.

As far as the other QBs go, as Ross mentioned Saturday evening, Jimmy Costello didn't look good at all (of course, you try going up against the #1 defense with basically the 3rd-string WRs), and Blaine Dalton and Ashton Glaser both showed that their decision-making has a ways to go.  That's why they came for the spring--they'll have a leg up on where they otherwise would have been come August.  They both have some decent wheels, and I guess it wouldn't totally surprise me to see Dalton having his redshirt torn off to run a more Wildcat-formation style of package, just for a change of pace.  But then again, Gabbert is probably as good a runner as Dalton, so maybe not.

Running Back

Derrick Washington barely saw the field, but I saw everything I needed from him.  He's still as impressive to watch as he was early last year.  He always falls forward, and he takes advantage of holes that just don't really seem to exist.  He's going to make a great 1-2 punch with De'Vion Moore, who showed nice speed in getting to the outside.  At the very least, Moore has developed into a strong Marcus Woods-style, change-of-pace back.

In our section of the stands, we were laughing about how we still run the same slow-developing handoffs as we always have, and it's easy to get annoyed or complain about that, but, well, D-Wash rushed for 1036 yards and 17 TDs on 5.9 yards per carry last year.  If you execute correctly, it doesn't really matter that the plays are slow-developing.

As rptgwb put it during the game, Gilbert Moye running the ball looked exactly like what you'd expect a QB-turned-DB-turned-RB to look like running the ball.  He doesn't look entirely comfortable out there yet, but to his credit, he made some things happen and showed the D-Wash-like ability of falling forward and creating space to run when you don't see any available.  He's nowhere close to Washington and Moore just yet, but if one of them gets hurt (and Kendial Lawrence isn't immediately ready), he could do at least a competent job.

Also, Shawn Scott continued solidifying his place in the Black & Gold Game Hall of Fame with another couple of good runs.  Barring injuries, he'll never see the field outside of garbage time, but he's always looked good in scrimmages.

Wide Receivers / Tight Ends

There's a lot to like about Jerrell Jackson, I'll say that much.  In terms of style of play, think of him as Jeremy Maclin, but with only four gears.  He looked wonderful on a reverse early in the scrimmage, but Hurricane Ebner was able to just barely get a grab of his shoelaces, and it slowed him down enough that he was eventually taken down.  He also showed strong ability running routes and catching balls.  Assuming Jared Perry and Danario Alexander are two starters, I have to figure that Jackson is the leader for the third starting spot.

That said, Wes Kemp is still going to have a chance to overtake either Jackson or maybe Perry when all is said and done.  In terms of size and skillset, he is a unique target.  He could be a favorite of Gabbert's on the dig route, which accounted for at least two of his three receptions.  He is a Justin Gage-style receiver (which makes sense, considering the two may have been separated at birth), and I like what I saw out of him.

I was actually pretty disappointed in what I saw out of Rolandis Woodland.  He dropped an out route on the first possession of the game, and really just didn't do much with the opportunities presented to him (i.e. getting reps with the 1st and 2nd string with so many guys out).  People were very wishfully hoping that he could threaten for a starting job and maybe even overtake Danario Alexander as the team's best deep threat.  Well, I didn't see or read anything this spring that made me think he'll be ranked any higher than the #6 WR when everybody is healthy.

Beyond that, there wasn't much to see.  Brandon Gerau actually dropped a pass, which means it's a while before he gets another chance to earn Tommy Saunders-level "LOVE that kid!" status.  Andrew Jones didn't do much, but I think I know what to expect out of him at this point.  I really was disappointed in not getting to see Gahn McGaffie or Michael Egnew.

Oh yeah, and kudos to Jonnie Fields, this year's official Shawn Scott Award winner for most impressive performance by a walk-on.  The sophomore from Gateway Tech led all receivers with 53 yards on four receptions.  He won't see the field, but he seized his moment in the spotlight, and he deserves credit for that.

Offensive Line

All I can really say for the O-line is this: there weren't many sacks, and D-Wash and De'Vion had decent room to run.  I spent a lot of time watching the DEs, and while they looked really quick and strong, they still didn't do much, which says something about the OL's performance, especially that of the tackles, Elvis Fisher and Dan Hoch.  I still think this unit is the best OL in the Big 12 North, and if Mizzou makes a run at its third straight North title, the OL will be the main reason why.

Summary

With guys like Gabbert, Washington, D. Moore, Gregory/Barnes/Fisher/Hoch, J. Jackson, and Kemp, not to mention Jones/Egnew, and out-of-sight-and-mind guys like Alexander and Perry, this offense still has the talent to win the North.  A lot of pressure, though, is going to lie on Washington, Moore, and the O-line.  I still don't see a #1 WR on the team, and it's evident that Blaine Gabbert is going to make newbie mistakes, so David Yost is going to have to know he can lean on the running games at times to settle things down.  With what we saw out of Washington and Moore, both on Saturday and in 2008, that's definitely a plausible option.  But the B&G Game did confirm some concerns, and we'll see what happens when this unit faces a non-Mizzou unit for the first time.  Color me neither scared nor insanely optimistic.  Which, really, is a pretty good place to be.

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