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Missouri tight end Sean Culkin featured in key situations

Late in the fourth quarter, Mizzou needs one yard to convert a critical fourth down. Tight end time.

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Mizzou lines up in the shotgun with Russell Hansbrough to his right and Lawrence Lee and Bud Sasser on the left. Wesley Leftwich is literally not in the picture.

But then Andy Hill calls a timeout. Who does Josh Henson turn to in this situation? The tight end of course.

Mizzou lines up - under center - then motions tight end Sean Culkin from the right side of the line to just behind the left tackle's shoulder. Culkin throws the chip block before releasing into the flat. Mauk fakes the handoff to Hansbrough and Bud Sasser runs the go route to open up the play.

Mauk turns around and puts almost too much touch on the pass over the defender's head, Culkin snags it out of the air while running sideways and manages to tiptoe two feet inbounds just a yard beyond the first down line.

If we're being honest with ourselves, we saw that pass go to Sean Culkin and gave it a 80% chance of being dropped. We've seen Culkin make some incredibly athletic catches over the middle, but he's been prone to dropping gimmies. Further more, given Mauk's tendency to throw it down and to the left when rushed or rolling to his left, there's almost no margin for error on this play.

Perhaps it's a product of this play being designed and run so frequently that it succeeds. As David Morrison points out, we've seen very similar versions of it before. From David Morrison's Game Rewind

4th and 1. Got to have it. Whole playbook open. So Henson went back to another happy place. Mauk went under center with Echard to his right. He motioned Culkin to the line on his left. Missouri handed to Hansbrough on 4th-and-1 from this formation earlier. Not so this time. Mauk faked to Hansbrough and Culkin engaged Moore. Culkin broke free and, as Moore closed in on Mauk, Culkin released into the flat. Mauk found him for a 3-yard gain to keep the drive alive. If you don't recognize it, that's the play that scored Missouri's last touchdown against Indiana last week and salted the Texas A&M game away -- from James Franklin to Eric Waters -- last year.

Against Indiana, Mizzou tied the game early in the 4th quarter and gave Sean Culkin his first career touchdown on this play.

You might recall from last week: Come for Sean Culkin's first career touchdown, stay for his crushing blocks

The loss of Darius White and the relative inexperience of senior Wesley Leftwich and youngsters J'Mon Moore, Nate Brown and Lawrence Lee will probably mean Culkin, who's already been lined up wide more this year than any tight end through the entire 2013 season, will become an even more integral part of the passing offense.

And because any excuse is enough to relive Mizzou's win over Texas A&M last year, we have James Franklin executing damn near the same play to tight end Eric Waters on the final drive that sealed Mizzou's trip to the SEC Championship game.

I'd say that Mizzou is pretty comfortable using the tight end in key situations of the game. The lack of big production from the position under Henson has been a cause for concern among many Mizzou fans but it may turn out it's been a strategic decision.

If Mauk and Culkin can build on the brief flashes of play-making we've seen so far this season, while also being able to build on the trust that comes from these key conversions, there's reason to be confident Sean Culkin can continue Mizzou's tradition as "Tight End U".