My day job is to talk about sports. It’s a pretty swell gig. But when you talk about sports for a living, you’re bound to be wrong. A lot.
And I was wrong about Derek Dooley.
I didn’t like the hire when Barry Odom named Dooley the offensive coordinator. I thought it was uninspired. We saw him flame out at Tennessee. The Dallas Cowboys were exactly throwing money his way when he left.
But Missouri hired him anyway. They hired him to coach quarterbacks and call plays. He had never done either of those jobs. Missouri made a hire which appeared desperate on the surface. A failed head coach was added to the staff in a position he had never held in his coaching career. I was at a loss. I was befuddled.
How, exactly, was this going to work?
Well, now we know. Dooley may not have been the best head coach, and maybe he never will be. Maybe the NFL didn’t suit him. But he has been a tremendous offensive coordinator hire for Barry Odom.
Dooley’s offense was reportedly a key factor in Drew Lock returning to Columbia for his senior year. And his relationship with Kelly Bryant was also reportedly mentioned as a key factor in Bryant’s decision to spend his final year in college at Missouri. I’m not sure you could ask for a bigger recruiting wins than those two.
It’s hard to argue with the recruiting chops. But what about the on-field results?
I had my gripes with some of Dooley’s play-calling last year, as there were moments when he leaned heavily on Drew Lock’s rocket of a right arm. But as the season progressed, Dooley started to rely more on the Tigers’ dominant run game.
I’m not sure I can find many (any?) complaints about the offense this year. Dooley is playing to Bryant’s strengths while also finding ways to incorporate his best skill players into the offense in new and creative ways.
All of this was on full display in the Tigers’ win last week against Ole Miss. A vital skill for any offensive coordinator worth his salt is the ability to get his best skill players the ball in space.
Let’s take a look at how Dooley was able to do just that for Tyler Badie against the Rebels.
The first play was a whacky screen pass to Tyler Badie that resulted in the Tigers’ first touchdown of the game.
I’m not sure I’ve seen a screen quite like this before. Dooley has left tackle Yasir Durant lined up as a slot receiver to the right side of the formation. A tight end is in Durant’s typical spot at left tackle. He’s going to run a go route, holding the safety and the linebacker in the middle of the field.
Because of the formation, Ole Miss had just three down linemen rushing Bryant. Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms chips the defensive tackle toward Trystan Colon-Castillo, and Colon-Castillo holds the block just long enough to give Bryant enough time to get the ball to Badie.
Meanwhile, Bryant starts out by rolling to his right, and looking toward the tight end who is streaking down the middle of the field. This forces the linebackers to respect the middle of the field as an option while Badie gets behind his blockers. Colon-Castillo & Wallace-Simms do their jobs getting out on the defensive backs, Jonathan Nance holds his block on a corner, and it’s up to Badie to beat the extra man.
Boom, touchdown. A wonderful design and a perfect call at the exact time when Missouri needed it to go up 9-7 early in the second quarter.
The second play that stood out from Dooley against Ole Miss did not result in a touchdown, but it was another reminder of how far Dooley has come as a play-designer & play-caller in his brief time on the job.
This was another play drawn up to get Badie the ball in space. The defense is immediately alert that something’s coming because of how rare it is to see both Larry Rountree and Badie in the backfield at the same time. They become more alert when Rountree, Badie, Albert Okwuegbunam and Daniel Parker, Jr. all show pre-snap motion.
That’s when things get even more interesting. The offensive line is blocking as if it’s an RPO that the defense has probably seen a million times on film. Bryant fakes the zone action to Rountree as Parker pulls to the left side of the play to become a lead blocker for Badie after Badie received the pitch at full speed coming around the play.
It all happened too fast for the defense to react. The pre-snap motion forced Ole Miss to shift everything to the strong side of the field. Then the RPO brought the linebackers toward the line of scrimmage to stop the run. By the time they saw Badie coming around the left side of the formation, it was already too late. An easy 12 yards, a quick first down, and Missouri is in business.
Two play calls don’t make or break an offensive coordinator. If those were the only plays that worked, I wouldn’t be writing this column. But those plays were symbolic of how far Dooley has come as a coordinator.
The Tigers boast the 17th highest scoring offense in the country. Bryant’s quarterback rating is the highest of his career. His 12 touchdown passes are just one behind his career-high that he set in 2017 at Clemson when his supporting cast was among the best in the country.
Dooley was instrumental in keeping Lock in Columbia and bringing Bryant to town. His offense is producing at a high level. His players seem to love him, even if they show their affection by making fun of him.
I’m wrong a lot. And I couldn’t be happier that I was wrong about Dooley. He was the right man at the right time for this job. And I can’t wait to see what kind of whacky plays he comes up with next.