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Master of Misdirection: Eli Drinkwitz

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A breakdown of what Eli Drinkwitz brings to the Missouri offense, and how he’s so effective using misdirection

NCAA Football: Missouri at Tennessee Knoxville News-Sentinel-USA TODAY NETWORK

It seems like when we hear people talk about Eli Drinkwitz, and what kind of offense he runs, the very next phrase you hear to describe it, is “Eye Candy”. What they mean is, that he uses a lot of motion in his offense to keep the defense off balance. That “eye candy” can be very difficult to defend when you see it out of different formations, and there are different counters to your reactions as a defender. When both are put together, (like against LSU) it is beautiful to watch.

For example, lets start on this third and two on the opening drive.

They begin in a three receiver set to the right, and bring Tyler Badie from what looks to be a pistol formation to the field side of Bazelak, but also motion Daniel Parker Jr at the same time to the field side beside the left tackle. This causes the defense to adjust and shift back to the right to align better, and then finally at the last second, Tauskie Dove also motions over to the field side before the play begins.

At this point the Tiger offense knows that they have better numbers on that side, and sure enough:

Badie runs a flat, Parker Jr runs a seam, and Dove runs a crossing route that also includes a nice and subtle pick for Badie’s defender. Not only does this play isolate an impact player for Mizzou in Badie, and gets him a touch out in space, but it also was a third down conversion that Mizzou needed to come away with early. Always a good thing!

The Jet Sweep

The jet sweep was sort of the go-to pre snap motion for the day against LSU. The Bayou Bengals were ridiculously undisciplined with their eyes, and Drink made them pay for it every chance he could. It was done countless times with mostly good results, but always done with the intention of keeping the defense honest. When they weren’t being honest, Drink had the counter.

Here’s one example of a pretty basic sweep that was used often:

The motion forces Stingley Jr, to follow Knox in the slot, but the damage is already done with the Tiger offense out numbering the LSU defense on the boundary side of the field. Stingley has no path to trace Knox, who takes the sweep for a nice chunk play.

At this point in the game, the Tiger offense had ran different variations of the jet sweep above. LSU’s defense was bad, but they did make adjustments in certain parts of the game to try and take things away. Here, we have a formation very similar to the first one that was explained. We started with our field side being loaded up with two receivers, a tight end and the running back. The running back and tight end both go into motion, which changes the balance of the field for the defense. Then, the final motion brings Larry Rountree across for the sweep motion.

After seeing Rountree come back into motion for the sweep, the defense is geared to stop it. They fully expect Bazelak to hand the ball off to Rountree. They see the pulling guard coming at them, (Case Cook), and the Defensive end (#8) and linebacker (#18) for LSU over commit to the jet sweep, which in turn leaves the middle of the field wide open for a shovel pass to Niko Hea, where he runs through the middle for what is another chunk play based in part by a jet sweep action.

That conversion was on a third down that Mizzou desperately needed to keep pace with LSU. If a field goal is settled for, who knows where this game ends up. Creative play calls like that, that use the defense’s tendencies against themselves are what make Drinkwitz one of the best play callers in college football. This was such a perfect counter to LSU being overaggressive trying to cover the jet sweep.

Here again, there’s a basic jet sweep, that the defenders for LSU (#18, #14, and #19) all react to, and again a pulling guard (this time, Xavier Delgado) so the LSU defenders think they’re all set to blow this play up..... UNTIL.... BOOM. Touchdown.

When I watched last weeks game live, I had a feeling that the “eye candy” was playing a big part in moving the ball but sometimes, you just need statistics to supplement what your eyes are telling you. So, I went and found it.

Here’s what the “eye candy” produced for the Tiger offense against LSU:

  • Of the 64 offensive plays ran for Mizzou, 32 plays had pre-snap motion. Exactly 50%.
  • When there was pre-snap motion used, the Tigers gained 269 of their 586. Slightly under 50%.
  • 8.4 Yards Per Play from said plays.
  • 6 of 32 plays with pre snap motion went for 10+ yards, and four went for 20+.
  • The most important figure, of the six touchdowns scored by Missouri, FOUR came off of pre snap motion.

These statistics tell me a lot. They tell me that all of misdirection is something Coach Drinkwitz is very comfortable with using, and that it actually sets up a lot of what they do. It also shows me that their pre snap motion can actually induce explosive plays, which is a spot the Tigers struggled with last season. All of which is very very good news.

In conclusion...

I think it’s important to note that Drink isn’t the only person in the country doing things similar to this. He didn’t invent the jet sweep.

But at the same time, it’s hard to look at this evidence and not come away excited about this offense, and what the “eye candy” can do for it. It forces defenses to play them honest, and keeps the defense off balance, which is especially helpful when going against fast defenses like the ones Mizzou will encounter in the SEC.

It probably won’t be as great as it was against LSU every single week, but for the first time in a few years, it feels like the play calling is being done with overall intention. This level of complimentary play calling hasn’t been seen at Mizzou for a long time, and I, for one, am excited and hopeful that we will get to see it succeed here for a long time.