It’s rare you see a wide receiver break out as a true freshman against the first power five opponent he plays against. That was the case for Jalen Knox in 2018. The former 3-star running back moved to wide receiver when he arrived on campus and broke out with an impressive five reception game for 110 yards and a touchdown in week three of 2018 against Purdue.
He followed that up with 50 yards against South Carolina, 60 yards against Alabama and 105 yards against Memphis. The former running back suddenly had 20 receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns in his first six games on campus.
Then, suddenly, he disappeared. Knox had 26 receptions for 340 yards in his next 14 games. How could a receiver with so much promise so early in his freshman year show so little production in the games that followed? It was a reasonable question to ask, and it was simply one of many reasons why the previous staff is no longer here.
Insert Eli Drinkwitz.
Drinkwitz is an offensive mind. His job is to figure out what pieces he has at his disposal and then to use them to the best of his ability. The best evidence of this in week one was Drinkwitz’s ability to manufacture touches for Knox out of the slot.
Knox had a new career-high seven touches against Alabama. Six of those touches were specifically designed to go to Knox. All seven plays started with Knox lined up in the slot or motioning pre-snap across the formation.
This is how Knox should be used. He’s shorter than your typical outside receiver at just 6-foot tall and he has a history of playing running back in high school. Get Knox the ball in space and let him create in the open field. That’s exactly what Drinkwitz did.
Let’s take a look at how Drinkwitz got Knox involved early and often, and what it could mean for Knox’s involvement in future weeks.
In this first video, you’ll see a really impressive design by Drinkwitz to get Knox matched up against Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses. Moses is great, but a matchup against a slot receiver with a full head of steam isn’t a winning formula. Knox beats Moses to the edge and turns it into a 23-yard gain to move the chains.
Knox's first touch was a nice design by Drink. Knox sprints behind the line to get into his route. Play action holds Alabama LB Dylan Moses (#32) just long enough to create some space at the catch point. Robinson throws a good ball & Knox turns it into a 23-yard gain. #Mizzou pic.twitter.com/cPxk0SCHPB— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2020
Knox’s second touch was a simple play that put the Tigers ahead of the chains. It’s the type of play we probably didn’t see enough of in Mizzou’s previous offensive system. Easy, quick throws from the quarterback can help get Robinson and his receivers into a rhythm. How many times did we see this kind of play from Chase Daniel, for example?
Knox's second touch was an easy one-read throw from Robinson. Drinkwitz went with an empty backfield, splitting Rountree wide on the left. Knox is lined up in the slot w/ Alabama's freshman safety is playing off. Robinson sees it and throws the slant for an 11-yard completion. pic.twitter.com/pgwaZlx2VM— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2020
The one place Mizzou struggled getting Knox involved was in the running game. Alabama’s defense was simply too fast sideline-to-sideline for the jet sweeps to work. I like the idea in theory, though. Get your former running back the ball in the running game. This just wasn’t the game for it. Expect to see this more in the future. You have to give the ball to the receiver going on that jet sweep motion occasionally, otherwise the motion itself loses its effectiveness.
Knox's third touch was his first unsuccessful play with the ball in his hands. Knox goes in motion pre-snap and Alabama reads the jet sweep perfectly. Knox makes Dylan Moses miss, but Alabama CB Josh Jobe reads the play well & forces Knox out of bounds 5 yds short of the marker. pic.twitter.com/9vWtCelCcl— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2020
I loved the way Drinkwitz was able to get Knox involved in the screen game. This play came back because of a penalty, but the design is something we’ll see again in the future. The entire play is flowing to the right and Robinson rolls in that direction. Then he throws back across his body to Knox who makes the first man miss and he eventually picks up 15 yards after the catch.
This is how you manufacture touches. Two TEs chip before slipping into routes. Hazelton works from left to right. Rountree swings into the flat. Robinson rolls right. Knox gets the ball on the left w/ blockers in front & one man to beat. Penalty unfortunately brings it back. pic.twitter.com/USWEjUihFe— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2020
The last target to Knox I want to show you is the first - and only - touch in which Knox wasn’t the primary target. Robinson’s first read wasn’t there, the pocket gets pushed into his lap and he’s forced to roll to his right as a result. Knox doesn’t give up on the play; he finds his way into an open zone and Robinson hits him with a strike to move the chains with a 14-yard gain.
Knox's sixth touch was his first that wasn't designed to go to his way. Robinson's first read isn't there, the pocket gets pushed back & Robinson scrambles to his right. Knox comes open and Robinson throws a perfect pass for a 14-yard gain on 3rd & 8. pic.twitter.com/gRLNbqzsGL— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) September 30, 2020
Missouri’s offense still has plenty it still needs to work on. I was surprised to see just three targets for Keke Chism after all of the hype we heard about Chism leading into the season. Robinson and Damon Hazelton’s connection looks like it still needs some seasoning. The ground game was effective, but the Tigers got down early and the game script dictated more passing as a result.
But if there was a positive to take out of that performance offensively, it was Jalen Knox’s involvement. Knox looked like the player he showed flashes of becoming as a true freshman. Drinkwitz utilized the former running back in a way that was able to showcase Knox’s unique skill. I fully anticipate we’ll see more of that as the season goes along, and I tend to believe those touches will come with even more success when the Tigers are playing teams not named Alabama.