Missouri needs to be more aggressive on fourth down. This much we’ve established. But being aggressive without a plan of attack is just being reckless. The Tigers need to be aggressive while maintaining a semblance of who they are as an offense.
Unfortunately, last season, the Tigers’ fourth down identity was a bit of a mess. The plan seemed to come down to one of two potential options:
1) Run the “Tyler Macon Play.” You know what play I’m referencing. It’s the play in which Missouri motions Macon behind center in order to draw the defense offsides (to no avail). Finally, the Tigers actually snapped the ball on said play against Tennessee. It ended in disaster.
#Mizzou ran some variation of the "Tyler Macon play" - AKA a hard count attempting to get the defense to jump offsides - on 4th down at least four times last season.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) February 16, 2023
They finally ran the play against Tennessee. It, umm, didn't go well. pic.twitter.com/gL07ONaiRK
2) Line up in shotgun and give Brady Cook the option to run or pass. The pass option typically included either a slant across the middle or a deep shot (yes, even on fourth and short). The vast majority of Missouri’s successful fourth down calls came on these types of plays out of the shotgun.
Alright, time for the successful 4th down plays.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) February 16, 2023
There's a theme: The vast majority of #Mizzou's successful fourth down plays last season came out of shotgun. When the defense had a good idea of what was coming, it rarely ended well for the Tigers. pic.twitter.com/jJRudBM95N
Missouri’s fourth down arsenal could certainly use a fresh set of eyes. It’s probably not ideal when your coach keeps reverting back to the same, “LET’S DRAW THEM OFFSIDES THE SAME WAY WE TRIED TO DRAW THE PAST FOUR OPPONENTS OFFSIDES” plan after it failed repeatedly in previous games. The “Tyler Macon play” typically resulted in either an abrupt timeout by Eli Drinkwitz, or a delay of game penalty which pushed the Tigers back another five yards. Neither is ideal. Drinkwitz almost never followed it up with a legitimate fourth down attempt.
Missouri now has a fresh set of eyes in new offensive coordinator Kirby Moore. Moore’s history as a play-caller is brief, with just one season as Fresno State’s offensive coordinator. His offense, much like Missouri’s, was not particularly aggressive on fourth downs. In fact, only nine teams went for it on fourth down less often than Fresno State (15 attempts). The Bulldogs were 7-for-15 on those attempts.
My hope in doing this deep dive on Missouri’s recent history on fourth downs and what the Tigers’ future could look like on fourth downs was to reach some kind of “AH-HA!” moment while watching Fresno State’s fourth down play-calling. Unfortunately, no such moment took place. I was able to find video copy of five of the Bulldogs’ fourth down calls from the 2022 season. Four of the five calls were some variation of an inside zone concept. The lone exception was a 4th and nine call at the end of the bowl game with Fresno State up 29-6. In other words, when Fresno State was in a fourth and short situation, the opponent had a pretty keen idea of what was coming. That’s not what you want.
What is in new #Mizzou OC Kirby Moore's fourth down bag? Glad you asked!— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) February 16, 2023
Below is a sampling of Fresno State's fourth down calls against Cal Poly, Boise State, Washington State, San Diego State & San Jose State. pic.twitter.com/XtQA6an9J0
To be fair to Moore, the Bulldogs added some window dressing to their play designs with a jet motion or a “wildcat” formation. That’s not nothing, but it’s also not the creativity in play-designs or play-calling I was hoping to see.
Maybe the melding of the minds between Drinkwitz and Moore brings out the best in both. Maybe Moore was planning to add some new packages to his fourth down offense in his second season as an offensive coordinator, anyway. There’s a lot we don’t know from the outside looking in. Regardless of how it gets done, the Tigers need to give themselves every advantage while playing in the SEC. That advantage does not come in the form of having more talent than the vast majority of their conference opponents. It can come in the form of scheme, and it can come in the form of having in-game advantages by turning up the aggressiveness meter on fourth downs.
I’ll be curious to see what Drinkwitz and Moore have in store for all of us next season. Here’s to hoping they have something new to offer on fourth downs, both in terms of quality and quantity of fourth down plays.