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Can Missouri create more explosive plays by throwing the ball deep LESS often?

It sounds counter-productive, but Missouri’s offensive coordinator might be the right man to make such a change possible.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

If you watched Missouri for any amount of time last season, you know it was tough for the Tigers to consistently move the football. There’s a reason for that. Missouri was not particularly good at creating “explosive” plays, especially explosive plays through the air.

To use a cross-sport comparison, it’s becoming more and more difficult to score in baseball without the benefit of an extra-base hit. Pitching is too good, and stringing together singles has never been more difficult. The same is true in football. The old “three yards and a cloud of dust” is a remarkably difficult formula to follow in the modern era of college football. There’s a reason so many teams have adapted spread offenses.

The 33rd team recently put together a study on the impact of explosive plays in the NFL. According to that study, only 1 of every 10 NFL drives with no explosives ended in a score, and that rate triples when an offense has even a single explosive play on a drive. Once an offense has two explosives they have better than 50% chance to score.

To put it simply, creating explosive plays is important, and Missouri hasn’t done it well enough over the past couple seasons. The Tigers have created a total of 74 explosive passing plays (20+ yards) over the past two seasons. Among SEC teams, only Texas A&M and Vanderbilt have created fewer. Not exactly the company the Tigers want to be keeping.

Why is that? Well, there are a million different reasons. Missouri didn’t throw the ball down the field particularly effectively, the receivers not named Dominic Lovett struggled to gain consistent separation, Brady Cook struggled to connect with his receivers deep down the field and Missouri’s offense did not create enough opportunities in the middle of the field to capitalize on yards after catch opportunities.

So, Missouri has an explosive play problem. That much is clear. But how does the issue get fixed? That’s up for debate. I’m sure many would suggest the Tigers didn’t push the ball down the field enough in 2023, and taking more deep shots would be the best fix for the problem. That’s possible. But I tend to believe new offensive coordinator Kirby Moore has a different fix. I think he’ll go with the opposite approach.

Could Kirby Moore throw the ball deep less often in order to create more explosive plays?

It sounds counter-productive, but that was the approach Moore took at Fresno State over the past three seasons.

Fresno State finished in the bottom third in deep passes each of the past three seasons, according to Pro Football Focus. The Bulldogs, however, finished in the top third among FBS teams in intermediate passing attempts (10-19 yards downfield) each of the past three years.

The Bulldogs had fewer deep passes than Missouri each of the past two seasons but had more explosive pass plays. How does that happen?

YAC, baby.

Get familiar with that acronym. It’s going to become a common theme in Moore’s tenure at Missouri. Fresno State’s pass-catchers produced more than 4,000 yards after the catch over the past two seasons. For context, Missouri’s pass-catchers finished with 3,200 yards after the catch in that same stretch.

That’s an average of 32 extra yards after catch per game over the two seasons. Think that matters?

Fresno State’s offense relied heavily on deep crossers to Jalen Moreno-Cropper and Nikko Remigio last season. Both players were slot wide receiver types. Missouri has a half dozen players on the roster who profile similarly, specifically with Luther Burden III, Mekhi Miller, Chance Luper, Demariyon Houston and Dannis Jackson.

Missouri needs to close the gap in explosive passing plays with its SEC competitors. Throwing the ball downfield at a higher rate might seem like the obvious solution, but doing so less often to create more yards after catch opportunities might be the better option. Moore followed the plan to perfection last season at Fresno State. It remains to be seen if he can do the same at Mizzou.