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Missouri tight ends were prominent in Saturday’s spring game

3 thoughts on Mizzou’s offensive performance in Saturday’s Black & Gold Game.

It was a mixed bag for Missouri’s offense in Saturday’s Black & Gold game, which, well, it exactly what you expect to see in an intra-squad scrimmage featuring a new offensive coordinator.

Mizzou ended up averaging just 4.6 yards per play over 100 snaps, but considering a vast majority of those came without starters like quarterback Drew Lock (who played two series), running backs Larry Rountree III and Damarea Crockett (who carried just 11 times), receiver Emanuel Hall (who sat out with a minor injury), tight end Albert Okwuegbunam (who caught just one ball), etc., that didn’t say much.

Still, we can learn something from any data point we get, and I was curious what we might glean from simply what Derek Dooley opted to show us.

What identity will Mizzou project in Dooley’s first public play-calling performance? Will the Tigers come out slinging the ball around? And to whom? (My prediction: the tight ends get a lot of play today.) Is Mizzou going to try to establish a nice, physical ground game? How many deep balls? Any trick plays? If nothing else, this is an opportunity to learn a bit about Dooley’s, and therefore the Mizzou offense’s, personality and intent. So let’s see what they tell us.

There were no trick plays, but we did probably learn something from the formations Mizzou put forward early on.

Aaaaaaand that’s a wrap on Spring Ball. #MIZ #ShowMe

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The tight ends were as active as advertised.

I was taking a few notes early in the game to track the formations Mizzou was presenting. The first time a Mizzou tight end lined up with his hand on the ground, I couldn’t see who it was and immediately jotted down “6 OL?” I had, uh, kind of forgotten that having a tight end line up with his hand on the ground was a legal option in Columbia. It had been a while.

The use of the tight ends was the primary, visible difference between what we were used to seeing and what we saw on Saturday. Josh Heupel used his TEs as H-backs at times, so it’s not like they were only wideouts or anything, but while Mizzou utilized 11 personnel (one running back and one tight end) almost exclusively yesterday, the tight end was almost never in the same spot from one play to another. H-back, hand on the ground, lined up wide ... they did a little of everything.

They were also featured in the receiving game quite a bit.

  • Okwuegbunam didn’t play much — we know what he has to offer — but did catch a third-and-10 pass on the first drive. (He caught it eight yards downfield, prompting someone behind me, in mid-season form, to grouse loudly about how “YOU’VE GOTTA RUN TO THE STICKS. COME ON.”)
  • Senior-to-be Kendall Blanton reeled in his only target, an 11-yard pass from Lindsey Scott Jr. on the second play of the third quarter. We also pretty much know what he has to offer.
  • Redshirt freshman Logan Christopherson was targeted five times with mixed results. He caught two of five passes for 10 yards, reeling in a couple of short play-action passes and suffering a drop on a Taylor Powell pass.
  • Sophomore Brendan Scales had basically the same stat line as Christopherson: five targets, two catches for seven yards, and a drop. They were each used as low-opportunity safety valves and really didn’t have a chance to do much on any of their catches, catching contact almost immediately.

Still, that’s 12 targets for the tight ends among 39 passes to scholarship players, along with a lot of different blocking and formational assignments. We were hearing a lot about tight ends’ increasing roles, and we saw it on Saturday.

Dominic Gicinto is fast.

The freshman from Raytown couldn’t quite reel in a couple of high passes from Micah Wilson on the second series of the game, but he got a chance to show off in the second quarter, slowing down a bit to field Taylor Powell’s first pass, then igniting down the left sideline.

We have no idea what the future holds for Gicinto; the spring game is misleading in that regard.

We also know that Mizzou is also loaded with guys of a similar body type. He is a natural slot receiver, and the Tigers already have juniors-to-be Johnathon Johnson and Richaud Floyd (combined: 95 targets, 55 catches, 894 yards, eight touchdowns in 2017) ready to fill that role at times. Plus, it doesn’t appear the offense will feature quite as many reps for slot receivers overall.

Still, Gicinto proved himself in his first opportunity to do so. He got a late Mizzou offer after other targets had committed elsewhere — just as Cale Garrett and so many other Tiger contributors did — and he appears hungry and motivated. And fast.

It was nice to see Harry Ballard III, a sophomore JUCO transfer, making good on his lone opportunity and reeling in a nice 29-yard touchdown pass, as well. Without Hall, Mizzou’s top-line receivers (Johnson, Nate Brown, Floyd) were hit-or-miss, but the newbies showed well. And while it’s clear he’s pretty low on the totem pole, junior-to-be Justin Smith made the most of his fourth-quarter opportunities, catching a 31-yard pass from Powell on a fourth-and-7 and a 21-yarder from Wilson on the game’s penultimate play. Maybe don’t close the book on him just yet.

Lindsey Scott Jr. looked nervous as hell.

Scott has won big at both the high school and JUCO levels, and I would encourage Tiger fans not to write him off completely after one bad scrimmage. But it was a really, really bad scrimmage. The sophomore went 1-for-8 with two picks; on multiple occasions, the ball seemed to come out of his hands in a way he didn’t expect, which makes me think this was as much about nerves and environment as talent. We’ve seen on film that he can throw a nice ball, but he very much did not on Saturday. And it really looked like he was trying to put on a show — he threw a lot more passes pretty far downfield than any of the other QBs.

We are of course dealing with tiny sample sizes, and while Scott was clearly off, he was also unlucky. His first pass was to Nate Brown on the right sideline, and Brown came within a toenail of coming down with it. His seventh pass hung a bit in the air, but Floyd still got both hands on it before dropping it after contact.

With a bit of luck, Scott could have finished 3-for-8 for about 50 yards. The two picks and another wobbly deep ball would have still made this a pretty poor performance, but that stat line doesn’t look nearly as awful as the one he actually ended up with.

In all, Mizzou QBs were 23-for-52 for 280 yards, three TDs, and the two interceptions. The top three (Lock, Lowary, and Wilson) were 17-for-27 (a 63 percent completion rate), while Powell and Scott were 6-for-25 (24 percent), each done in at least a bit by drops and toenails. I’m not going to pretend that’s amazing, but I saw nothing here to be worried about, especially considering the wind, the rotating personnel, etc.

If there’s a concern, it’s that the passers weren’t facing even the slightest pass rush for the most part. But we’ll talk about the defense tomorrow.