Story and photo by Joe Vozzelli
Wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham (15) receives a handoff from redshirt freshman quarterback Corbin Berkstresser (13) on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012 at Faurot Field. Green-Beckham had 19 yards on four rushing attempts and one reception for two yards in Missouri’s 24-20 victory over Arizona State. Photo by Joe Vozzelli.
For the second week in a row, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel fielded questions about his team’s offensive woes during his weekly Monday press conference.
Pinkel had a simple answer for what’s been ailing his team offensively: third down conversions. Missouri has converted on 27.4 percent of third downs, which is the second lowest mark in the Southeastern Conference.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Missouri’s struggles to gain positive yards on first and second down have contributed to a lack of third down efficiency, Pinkel said.
“It’s a very good observation that when you give yourself third and seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, percentage wise, statistically, nationally, you decrease tremendously,” he said. “So that’s been part of our problem.”
Missouri’s third down struggles have made a noticeable impact on the scoreboard, as well. Missouri ranks tenth in the SEC in scoring offense at 27.4 points per game.
Last Saturday against Central Florida, the conversion problems continued.
The Tigers’ offense converted on one of 11 third down opportunities for the game. Central Florida also out-gained Missouri 269 yards to 149 in the first half and led 10-7 at halftime.
Missouri did score 14 points in the second half to eek out a 21-16 victory. However, seven of those points were scored on a Marcus Murphy 66-yard punt return score in the third quarter. Murphy, who was named SEC co-special teams player of the week after Missouri’s win over Central Florida, has three punt return touchdowns this season.
Wide receiver T.J. Moe said he’s looking for one thing from the Tigers’ offense for the rest of the season: consistency.
“We showed this week a little bit that we can do some things,” he said. “We just haven’t put together a lot of drives.”
Tailback Kendial Lawrence may be a factor in a more consistent Missouri offense.
Lawrence was used a lot during the second half of Missouri’s win against Central Florida. After only one carry in the first half, the senior tailback had 18 carries for 101 yards in the second half, including a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Lawrence had an explanation for the increased workload in the second half.
“It was the whole idea of establishing a run game just so we wouldn’t be one-dimensional and coming out and attacking their defense,” Lawrence said. “I think it helped during the second half of the game.”
Pinkel called Missouri’s senior tailback “a difference maker” and said Lawrence has shown consistent production in practice and games since fall camp opened in August.
“His explosiveness and quickness, and all those things are really good, Pinkel said. “A senior stood up and made some plays, and that’s what we need.”
The 5-foot-9-inch tailback showed his explosiveness on his longest run of the game in the fourth quarter. Lawrence received a handoff from quarterback James Franklin and sprinted to the right side of the field. He juked around Knights’ defensive back Clayton Geathers and scampered for 33 yards before South Florida’s A.J. Bouye tackled him at the Knights’ 10-yard line.
So, what about big, explosive plays in the passing game for Missouri?
Pinkel doesn’t think Missouri’s offensive troubles are because of an absence of big plays.
“If you can get 10, 12, 15, 18 yard plays – those are big plays,” he said. “You don’t have to have 35, 40 yards to have a big play.”
Pinkel did say that his offense has been forced to sustain longer drives this season.
“When you’re forced to have 14 play drives, and not make any mistakes, that certainly causes a lot of stress on the offense, he said.
Moe said Missouri offense has several players in the wide receiving corps, who can produce big plays.
“We’ve had a lot of big play guys,” he said. “We’ve shown what Marcus (Lucas) can do, we’ve shown a little bit of what L’Damian (Washington) can do, what Dorial (Green-Beckham) can do a little bit.”
Green-Beckham showed his big play potential on Saturday against Central Florida. The 6-foot-6-inch 220 pound wide receiver caught a pass from Franklin around midfield early in the second quarter, bounced off a Central Florida defender before gliding into the end zone for an 80-yard touchdown.
The No. 1 recruit in the 2012 class, according to the scouting website Rivals.com, made his first touchdown pass of the season almost look easy. He wasn’t in a full-out sprint to the end zone.
“He’s one of those guys too that when he’s running, you don’t think he’s running that fast except nobody can catch him,” Pinkel said of Green-Beckham’s touchdown.
Moe isn’t afraid to admit that the true freshman wide receiver is a much different player than he’s been at Missouri.
“Well I’ve only had one big play ever, to be honest with you. My thing was always getting a few good catches and getting in the rhythm of the game,” Moe said. “His has not so much been that way. He’s more of a big play guy than I’ve ever been, so that’s good for him.
The Tigers will have their third chance to test their offense against an SEC defense. Vanderbilt (1-3) plays Missouri (3-2) at 6 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field.