By Joe Vozzelli
Missouri’s offense has been far from dangerous in its inaugural season in the Southeastern Conference.
Through the Tigers’ first seven games, the offense ranks No. 90 in scoring throughout the Football Subdivision, scoring 23.1 points per game. Missouri is even lower in total offense, currently sitting at No. 106 with 323.7 yards per game.
That doesn’t tell the whole story, though.
The Tigers have scored a total of six touchdowns on defense and special teams. Taking this extra production out of the picture drops Missouri’s offense to No. 111 out of 124 total FBS teams, with an average of 19.1 points per game.
So, what’s the problem?
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said some of the responsibility for the offensive woes falls on more experienced players.
“If you understand that you’ve got a young quarterback (Corbin Berkstresser) back there, then that’s when you pass the responsibility out to everybody else. You play better, and he’ll play better,” Pinkel said.
Then there’s Berkstresser.
With junior quarterback James Franklin missing in action for much of this season; the Tigers have gone with an inexperienced redshirt freshman in Berkstresser at the helm.
Franklin sat out against Arizona State on Sept. 15 because of an inflamed bursa sac in his right throwing shoulder. He also missed Missouri’s contest against Alabama on Oct. 13 because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee, an injury he obtained during the first half of Missouri’s loss Vanderbilt the previous week.
This has meant that Berkstresser has already made two starts at quarterback and played a primary role in three of Missouri’s games. He’s expected to make his third start on Saturday when Missouri hosts Kentucky.
At this point in the season, Berkstresser has almost as much experience at quarterback as Franklin.
“He’s (Berkstresser) more focused during the week. He knows the game plan and that’s one of the things we (wide receivers) look for the most,” junior wide receiver Marcus Lucas said. “We’re comfortable with Corbin, and we feel like we can make a connection with him.”
Berkstresser, though, has completed 47.8 percent of his pass attempts for four total touchdowns (one rushing, three passing) and three interceptions.
Missouri would seem to have the weapons to be much more prolific offensively.
When true freshman wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, Rivals.com’s No. 1 recruit for the 2012 class, signed with Missouri, fans were excited to see how Green-Beckham would perform in an offense made up of other quick-strike wide receivers: Lucas and redshirt junior L’Damian Washington.
All three of them have shown glimpses of this ability. Green-Beckham scored on an 80-yard touchdown pass against Central Florida. Lucas and Washington had 41 and 69-yard touchdown receptions, respectively, against Georgia.
Despite promising signs, Lucas (two total touchdowns) is the only Missouri wide receiver with more than one touchdown reception this season. Washington shifted some of the blame onto the receiving corps for the lack of production through the air.
“I think in the past few games, we have a lot of (dropped passes) and that’s something we have to eliminate,” Washington said. “I know the ball comes out differently from James than from Corbin. But, as a receiver, it’s our job to catch the ball and make plays.”
Last season in the Big 12, Missouri scored 32.8 points per game, which placed the team at No. 30 nationally. This year’s numbers have marked a long fall for a traditionally potent offensive team under Pinkel.
“We don’t put in brand new offenses. We’re very consistent. What we do works. We coach better, we play better, and we’ll win more,” Pinkel said. “The system doesn’t change. We don’t come in here and just start (to) change things. Do we make adjustments in the offense? Yeah. That’s game planning.”
Senior wide receiver T.J. Moe, who’s been at Missouri for almost four years now, defended the offensive system.
“Well, he’s (Pinkel) got some credibility. Look at some of the teams he’s had in the past. It’s not like he’s coming out and saying ‘the system works’ and winning three or four games per year,” he said.
Moe also said, however, that Missouri’s inconsistent offense can’t be solved through a good week of practice. It needs to happen on the field.
The senior wide receiver said Missouri’s best offensive game, other than the season opener against Southeastern Louisiana, was the Georgia game when the Tigers had two long touchdown drives.
Missouri’s offense may have a good chance to break out of its offensive doldrums this weekend. Missouri plays Kentucky (1-7, 0-5 SEC) at 11 a.m. at Faurot Field. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
The Wildcats have struggled on the defensive side of the ball lately. In their past two games, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson racked up 372 passing yards and five touchdowns against Kentucky, while Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray accounted for 427 yards and four touchdowns.
With the more confident Berkstresser gaining in experience and a seemingly more favorable opponent to prepare for than Missouri has had in past weeks, the offense has hope that Saturday could hold a more positive outcome.
“We can take our offense and run every play they install and we can take it and run it on Saturday,” Berkstresser said.