It has taken five seasons, but Mizzou finally has brought Big 12 football to the SEC.
New offensive coordinator Josh Heupel has introduced a no-huddle, Air Raid attack at Missouri that has the potential to make sophomore quarterback Drew Lock a star.
The system is built around the “pace-and-space” philosophy: defining reads for the quarterback and getting the ball to the players in space.
Its impact already has been felt. The net result: The most explosive passing game in the SEC.
Missouri’s offensive output has increased tremendously when compared with 2015:
|Rushing Success Rate||97th||128th|
|Explosive Passing Plays||15th||105th|
|Adjusted Sack Rate||1st||88th|
*Numbers via Football Study Hall.
After a poor showing in Week 1, the offense improved against Eastern Michigan and Georgia.
Heupel joined the Mizzou staff this offseason after a year at Utah State. He spent the previous nine years coaching in the Big 12 at Oklahoma, his alma mater.
The Big 12’s conference-wide move to the Air Raid has had a clear influence. Heupel is using Baylor’s offense at Missouri.
The object of the system is to spread the field, create 1-on-1 matchups in space for receivers, clear the box for running backs and have the quarterback read one half of the field.
How they achieve that is by forcing the defense to cover the entire width of the field. Receivers line up outside the numbers and sometimes directly by the sideline.
That makes the defense do three things:
- Unload the box.
- Play mostly man coverage.
- Play with wider safety splits in two-high sets, allowing the offense to split the field.
Through simple receiver alignments, the offense can attack one half of the field, assured the defense is playing predominantly man coverage.
The additional Baylor wrinkles are this: The Bears do it fast, and the backside receivers do not run routes.
Watch this play below from the Georgia game last Saturday. Missouri ran a double-post concept on one side of the field. The receiver at the foot of the screen was aligned in a wide split, outside the numbers.
Lock attacked one-half of the field and did not even pay attention to the backside. That backside receiver was so irrelevant that the Tigers did not even scheme in a route. Instead, he just stood there, his job already done: revealing the coverage and occupying two defensive players.
Lock read the 1-on-1 matchups at the top of the screen, a receiver gained position and Lock delivered a strike.
Why didn’t the backside receiver run a route? He was irrelevant within the progression of the play and was able to conserve energy.
The most important component of the pace-and-space offense is the pace part.
Missouri is ninth in the nation in adjusted pace. In Week 1 against West Virginia, the Tigers ran more than 100 plays.
Given the simplicity of the reads, the offense keeps the defense off balance by using tempo and not allowing the defense to substitute. As defensive players tire because of the pace, the offense can give its receivers a breather by not having them run routes on plays designed to the other side of the field.
But “pace” does not just mean the tempo at which the offense runs from snap to snap. It’s also how quickly the quarterback gets the ball out of his hand.
Last year, Missouri was 85th in the nation in adjusted sack rate. This year, it is first. The talent level hasn’t increased radically, but the ball is out of Lock’s hands so quickly that there’s little time to apply pressure.
Within that framework, Lock has the potential to be a star.
He has all the physical gifts: size, mobility and extraordinary arm talent. However, in his freshman year, Lock struggled with a full-field read system, diagnosing coverages and decision-making. He routinely threw into poor spots and put the ball in harm’s way, particularly when under pressure.
One of Lock’s best traits is his ability to throw with anticipation. He releases the ball before a receiver breaks and puts it in the perfect spot.
This new system eliminates Lock’s need to break down complex defenses and complete full-field progressions. Now he is essentially in a one-read system in which his natural talent can flourish.
However, like all systems, the Air Raid giveth and the Air Raid taketh away.
The sheer volume of plays that Missouri is running means that the volume of bad plays increases.
That was never more evident than in the Week 3 game against Georgia.
Lock shredded Eastern Michigan the week before and played well in the first half at home against Georgia. In the second half against the Bulldogs, Lock reverted to his freshman habit of forcing the ball into bad spots. He had 2 costly turnovers.
Lock again read one half of the field. The receiver at the top of the screen did not run a route. Georgia played man-to-man coverage. None of Lock’s receivers immediately separated, and he was intercepted after throwing into double coverage.
Despite having predetermined throws, Lock needs to do a better job of deciding when to release the ball. When Lock is making the correct decisions, this passing attack can be close to unstoppable.