Missouri led the SEC in yards gained and points scored last season. The Tigers won their last six regular-season games as quarterback Drew Lock went on a tear. Pretty much every important piece from that unit returned in 2018, except for coordinator Josh Huepel, now the head coach at Central Florida.
So, naturally, when Missouri coach Barry Odom went looking for a coordinator to take over his talented and experienced offense he went out and got … Derek Dooley?
Apparently, Odom needed to appease Lock with the hire. Lock returned to Missouri for his senior season after NFL scouts said they wanted to see him in a pro-style scheme instead of Huepel’s spread offense.
OK, fine, Odom wanted to change Missouri’s style for Lock but ... Derek Dooley?
Dooley, Vince’s son, had been a head coach at Louisiana Tech and Tennessee. The former job went well. The latter ended with Dooley’s firing, little NFL talent on Tennessee’s roster and some parting shots at Dooley from some ex-Volunteers.
Dooley coached the Dallas Cowboys’ wide receivers for the past five seasons. When Dooley left that job, Dallas wide receiver Cole Beasley implied that Dooley hadn’t coached his charges on running routes. (That actually sounds dumb on Beasley’s part, but still).
Dooley had never been a quarterbacks coach or offensive coordinator. Now he was being tasked with coaching Lock, a top NFL prospect, and run the SEC’s most productive offense from last season.
It was a weird hire for Odom, but Missouri’s offense is still humming with Dooley as coordinator. The Tigers scored 40 or more points over the last six regular-season games in 2017, and they’ve scored 40 or more in three victories this season.
Missouri is doing it a different way. The Tigers still play at a quick tempo, and Lock still looks deep for star receiver Emanuel Hall. But they also are willing to play with brute force behind their massive offensive line.
“The physicality, I think, is what Barry's intent was in getting Derek,” said Georgia coach Kirby Smart, Dooley’s friend and a colleague on Nick Saban’s staff. “Even though you have a potential high-round draft pick at quarterback, they still have a commitment to running the ball and being physical. I think that's important in this league.”
Before the season, Dooley said Missouri’s offense really wasn’t that explosive in 2017. He noted that the Tigers committed too many turnovers (25) and didn’t produce much against the best competition. Those are fair points, especially the second one: Missouri’s 2017 offense didn’t take off until it faced bad defensive teams in those last six regular-season games.
Which brings us to Georgia’s game at Missouri on Saturday. The Bulldogs are two-touchdown favorites, and I’m guessing that’s mostly because Missouri’s defense is expected to struggle. Georgia has the best defense the Tigers have seen in a while, but Missouri has the best offense Georgia has faced so far this season.
It’s no surprise that Georgia suffocated Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee. The Bulldogs also limited South Carolina to 17 points, 4.9 yards per play and had two takeaways. We’ll see how South Carolina’s offense does this weekend at Vanderbilt, another good defensive team, but it has the looks of an efficient and balanced unit.
The Gamecocks haven’t been explosive, though. Missouri can be. The Tigers piled up 608 yards against Purdue. Lock’s interception (on a poor, ill-advised throw) led to Purdue’s tying drive with less than four minutes left, but he had two passes of 20-plus yards during the winning field-goal drive.
Statically, Georgia’s defense has had one weakness this season, as noted by Bill Connelly at SB Nation. The average third-down distance for Georgia’s opponents has been 5.9 yards, second-worst among FBS defenses. Opponents have regularly created good down-and-distance situations against UGA’s defense, which has stiffened when tested.
Can the Bulldogs do the same against the Tigers? Maybe the question didn’t matter so much when Missouri was playing Heupel’s style of offense. It might be more pertinent now that Dooley has the Tigers playing a different brand.
Dooley’s plan worked against Tennessee-Martin, but that’s expected. It worked against Wyoming, which should be pretty good on defense, but didn’t look like it while surrendering 601 yards. It worked against Purdue, but the Boilermakers lost every key player from a good defense in 2017.
It will be much harder for the Tigers to score against Georgia. But, if they can put up big points, there will be no more question marks behind Odom’s strange decision to hire Dooley.