For the second straight week, Missouri’s offense had a tough time scoring points early in the game.
Three field goals have been the total production in the four first-half quarters of the Tigers’ 2020 season thus far against Alabama and Tennessee.
Unlike against the Crimson Tide, the MU offense found consistency driving the ball before the fourth quarter, sparked by the quarterback change from Shawn Robinson to Connor Bazelak.
Bazelak had six offensive series in the game and took the Tigers into Volunteer territory on five of them.
Getting past midfield five times and only scoring 12 points is a statistic that needs to seriously shift over the rest of the season, but in flashes with Bazelak behind center, Missouri moved the ball with purpose against a solid Tennessee defense.
On this week’s Key Play, I’ll break down one of the most unique plays the offense ran in Knoxville and why it showed that not all was lost for MU on Saturday.
KEY PLAY: In this week’s edition of key play, I’ll break down Missouri’s fourth-down conversion with Connor Bazelak finding Logan Christopherson behind the Tennessee defense.
Video courtesy of ESPN. pic.twitter.com/wPFbA6sMQa
The set up
Late in the third quarter, Missouri was already trailing Tennessee by 22 points.
The last time the Tiger offense was on the field was the only occasion during the game Bazelak didn’t lead his team over midfield, and the Tigers needed a quick response to keep hopes of an upset alive.
Missouri started the drive at its own 25-yard line and got near midfield after Bazelak completed a 17-yard pass to Jalen Knox.
On the next set of downs, Missouri handed the ball to running back Larry Rountree three times for six-, two- and one-yard carries, respectively.
That set up fourth down and 1 at Tennessee’s 44-yard line. It was a no-doubter, but Missouri head coach Eli Drinkwitz elected to go for the first down instead of punting or attempting to kick a 61-yard field goal.
Missouri lined up in a pistol, double tight end set with both Logan Christopherson and Niko Hea on the field. Both were eligible receivers because Christopherson started in an exterior position at the line of scrimmage and Hea was behind the line of scrimmage.
An odd facet of the formation was having the team’s two tackles (Larry Borom and Bobby Lawrence) lined up next to each other on the left side of the line (Christopherson was on the far right next to right guard Case Cook).
Borom slid to the far left of the line, the opposite side from his usual starting right tackle spot. In between Cook and Lawrence were center Mike Maietti and left guard Xavier Delgado.
Bazelak was five yards behind Maietti, with Rountree two yards behind his quarterback.
Two wide receivers were on the field to the formation’s left; one was Keke Chism and the other could not be identified from the live camera work or a replay. Neither was truly involved in the play.
Tennessee’s defense put 10 players in the box, showing that it expected Missouri to call a run play.
After watching the live broadcast of the game, Missouri should have been flagged for illegal formation on the play. Only 10 players came out of the Tigers’ huddle, while 11 participated in the play.
If detected by the officials, the long pass play would’ve been negated and forced Drinkwitz to decide to either go for it on fourth-and-6 or punt.
Bazelak snapped the ball and did a rollout to the right while all five Tiger offensive linemen pushed to the left.
Rountree, Christopherson and Hea all ran to the right at different lengths to give Bazelak different completion options.
Hea was closely guarded by a few Volunteers, which gave Bazelak two choices. Rountree was open and likely picked up a first down with a short gain.
The redshirt freshman quarterback chose to target Christopherson, however, who got behind Volunteer linebacker Quavaris Crouch.
Bazelak threw the ball high and away from Crouch, where the 6-foot-6 Christopherson was the only player who could make the catch.
Christopherson jumped to make the catch (his first career reception for MU) at the Tennessee 28 and scampered for 21 more yards after the catch before being tackled to set the Tigers up with first-and-goal from the Volunteers’ 7.
“I knew it was fourth down and the play was supposed to go to the flat and there was a bunch of guys there. So, I just had to make a play,” Bazelak said. “I saw Logan going down the field and that was kind of the only option I had to get a first down. So, I gave him a chance and he made a nice play.”
Missouri needed a fourth-and-goal from inside the Tennessee 1-yard line on a pitch to Rountree to score, but did so for its only touchdown of the game, capping the drive off with seven points.
Those also were the final points the Tigers would score in the game, as their two remaining drives ended with a Bazelak interception and a turnover on downs.
Missouri has yet to name a clear starter at tight end this season with Christopherson, Hea and Daniel Parker Jr. (who has started both games) all seeing significant playing time.
The Tigers should release a depth chart before their Week 3 game against LSU on Tuesday afternoon.
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