Columbia, Mo. Missouri’s offense, in the first five games this season, was decidedly two-dimensional. If quarterback Blaine Gabbert wasn’t passing the ball to T.J. Moe, he was passing the ball to Michael Egnew.
The team’s top two receivers combined for almost two-thirds of the Tigers’ catches going into the Texas A&M; game, making 83 out of Missouri’s 131 catches. They amassed 829 yards of total offense, more than all the team’s running backs combined.
Saturday, Missouri went into 3-D.
No special glasses were needed to find Wes Kemp, though before last Saturday, you might have needed a microscope to see him. Kemp, a junior, had 13 catches in Missouri’s first five games and was drawing more praise for his downfield blocking than his downfield catching. He had 10 catches against Texas A&M; for two touchdowns, with a third wiped out on a video review.
So just in time for 18th-ranked Mizzou’s showdown with third-ranked Oklahoma today, a nationally televised game that represents a major hurdle for the 6-0 Tigers, the offense has a third weapon, another go-to guy. The timing couldn’t be better.
“I think it’s a very good thing,” Moe said. “I think it adds a different element to our offense. When Wes comes out and plays like he did, it gives the defense a lot to think about. He almost doubled his reception total in one game. When we can get him involved like that and he can start making plays, and ... if we’re all making plays, I think it makes it very difficult on the defense and that’s what we’re going to keep trying to do.”
“Any time you get everybody inserted into the offense, that just gives us more dimensions and it’s harder for us to be stopped,” he said.
Mizzou had been content with its offensive focus on Moe and Egnew in its 5-0 start because, well, it was pretty effective. If Moe and Egnew always were open and able to gain good yardage, why not throw them the ball? And with the yards they were picking up after the catch, who needed to go deep?
But what works against San Diego State and Miami (Ohio) might not work against Oklahoma and Nebraska. The benefits of having Kemp in the receiver equation are obvious. Egnew is a tight end, and Moe lines up in the slot. Kemp lines up outside and gives Mizzou a deep threat it hasn’t otherwise had — one that is 6 feet 4.
“That’s real important, no question,” MU coach Gary Pinkel said of having a receiver who lines up wide. “(Kemp’s) experience level making plays, he adds to us, as do T.J. and Michael Egnew.”
Kemp is glad to be in the mix.
“It was just a matter of time before we got to that,” Kemp said. “The ball’s definitely getting spread around more. I think that’s good and that helps the team a lot because now they can’t game plan for two.”
As to whether anyone else will step up — whether the team can be 4-D in options for Gabbert — Pinkel and Kemp think it could happen.
“We have a lot more talent than people have seen to this point,” Kemp said.
The running game, though averaging 4.7 yards per carry, hasn’t really taken hold as the team rotates the carries among De’Vion Moore, Kendial Lawrence and Henry Josey. Receiver Jerrell Jackson, recovering from a broken wrist, also is a potential target.