Mizzou's Fortunes May Depend On A Set Of Eyes

Eric Hobbs@@E_HobbsCorrespondent IJuly 21, 2010

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 08:  Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Missouri Tigers moves to pass the ball during the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on October 8, 2009 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Toward the end of the 2009 season, the Missouri Tiger offense went something like this: snap the ball, look for Danario Alexander, throw him the ball. The formula worked for the most part, although Navy wasn't too impressed with the plan.

Now, in quarterback Blaine Gabbert's second season at the helm, he doesn't have any proven weapons to throw the ball to as both Alexander and Jared Perry have moved on. Instead, head coach Gary Pinkel will be counting on Gabbert to spread the ball around to a variety of receivers.

Jerrell Jackson will be the leader of the receiving corps, with Wes Kemp, TJ Moe, Rolandis Woodland, and Andrew Jones seeing a lot of action as well. While these players could create a very balanced attack, there isn't a proven gamechanger for Gabbert to use as a crutch.

The problem for Gabbert last season was that he would seemingly ignore other receivers and instead look only for Alexander. He would stare down Alexander to the point that everyone knew who was getting the ball. Luckily for Mizzou, Alexander was so good that Gabbert could get away with it, but that won't be the case in 2010.

In 2009, if Alexander or any other primary target was covered, he would almost always scramble, throw it away, or force the ball to him anyway. How often did we see Derrick Washington or De'Vion Moore catching check down passes toward the end of the season?

It's tough to tell if Gabbert simply did not look for second and third options or if he just couldn't find them.

One thing is for sure, though. As quick as the Missouri offense can be to abandon the running game, the entire season may come down to how well the junior can find open receivers, whether it's Jerrell Jackson, Marcus Lucas, or the 5'8" walk-on who can barely run a route.

Derrick Washington has slimmed down, and both De'Vion Moore and Kendial Lawrence are solid backs, so hopefully a commitment to the running game could ease the burden on Gabbert.

That said, this is still a spread offense. The quarterback has to spread to ball around to many receivers.

To be successful in 2010, Gabbert simply has to work on looking off the defensive backs, and he has to learn to work through his progressions if his primary target is covered. If he does this, the receiving corps is balanced enough to leave opposing secondaries guessing all season long.