Todd Grantham will be on the sidelines for his 29th game as Georgia’s defensive coordinator Saturday at Missouri. Nothing since his arrival in 2010 has looked like what the Bulldogs will see from Missouri’s spread offense.
“No, they’re entirely new,” Grantham said. “They obviously have a formula for how they want to win the game and what they want to do. They are very productive with their system and they’re going to run it and throw it. You have to understand what’s happening to you.”
Missouri extensively uses four-and-five-receiver sets and has a dual-threat quarterback James Franklin making the offense go. The Tigers ranked ninth in the nation in rushing last season at 244.0 yards per game and 12th in total offense at 475.5.
Those numbers were amassed playing in the Big 12, which had just one defense (Texas at No. 11) ranked in the top 50 nationally in yards allowed.
The question being posed as Missouri plays its first Southeastern Conference game Saturday against No. 7 Georgia: How will the Tigers do in a conference that boasted five of the top eight defenses last year?
“I think they’ll do just fine,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2008. “They’ve got a lot of wrinkles. Missouri was one of the hardest teams in the Big 12 to defend because they truly used the entire width of the field. All spread offenses are designed to do it. Some do it extremely well and some don’t necessarily. Missouri did. They really make you defend the length and width and do it with a number of crazy formations.”
Missouri scored 52 against Iowa State last season, but just 14 the year before. The Tigers averaged 32.9 points per game in 2011, ranking sixth in the high-scoring Big 12.
Offensive coordinator David Yost has worn a T-shirt at practice with the SEC logo and “Respect” on the back.
“We need to focus on that it’s still football that we need to play,” Franklin said. “I’m excited to see how good we can do against SEC teams.”
Yost has said Missouri’s goal on offense is to put a defense in as many “uncomfortable positions” as possible.
“Offensively, they’re exotic,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp, a former defensive coordinator in the Big 12 at Texas. “Yost and those guys do a great job of spreading the field, making you make plays in space.”
Said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel Wednesday: “It’s important to us to spread the ball out, and not only spread the ball out, but put the ball in certain different parts of the field.”
Franklin followed Blaine Gabbert, a first-round NFL draft pick in 2011, and before him Chase Daniel, who set Missouri records with 12,515 passing yards and 101 touchdowns.
“They build the offense around the type of quarterback that they have,” Franklin said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, OK, I have to try and learn the style of offense that Blaine or Chase or Brad (Smith) or any of them have had. They form it around the starter. It’s really comforting and it’s really cool to be in that type of system that fits around you.”
The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Franklin rushed for 981 yards and a team-leading 15 touchdowns last season. The junior picked up 28 yards on a run in on the second play of the Tigers’ 62-10 win over Southeastern Louisiana last week.
“I look at it this way,” Georgia nose guard John Jenkins said. “If we do everything the right way and do everything as far as being in the right places at the right time, it shouldn’t be a lot of running.”
Georgia’s defense wasn’t in the right play too many times in the opener against Buffalo when quarterback Alex Zordich scrambled his way to 83 yards and a touchdown.
“I got to watch it,” Franklin said. “I thought he did a good job. I was definitely a little bit impressed. I guess I can take some notes.”
Missouri can take advantage of Franklin with designed runs.
“We’ve got to stop the run whether it’s a running back run or QB run,” Georgia coach Mark Richt said. “We’ve got to be very good at staying in our rush lanes. We’ve got to be very good in fundamentally taking on blocks and shedding them and making plays.”
Linebacker Christian Robinson compared Franklin to Jerrod Johnson, the Texas A&M quarterback Georgia faced in the Independence Bowl in 2009.
“A lot of times we don’t get a team that has a quarterback that actually spreads you out completely,” Robinson said. “They kind of leave him on an island and other guys may come into the formation or they spread you out and let him pick you apart. He’s a great player in that he has the speed to break away and he has the arm strength to throw the deep ball.”
As Missouri begins play in the SEC Saturday, the first returns will come in on how it stacks up in its new conference.
“I think the SEC defensive speed is tremendous,” Rhoads said, “but I think there’s enough there that Missouri counters it with scheme and also personnel.”