Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, right, congratulates player L'Damian Washington, left, after Washington scored a touchdown during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game against Murray State, Saturday.
The spread offense that helped the Missouri football program soar above mediocrity originated 10 years ago inside a meeting room in northwest Ohio.
The Tigers, under second-year coach Gary Pinkel, suffered a 23-point home loss to Bowling Green State University early in the 2002 season, prompting Pinkel to send his offensive coaches that offseason to Wood County on a fact gathering mission. Their teachers included some bright minds branched from the Urban Meyer coaching tree, such as Gregg Brandon who was transitioning to head coach from offensive coordinator; Mick McCall, now the offensive coordinator at Northwestern; and line coach Greg Studrawa, who currently holds that title at Louisiana State.
Also around to share knowledge of BG’s offense was a graduate assistant in his late 20s.
"They wanted to learn it and it certainly has become a great foundation to their turnaround at Missouri," Matt Campbell, who was new to the staff, said Monday.
Campbell, now the University of Toledo head coach, is getting an up close view this week of what he and his former cohorts helped create. The Rockets on Saturday will visit Missouri where former Toledo head coach Pinkel has lasted 13 seasons thanks to an offense that altered the hierarchy of a Big 12 once dominated annually by Texas and Oklahoma.
Missouri, now in its second season in the Southeastern Conference, enjoyed immediate success with the spread, leaning on dual-threat quarterback Brad Smith in 2003 to win eight games and qualify for a bowl for the first time in five years. Campbell recalls a few offensive assistants from Pinkel’s current staff — likely Brian Jones (running backs), Andy Hill (quarterbacks), and Bruce Walker (line) — making the eight-plus hour trip to Bowling Green. Since Missouri transitioned to the spread the program has claimed three division titles and won eight or more games in seven of 10 seasons.
"You can see it’s still a major asset to what they’re doing on offense to this day," Campbell said.
So blame Campbell, if you will, for the stiff challenge his defense faces this week. The Tigers, behind more than 300 yards on the ground and 300 more through the air, smashed Murray State, 58-14, in the opener.
The 694 yards Missouri gained is the second most in program history and signaled a promising start following a disappointing 5-7 campaign a year ago. Missouri’s top two backs, Henry Josey and Russell Hansbrough, topped 100 yards in the game. Three of the Tigers’ starting receivers are 6-foot-4 or taller, including 6-6 sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham, the nation’s top overall recruit two years ago. He had four catches for 83 yards in the opener.
This SEC offense, unlike the one the Rockets faced Saturday, when Florida and its throng of power backs and tight ends clawed to a 24-6 win, uses the entire width of the field to exploit an opponent.
"Definitely a different type of offense," said linebacker Trent Voss, who made 10 tackles at Florida. "They’re going to be spreading us out. It’s the first time we go against a team that’s working on four and five receiver sets."
Except, of course, against his teammates in practice.
Campbell still operates the spread and he’s learned some nuances along the way from — yep, you guessed it — Missouri. Campbell since coming to Toledo in late 2008 figures he has learned as much about the spread bumping into Tigers coaches at football clinics as Missouri coaches learned from the Bowling Green staff.
"I just think that’s part of the coaching profession and it’s part of the consistency of learning and trying to better yourself as a football coach," Campbell said.