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Comic Strip

You’ve got to hand it to Maclin
Missouri receiver getting involved in running game.

Nick King photo
Missouri wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (9) splits Nebraska defenders Phillip Dillard (52) and Zackary Bowman while MU’s Tony Temple, left, and Will Franklin block Saturday night on Faurot Field. Maclin rushed six times for 53 yards in the 41-6 victory.

Second-and-6 from Nebraska’s 49. Missouri is in a two-by-two formation: two receivers split wide to the left, two to the right with tailback Earl Goldsmith next to quarterback Chase Daniel in the shotgun. The Cornhuskers show blitz, then back off and play a straight three-man front. Daniel takes the snap and hands off to Goldsmith. The tailback darts right, staying parallel to the line of scrimmage. It’s a basic zone running play.

But once he hits the right hash, Goldsmith stuffs the ball in the belly of Jeremy Maclin, the slot receiver.

Maclin

The rest is all blocking, speed and vision.

Eighteen yards later, first down Tigers.

As Missouri displayed during Saturday’s 41-6 victory, the wide receiver reverse has become an instant classic in MU’s eclectic anthology of plays, with Maclin playing the lead role.

Just don’t consider it a once-a-week gadget. Most teams might, especially with all that can go wrong on a play where the receiver first touches the ball 8 yards behind the line of scrimmage. At Missouri, though, the reverse has quickly become an old standard.

"It’s not really considered a trick play for us anymore," Maclin said.

"It’s become a base part of our package," offensive coordinator Dave Christensen said.


Role reversal

Only a few wide receivers have run the ball as often and more effectively than Missouri redshirt freshman Jeremy Maclin. Here’s some of the most prolific running receivers in the country.
 
Player Att. Yds. Avg. TD
Chad Hall, Air Force 46 327 7.1 5
Kenneth Moore, Wake Forest 23 245 10.7 3
Percy Harvin, Florida 27 185 6.9 1
Jeremy Maclin, Missouri 16 175 10.9 1
James Rodgers, Oregon State 11 171 15.6 0
Devin Thomas, Michigan State 15 146 9.70
Jacoby Ford, Clemson 10 143 14.3 0


But it’s no one-man show. On Missouri’s third play from scrimmage in the second half, Maclin took Goldsmith’s handoff and headed for the left edge, running against the grain of the defense. The receivers on the left side of the formation, Tommy Saunders and Martin Rucker, cleared a path on the outside, blocking cornerbacks Armando Murillo and Cortney Grixby out of the play.

Right defensive end Zach Potter took himself out of the play, chasing Goldsmith into the backfield at the initial handoff. Left guard Ryan Madison and center Adam Spieker both sealed off Nebraska defenders, while left tackle Tyler Luellen erased linebacker Lance Brandenburgh with a diving cut block.

The classic misdirection play - get the defense going one way, then run it the other - left Maclin with a wide alley to roam.

"It’s designed to go outside, so that’s what I’m looking for," he said. "But it’s pretty much free will back there. If you see green, you go."

Maclin’s gone by way of the run with great effectiveness. In five games, Maclin has carried the ball on reverses and direct snaps 16 times for 175 yards - a 10.9 yards-per-carry average. No Big 12 Conference wide receiver has run for more yardage than him. The nation’s leader in all-purpose yardage has covered more ground catching passes (306 yards), returning punts (208) and returning kickoffs (381), but his addition to the running game has added a dimension to an offense already loaded with firepower.

"We would have probably never done this two years ago, because we hadn’t evolved that far in the multiple formations and the multiple sets that we use," Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said. "It really has allowed us to utilize his abilities."

The Tigers (5-0, 1-0 Big 12), ranked No. 11, will need every bit of Maclin’s versatility Saturday at No. 6 Oklahoma (5-1, 1-1), the program to which he initially pledged a verbal commitment. His running skills will be especially valuable if tailback Tony Temple hasn’t recovered from a sprained ankle.

Maclin’s emergence as a multiple offensive threat gave the reverse higher priority in Christensen’s ever evolving play book. He called it a few times late last year, mostly with wideout Jared Perry. The play’s become a staple this year.

"It’s almost like a long developing counter play," Daniel said. "You’re going this way, J-Mac’s going this way. Who’s getting the ball?"

The reverse didn’t look so polished in Missouri’s Sept. 1 opener against Illinois. Maclin bobbled the ball after a handoff in the first quarter but scooped it up and broke loose for a 29-yard gain. In the third quarter, receiver Danario Alexander mishandled the exchange from Temple. The fumble cost MU a possession when Illinois linebacker Antonio Steele recovered the loose ball.

The receivers and backs stayed after practice the next week working on the fundamentals of the exchange - otherwise it might have been yanked from the game plan.

"It’s about having your proper elbow up and at the exchange point slowing down a little bit so you’re not going full speed against each other," receivers coach Andy Hill said. "That’s the thing we try to coach, and we work on it quite a bit."

From there, it’s a matter of Maclin, or whoever’s got the ball, finding space on the edge before the defense recovers from the initial handoff. More often than not, Maclin’s found the hole and more. Against Western Michigan he ran one 30 yards. One went for 22 against Illinois State.

"You’ve just got to have field vision and react on the spot," said Maclin, who ran for almost 300 yards as an all-state receiver his senior year at Kirkwood High School. "You’re moving so fast, and the defense is coming at you, you’ve got to be able to react."

An offshoot of developing an explosive reverse is its effect on the zone running play, the first direction in the misdirection sequence. As defenses gain respect for the reverse, theoretically they’ll defend the zone run with more caution.

"It’s something you’ve got to do to keep defenses honest," Daniel said. "You can’t keep running zone plays and let the defensive end run and run. Now he’s checking, and it gives the running back more time to get through and let the D-end chase him."

"One thing about having tendencies, when people say, ‘This is what Missouri does,’ it means you’re good at something," Hill said. "So if you’re running the zone play to Tony Temple, and you’re good at it, defenses recognize it, see it and practice it."

And then Maclin makes them pay on the reverse.


Reach Dave Matter at (573) 815-1781 or dmatter@tribmail.com.


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