November 25, 2009

Tiger line leading the way back

During fall camp, many that followed Missouri football theorized the 2009 offensive line would be the best Gary Pinkel had ever put on the field. Eleven weeks into the season, that forecast is finally coming true.

"I think we've climbed a mountain, actually," said guard Jayson Palmgren. "We were struggling a little bit at the beginning, but we pulled together and came through at the end."

Three of Missouri's five most productive days running the football have come in the last four games. The Tigers have also given up just one sack total in their last three wins.

"There's no question about it, we're playing much better up front, more consistent," Gary Pinkel said. "I think the offensive line is taking a lot of pride in that and I think they're doing a good job."

But perhaps the biggest difference in Missouri's offensive line has had very little to do with the line itself.

"I think they've come quite a ways. They've gotten better," said O-Line coach Bruce Walker. "I think that when you have more diversification in the offense, too, and a quarterback that can move around, I think that helps your program there a little bit."

And that is the biggest key in Missouri's offensive resurgence. In each of their first four games, the Tigers scored at least 27 points and put up at least 353 total yards. Three times in that stretch, the Tigers had at least 442 yards. Early in the Nebraska game, Blaine Gabbert injured his ankle. Over the next three weeks, Mizzou never scored more than 17 points and twice was held to 225 yards or less in total offense.

Since the three-game losing streak to Nebraska, Oklahoma State and Texas, Gabbert's ankle has steadily improved each week. In those four games, the Tigeres have scored at least 32 points and topped 400 total yards each week.

"It's fun. I know I can do what I usually do," Gabbert said. "I know if a play breaks down, I can run, pick up yardage on the ground. It just gives me a lot more confidence in myself to make a play."

Three of Gabbert's five best rushing totals have come in the last four weeks, including a season-high 51 yards against Iowa State. The other two came in the season's first three games, prior to his injury.

The numbers have piled up for the Tigers in the last four weeks. The offensive revival has Missouri up to sixth in the league in total offense and nearing an average of 30 points per game.

But there's one number the linemen look at before any of those, according to Walker: "If we win the football game."

As the Tigers have shown, there seems to be a strong correlation in those figures.

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