Missouri Tigers quarterback Blaine Gabbert has thrown for 852 yards and four touchdowns through three games in 2010. But, as any true Mizzou fan will tell you, something’s not right with him. He doesn’t look like the rising superstar that he looked like at times last year. While he will still most likely finish among the top QBs in the Big 12 conference, he has not progressed as much as Tiger fans had hoped.
So, what’s wrong specifically? For one, Gabbert looks panicky in the pocket. He has no interest in staying in the pocket, bailing out at the first sign of trouble. Even when he has blockers picking up blitzers, Gabbert leaves the pocket, often running into more defenders.
Basically, Gabbert won’t let plays develop. If something downfield doesn’t present itself right away, he is all too happy to quickly dump the ball off to his check-down receiver, often for only four or five yards. It appears as if he moves through his receiver progression too quickly or not at all.
One logical explanation for these early season struggles is that he is still dealing with pocket anxiety after spraining his ankle last year. Last season, Gabbert sprained his ankle during conference play and had limited mobility. Would Gabbert have bailed on his blockers this much last year had he been healthy? Or, is he just afraid of suffering another injury due to pocket pressure?
My gut feeling is that the first explanation is the best one. I think Gabbert’s ankle injury forced him to stay in the pocket more than he wanted to last year.
The second explanation involves play calling. The source of Gabbert’s struggles might be due to Coach Gary Pinkel’s offensive play calls. A series of wide receiver screens and short slant routes are unfortunately staples of Missouri’s spread offense. But, this year, without a big time receiver like Danario Alexander or Jeremy Maclin turning slants and screens into 60-yard touchdowns, the passing game has been ineffective. Through three games thus far, Pinkel has seemed reluctant to switch up the play calls.
For Gabbert, the short pass routes allow him to have the ball out of his hands in three seconds or less. This makes him less susceptible to getting hit. It’s possible that this has subconsciously made him timid when longer pass plays are called. Maybe he’d rather just nickel and dime his way down the field instead of let a long play develop.
Whatever the case may be, the Tigers don’t have much time to fix it. They have one more “tune-up” game before Big 12 play starts, when Miami (OH) visits Columbia this Saturday (September 25). Mizzou must make sure this is actually a tune-up and not a situation like they had this past weekend against San Diego State, where they needed a last minute touchdown to salvage a 27-24 victory. Big 12 play starts on October 9, when the Colorado Buffaloes come to town.