Of the seven touchdowns the Tigers scored Saturday on visiting Miami of Ohio, the most fuss was made over the scoop and score by the defense just eight seconds into the game. But, what might have been one of the fastest touchdowns in college history was overshadowed by four other Missouri scores; one for each of the team’s running backs.
The Missouri depth chart lists four players at the tailback position: junior De’Vion Moore and sophomore Kendial Lawrence top the list, while freshmen Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy round out the group.
All four of them found the end zone in the win — two of them doing so for the first time in a Missouri uniform. Lawrence and Murphy both had their first touchdowns since high school.
Not only did they all score, but each of them busted a long run of at least 27 yards and all four finished with 39 yards or more.
“What we did was rotate them in by series,” Coach Gary Pinkel said. “The greatest thing you could have is that kind of competition. That means they have to practice well and they have to perform when they get out there, and they did that.”
Since Pinkel hasn’t shown signs of choosing a go-to back any time soon, all four have to be ready to go in at any time. The entire group shares the load rather than putting the whole running game on one player’s shoulders.
Lawrence and his fellow rushers thrive on the competition and are always ready when their number is called.
“It just motivates you to work harder and play well with your teammates,” Lawrence said. “We know our role and we’re all going to come out prepared. We just wait for our turn and once we get the ball, we run our hardest and give our all to help the team out.”
Each of the running backs came out fast in their first attempts Saturday, as all four of them rushed for at least ten yards on their first carry. Having fresh legs in the running game has helped the Tigers wear down opposing defenses.
Scoring on four rushing touchdowns and just one passing touchdown was unusual for a Tiger offense that normally favors the pass. The four tailbacks have combined for 86 carries on the season compared to 151 passing attempts by junior quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
“Balance for us is not like a typical team,” Pinkel said. “But when we can run the football, it helps our passing game and visa versa. All those backs are pretty quick and pretty good.”
Freshman tailback Henry Josey is one of those “pretty quick” backs, and he takes advantage of every carry in Missouri’s pass-heavy offense.
“We don’t get many chances,” Josey said. “But going into practice this week, we knew they were a team that was stopping the run really well. We knew we had to put up some big runs and stop all the talk that they could stop us from running. We took care of business.”
The upcoming two weeks of practice will breed more competition among the Tiger rushers, as Missouri has a bye week before they take on Colorado on Oct. 9.