Tigers treated to another breakout effort in St. Louis

Sunday, August 31, 2008 | 1:39 a.m. CDT
Derrick Washington, Missouri's new No. 1 running back, works to elude Illinois defender Nate Bussey, who was caught for facemasking on the play. Washington scored two first-half touchdowns and had 128 rushing yards in the Tigers' victory.

ST. LOUIS-St. Louis has become a home to breakout performances from Missouri offensive players.

In 2002, it was quarterback Brad Smith, who led the Tigers to victory over Illinois in his first game as the Tigers signal caller. In 2007, Jeremy Maclin's two touchdowns set him up for a freshman year in which he garnered national attention.

On Saturday, it was sophomore Derrick Washington's turn to bask in the spotlight of the Gateway City.

In the first start of his college career, the Tigers' new tailback bolstered Missouri's 52-42 victory over Illinois with two first-half touchdowns and 128 rushing yards. To put those numbers in perspective, Washington had only 184 yards and one touchdown in his entire freshman season.

"It was real good to get in (the end zone)," Washington said. "It was my first collegiate start, I've been dreaming about this. I just got in and it felt so great."

Washington's performance left Missouri coach Gary Pinkel with a great feeling about his rushing attack, which looked strong from the first time Washington touched the ball.

"D-Wash really answered the bell, and I think all Missouri fans are really excited about his future," Pinkel said. "He's only a sophomore. There's a guy with the experience of last year (that) made him a much better player."

Washington's limited experience in 2007 might appear to be a waste of his freshman season to an outsider, but in Pinkel's mind, Washington gained far more in the 36 carries he received as a freshman than he would have by spending the year in the weight room as a redshirt.

"If he'd have redshirted last year, no way he'd look like he does right now. That's a benefit of building our team," Pinkel said.

The way Washington got his yardage was a microcosm of his freshman season. In that first year, Washington averaged more than five yards per carry, despite getting few opportunities. That meant he had to make the most of any opportunity he did get.

Against the Illini, Washington received 19 carries. That's a solid number for a running back, but by comparison, Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel threw the ball 44 times. Again, Washington had to make the most of his opportunities.

But don't confuse that disparity for a lack of confidence in the running back. On the contrary, Daniel was very pleased with his new backfield mate.

"I think D-Wash had a great game," Daniel said. "He had two touchdowns, and he also caught some passes out of the backfield, which is something we want to get going this year with our tailbacks.

"He definitely opened up the passing game, and he ran the ball really well. I didn't count one time where the first guy who was tackling him brought him down."

Overall, Washington's performance was a strong reinforcement of why Tigers fans have predicted a bright future for the Missouri running attack. In the past two years with Daniel as the quarterback, the Tigers passing attack has been consistently strong. The running game, however, has been steady but clearly secondary.

That might change with Washington in the backfield, who was successful against a defensive front seven that Pinkel said was one of the best Missouri will face all season long.

"I've been telling people they've got to watch out for me," Washington said. "I've been trying to prove myself all along."

So far, he's had no trouble proving himself to Pinkel since beating out Jimmy Jackson for the No. 1 running back slot back in the spring.

"I told a lot of people that he's a different style running back than Tony Temple, but he's a really strong guy," Pinkel said. "Without question, D-Wash was very impressive tonight."


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