Pinkel admits Missouri's running game needs improvement

Thursday, October 1, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT
Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence averaged 7.7 yards on 10 rushes against Furman, but, in general, the Tigers' runners have struggled this season.

Throughout fall camp, the Missouri football team's coaching staff gave its observations like they should be accepted facts.

The coaches referred to Derrick Washington as perhaps the offense's best weapon. Gary Pinkel said Washington and De'Vion Moore made one of the best running back tandems he had had at Missouri.

They talked like the Missouri running game would be the strength of the offense. Bringing back Washington, a second team All-Big 12 Conference performer, and combining him with Moore and Parade All-American Kendial Lawrence meant the Tigers could use their rushing attack to protect a young quarterback.

But after four games it seems that Blaine Gabbert isn't the one who needs help. Washington is averaging about 4 yards per carry this season, but a few long runs have helped his numbers. The reality is, that on a play-by-play basis, the Missouri running game has struggled, and concern has replaced Pinkel's air of confidence.

"We've got to run the ball better, period," Pinkel said Monday during the Big 12 coaches teleconference.

The latest stall in the ground game came in Missouri's 31-21 victory over Nevada on Friday night. The box score shows that the Tigers' running backs had 3.7 yards per carry, a figure that, while underwhelming, doesn't induce panic. Take out Washington's 42-yard run late in the game and that number shrinks to exactly 2 yards per rush.

Missouri's first victory against Illinois provided a similar performance. Overall, the top three Tigers backs ran 26 times for 80 yards at 3.07 yards per carry. Without a 32-yard carry by Washington? Less than 2.

The numbers from both of Missouri's home wins are an improvement. In the late victory over Bowling Green, Washington and Lawrence combined for 169 yards on 30 carries, and Lawrence averaged 7.7 yards on 10 rushes against Furman.

But even with those numbers, the running game has not produced in the way Pinkel envisioned, and there are several possible explanations.

Moore suffered a high ankle sprain against Illinois and has had one carry since. The offensive line, another presumed strength, might not be as strong as supposed, and Missouri's bigger commitment to the run might have opposing defenses making a bigger commitment to stopping it.

In the past, that would be a problem Pinkel could easily resolve, but this season, the plans for his offense make the decision more difficult.

"(When) we had Chase Daniel, and if they overloaded on the run, we just wouldn't run it," Pinkel said. "We'd throw it 15 times in a row until they backed out. We want to run the ball a little bit more, so there's a bit of a conflict there from a strategy standpoint. A spread offense is designed to open up running lanes, but how much do you want to throw your young quarterback? All those issues are the dynamics we're dealing with."

Whatever the cause, once the Tigers enter their conference schedule, the defenses will be faster, the pass rushes more relentless and the need for balance even more important. And Pinkel knows it.

"We're going to work to try to make it better," Pinkel said. "But I would agree that we haven't been running the ball as well as I would've liked."

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Jason Entermyer October 1, 2009 | 2:07 p.m.

"The offensive line, another presumed strength, might not be as strong as supposed"

I think that's what has a lot of fans concerned. Not sure the O-line is as good as coaches and fans thought. It seems that Gabbert is being forced out of the pocket way too much and we just can't seem to break a back into the secondary.

I do see a lot of plays that use linemen to pull and trap their blocker (which doesn't quite seem to happen) so maybe if our line is stronger than the other guy's line, we should just line up and knock them back on the heels.

It seems that's what is happening to our D-line. A lineman will make the tackle, but it's now 2nd down and 5.

(Report Comment)
David Crockett October 1, 2009 | 4:41 p.m.

In addition to Dave's mention that defenses are stacking up the running lanes, it's probably worth noting that even good, experienced NFL lines can take weeks to gel. It's also probably worth noting that MU's offensive line has been working on new things like snaps under center and smaller line splits--things many fans and pundits have pleaded for. It's also probably worth noting that Derrick Washington has played with a torn meniscus since last season, which may be robbing him of some explosiveness.

So, "not as good as we thought" is probably down toward the bottom of the list of things I might say about this line. It's still too soon. We've *seen* these guys do it in Big XII play too long to be so dismissive.

Does Missouri need it's o-line to play better in the run game?


But, let's not forget that Blaine Gabbert is in the top 15 nationally in passing efficiency--and this isn't efficiency inflated by an excessive number of screens and dump offs. Gabbert is throwing balls 30+ yards down the field with regularity.

With four weeks of film on this offense now, my guess is that defensive coordinators may be a bit less inclined to sell out against the run in coming weeks. In addition, the offensive line should be getting its sea legs.

(Report Comment)
adam volkman October 2, 2009 | 12:20 a.m.

I agree with u David Crockett... Missouri is a good team. But they do not have the power to stand up to Nebraska. Roy Helu is a much more powerful back than D. Wash. and this Thurs will show it. Nebraska's off line will shine in the late 3rd and 4th quarters. And then u will see a GOOD back exploit weak secondary players. NU 34 - Mu 24

(Report Comment)
Ted McGinness October 2, 2009 | 2:49 p.m.

The three of you make very good points about both teams, & I would love to see Mr. Volkmans prediction come true, but its still Missouri vs. Nebraska! I've been a Husker fan since...well since,forever, & I've seen NU with, on paper, or in the polls, a much better team than Missouri, and be lucky to come outta Columbia with a win, and at times have gotten beat. I agree Missouri's talent level may have dropped slightly from a year ago, due to graduation, or the NFL,and NU has improved under Pelini, but its still Missouri vs. Nebraska! If the Huskers come out of Columbia with a win, then they will have proven to be a much more improved team than I could have imagined. I can't wait for next Thursday night!!

(Report Comment)
PAUL IVEY October 2, 2009 | 4:30 p.m.

As a huge Husker fan I must admit these MIZZOU Tigers are not the old Tigers they have heart, they know victory and they play hard on every down. I hope we can win but I see it MIZZOU 28 HUSKERS 24...

(Report Comment)
Husker Hooligans October 3, 2009 | 12:04 a.m.

I think it will be a good game on thursday. An established running game is a must for a Missouri win i'm afraid. Gabbert is a serious player as a true freshman. Huskers 35-14.

(Report Comment)

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