KANSAS CITY — Nine days before Missouri’s first football game of the season, the Tigers lost their face.
Yes, Blaine Gabbert was the future NFL quarterback with the golden arm, but this was running back Derrick Washington’s team. Washington was the senior. The leader. The voice.
He wowed fans and the media with his slimmed down body and new found explosiveness throughout spring and summer workouts. But nine days before the hype could transform into results, he was gone. Washington was kicked off the team after being accused of sexual assault.
Three months later, in Washington’s hometown of Kansas City, the Tigers won their 10th game of the season. The Tigers’ hodgepodge of tailbacks led Missouri to a 35-7 victory over Kansas.
“This has not been an easy year,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “If you all remember back in August and July, we went through some disciplinary issues. We went through some injuries. A lot of things happened.”
Missouri’s running game was supposed to be a one-man show with a couple of handy sidekicks.
“It’s different, but it’s still effective. Different isn’t always bad,” junior tailback De’Vion Moore said.
On Saturday, seven different players ran the ball for Missouri: four running backs, two receivers and the quarterback. When sophomore receiver T.J. Moe scored on a two-yard run, he became the eighth different player to score a rushing touchdown this season, the most since 1970.
“Through the summer we all came closer as a family,” sophomore tailback Kendial Lawrence said. “When everything happened, it brought us even more close. They told us that we had to stick together if we wanted to have a positive season. It helped us a lot.”
All five of Missouri’s touchdowns against Kansas came on the ground. The Tigers rushed for 227 yards and provided relief for Gabbert, who threw two interceptions for the first time since playing San Diego State.
“The looks that Kansas was giving us, they weren’t adjusting to motion,” Gabbert said. “They were leaving basically zero linebackers. It was a 4-0 look. When we motioned, the run game was wide open just because they weren’t adjusting.”
On the Tigers’ third scoring drive of the game, they pounded the Kansas defense with the same play four consecutive times before Lawrence took the jet sweep to the left 31 yards for a touchdown.
“We can do so many things out of the jet sweep and just the motions we go through,” Lawrence said. “It leads the defense to be confused. As long as we just practice our scheme and know our scheme, we just got to hit it because the offensive line opens up the holes and makes it so easy.”
With less than three minutes in the game, Moore darted through a hole and scored Missouri’s final touchdown of the game. It was a rather meaningless score. The Tigers had all but put the game away minutes before, but when he streaked through the back of the end zone he threw his arms up in the air like it was the first score of his career.
“It’s a great feeling – finishing. We come out and finish the game,” Moore said.
Nine days before the season began, he wasn’t supposed to be starting.