Spreading the wealth

The credit for Missouri’s resurgent running game goes to several people.
Wednesday, November 5, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 5:34 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

Apparently, the Missouri football team hasn’t gotten used to its newfound success. The Tigers are trying to pass the buck.

Plenty of people deserve praise for Missouri’s effective running game, but none seems to want the credit.

The Tigers rank seventh in the nation in rushing yards per game, averaging 227.4 yards, and everyone who has had a hand seems to want to shift the accolades elsewhere.

Senior tailback Zack Abron and sophomore quarterback Brad Smith, the beneficiaries of the Tigers’ potent running game, are quick to give the credit to the offensive line. The credit is due, too, because the line has been opening huge holes on nearly every running play, especially in Missouri’s wins against Nebraska and Texas Tech.

“The o-line and the receivers are making blocks, and the backs are getting through the holes and just finishing runs,” Smith said. “Just execution overall.”

Abron, who rushed for 139 yards against Texas Tech after being held to 11 yards on 10 carries against Oklahoma, said offensive coordinator Dave Christensen’s schemes allow Abron and Smith to make last-second reads that often lead to big yardage, but he gave most of the praise to the blockers.

“It’s just a good balance we’ve got going on,” Abron said. “But it’s also a testament to the offensive lineman. We wouldn’t really do anything without them blocking or key blocks from the wide receivers downfield.”

Senior center A.J. Ricker said the Tigers’ rushing success is a good indicator that the offensive line is doing its job, but Ricker didn’t exactly give the idea that the line is responsible for the success.

“Any time you’re up in the top 10 in the nation in rushing, that’s pretty good,” Ricker said. “But you have to realize we’ve got a superhuman quarterback that no one can tackle. He makes things happen on his own. Sure, we’ll take a little bit of credit. Why not?”

As much as Abron and Smith would like to say so, the line doesn’t deserve all the credit. Missouri’s offense keeps defenses on their heels with a mixture of different kinds of runners. Abron is a big bruising back who isn’t afraid to take a hit. Smith is a slicing, dicing speedster whose elusiveness is nearly unmatched.

“It’s pretty hard to game plan for us because you don’t know what you’re gonna get,” Ricker said. “When you’ve got a little bowling ball like Zack back there that’s just gonna run over you, and then you’ve got Brad that, I don’t know what you’d call what he does, he just runs, you get a lot of success just from them.”

On top of the difficulty of preparing for different running styles, defenses need to be prepared to defend against Smith’s passing ability, too. Smith launched himself into the Heisman Trophy debate with 412 yards of offense against Texas Tech.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said there is nothing that drives a defensive coordinator crazy like an athletic quarterback who can pull the ball down and run. Smith is as good an example of that as anyone in the country.

He is one of two players in Division I-A history to rush for 1,000 yards and pass for 2,000 yards in the same season, and he is close to being on pace to become the first player to do it twice.

“I think the added thing that Brad gives you is that spontaneity,” Pinkel said. “All of a sudden, you think you’ve got him, and then he’s gone. When he gets to the perimeter, I don’t care who he’s going against. He can turn a 6-yard run into a 30-yard run.”

For all that is said about Smith, though, Abron is in position to break Missouri’s career rushing record. Abron needs 270 yards to pass Brock Olivo’s mark of 3,026. At the rate the Tigers are going, it won’t take him long to set the record.

“I kind of know what it is,” Abron said. “That would be a great accomplishment if I break it. I can’t say I don’t want to break it. If I work hard every week, hopefully it’s there for me.”

Abron said he is only keeping one eye on the record, but he seems to have a pretty good grasp of what he needs to do to reach it.

“I think it’s about 270 or something,” Abron said.

Something like that.

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