When Damien Nash didn’t start against No. 8 Texas on Saturday, Missouri football fans might have worried about a drop off at the tailback position.
Redshirt freshman Marcus Woods calmed those fears with his best performance of the season. After a shaky start to the season, Woods gained 53 yards on 16 carries in the 28-20 loss at Texas and appeared more comfortable with the ball.
“Marcus has been getting better throughout the whole season, and he has really worked hard,” running backs coach Brian Jones said Monday. “What we do with all our players is that if you practice well, you’re going to get playing time. He has been practicing well, plus when he has gone in the past few games, he has played well.”
Nash did not start at Texas because of swelling in his surgically repaired right knee in the days before the game. Nash had surgery after he tore his anterior-cruciate ligament in 2002. It needed to be drained after he had 27 carries, a career high, at Baylor on Oct 2. Nash said Monday it feels fine, and he will be able to play.
With Woods performing, the Tigers possess the luxury of rotating two backs with different strengths. Nash, who leads the team with 532 yards and seven
touchdowns, provides a more powerful running style. Woods, who is 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, can use his speed and quickness to scoot past bulky defensive linemen.
“I feel fortunate that we have two good tailbacks,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think, Marcus, he had to come a little bit further because he hadn’t played, and I think you see him run a little bit better.”
Woods, though, said he won’t accept his performance as enough to maintain his spot.
“It was my best game, but it can get so much better,” he said. “We can all improve, really.”
Because of extra work during practice, Woods has overcome fumbling issues, which plagued his first few games. On the first carry of his career, Woods lost a fumble to Keon Morning, an Arkansas State defensive backplayer.
“We just worked on a lot more drills with him, and you get what you emphasize,” Jones said. “For us and with coach Pinkel, taking care of the ball is a big deal. We just really stressed it the past few weeks, and he has responded.”
Another reason for Woods’ improvement can be attributed to the development of the offensive line, a trend that was apparent Saturday.
“I think the inexperience factor is completely over with now,” Pinkel said. “I think you kind of go in stages a little bit…We don’t really need to discuss the youth of our offensive line anymore. It’s not young anymore. They’ve played some very good football teams very good defenses. We expect to play well, and we have to.”
In the first few games, especially at Troy on Sept. 9, the offensive line struggled with unforced errors, such as procedure penalties, and crowd noise. Those problems have been corrected in practice. Pinkel also said the line did a fine job against Texas’ excellent defensive line.
Woods said he won’t let inexperience serve as a reason for a slow start.
“It was never an excuse,” Woods said. “That redshirt freshmen, being all nervous for the first game, first carries and stuff, I think that’s all just a mindset. You just have to get your mind set and go out and play.”