One season after ranking sixth in the NCAA with 237.46 rushing yards per game, the Missouri football team’s rushing attack went flat with only 51 yards on 35 carries against Nebraska on Saturday.
That lack of production came after the suspension of the Tigers’ leading rusher, junior Damien Nash for disciplinary reasons following an Oct. 23 loss against Oklahoma State. Freshman Tony Temple played in his first collegiate game against Nebraksa, gaining only 13 yards on six carries. He left the contest in the fourth quarter with an injured left Achilles.
The rushing difficulties, the injury to Temple and Nash’s reinstatement has led to questions about the offense’s ability.
During Missouri’s media day Monday, coach Gary Pinkel said he reinstated Nash after speaking to the running back but he refused to discuss what led to the suspension.
“He will play, to what extent will be determined later in the week,” Pinkel said. “I had a meeting with him on Sunday and I have an agreement with my players, it’s a trust; we talk when we have issues like that … we don’t talk about those things (to the media).”
Even with Nash returning, Marcus Woods was listed as the starting running back for Saturday’s game against Kansas State with Temple listed as the backup. Pinkel said Missouri will use all three backs and their roles will be determined during game planning on Thursday.
That game plan could include only two backs if Temple’s injured Achilles doesn’t heal quickly. He walked around Monday with his left foot in a walking cast.
“I feel good; we’re just doing it for protection reasons,” Temple said. “I am planning on playing this week. It’s day-by-day and it’s up to coach Pinkel. I’m just trying to get better and come back.”
Temple also said the amount of touches for the backs will not matter, since all three are concerned only with helping the offense break out of its six-quarter touchdown drought.
While several of the Missouri players said the offense missed Nash against Nebraska, Pinkel said that was an excuse and he never uses them and never intends too. Rather, he said the offense just needs to start executing better.
Offensive lineman Scott Paffrath said that better execution starts with the line.
“It’s the same way with the running backs, we haven’t broken a lot of long runs this year and that problem starts up front,” Paffrath said. “We haven’t kept guys covered up; we’ve had too many breakdowns, and as one of the leaders up front, that’s my fault. I have to have the guys in order and we have to play that much harder.”
Woods, a redshirt freshman who gained 22 yards as the starting running back against the Cornhuskers, said Nebraska’s defense was the cause for Missouri’s lackluster performance.
“Nebraska had a lot of movement on the D-line and they plugged up all the gaps and the linebackers flowed real well and they were just a good football team on defense,” Woods said.
The Cornhuskers, though, allowed Kansas State to rush for 294 yards on Oct. 23. before shutting down Missouri.
Temple and Woods both said they were not pleased with their performances against Nebraska.
Woods said he could have made better reads and cuts to gain more yardage. He also said if the Tigers can establish the pass, the running backs will see more running room.
“We have to be able to pass to open up the running game,” Woods said. “If we can get teams to respect our passing game, then we’ll be able to run.”
Paffrath had a converse view and said the Tigers must continue to do what they do best, run the ball.
“A big day on offense, we have to start running the ball,” Paffrath said. “A big day running will really help the confidence for the group. It will open things up passing, but we have to run the ball.”