COLUMBIA - Go figure.
This game was supposed to be a race to 50. Between the two high-powered passing offenses of Missouri and Texas Tech, the ball was never supposed to touch the ground, and the game was expected to last longer than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Everyone seemed to forget about the running game.
Except for the Tigers.
On Saturday, MU used a platter of backup running backs to fluster the Red Raiders. The wild west shootout never materialized, and the game time was kept to a manageable three hours, 19 minutes in the Tigers’ 41-10 win.
MU was without leading rusher Tony Temple, who missed his second straight game after bruising his sprained right ankle during Wednesday’s practice.
While quarterback Chase Daniel struggled against Tech, throwing for a season-low 210 yards, the surprisingly explosive rushing attack made the difference in the game. Led by junior Jimmy Jackson and true freshman Derrick Washington, the Tigers combined for 212 rushing yards to the Red Raiders’ negative nine.
“Tony is our catalyst, he gets things going,” Daniel said. “But (the other running backs) have stepped their game up and have picked a pretty good time to do it.”
The Tigers managed just 57 yards on the ground without Temple in last week’s loss to the Sooners. A primarily pass-happy Tiger offense could have been one-dimensional again this week.
But the Tigers knew the Red Raiders’ biggest weakness was their 70th-ranked rush defense. Tech gave up 233 yards last week against Texas A&M, and the 366 yards they surrendered to Oklahoma State on Sept. 22 led to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Lyle Setencich.
The fact that the Tigers finished the game with 50 rushing attempts compared to just 30 passes was not by accident.
“We like to attack on offense,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “They (the Red Raiders) really clamped down on a lot of our perimeter (receivers) but left running lanes open, and we took advantage of it.”
The loss of Temple may have ended up being an advantage for the Tigers. Pinkel constantly has to remind Temple to quit dancing in the backfield, but Jackson and Washington found their hole and hit it, running so hard that it often seemed like they were getting a head start on top of the hill on the north side of the stadium.
“That’s in the game plan,” Washington said. “Every time we get the ball we got to get downhill. Coaches keep pounding that in our head every day, every rep: Get downhill, get downhill, and that’s what we did.”
Washington led the team with 66 yards rushing, but the day belonged to Jackson. Backing up Temple for the last two years, he has been primarily seen as an afterthought to the running game. He entered the 2007 season with 305 career-rushing yards and never scored more than one touchdown in a game.
On Saturday, he scored three.
“Nobody likes to sit on the sideline,” he said. “It’s kind of frustrating when you don’t play, but when the opportunity comes, you have to take advantage of it.”
He did, scoring three times inside the5-yard line and providing that extra punch near the goal line that the Tigers often lack in their spread-formation offense.
“My mentality is I’m going hard every time in,” Jackson said. “When I was getting the ball near the goal line, all I was thinking about was scoring. You just got to find a way to get in there.”
The Tigers have shown they can get it in there any way they want, whether its with the deep ball, trickery, defensive turnovers or the running game.
It doesn’t matter how they do it. Everything seems to be working.
“I just think we’re playing real complete,” Daniel said. “We just showed that we’re multi-dimensional. We’re not just a throw it 50 to 60 times a game team. If the running games going, we’re going to stick with it.”