When Missouri was shocked by Wyoming in its season opener, losing 37-31, the run game was not the threat that it had been expected to be entering the season. The offensive line was not pleased with its effort.
In that game, the Tigers ran for a total of 114 yards but only averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Running back Larry Rountree III, who rushed for over 1,200 yards last season, had just 41 yards against the Cowboys.
But Missouri’s victory over West Virginia saw improvement in the ground game. The offensive line opened more holes, and the Tigers ran for 232 yards, with 104 from Rountree on 17 carries and 71 on 12 carries from running back Tyler Badie.
So what changed?
“(We were) giving more effort, outplaying the defensive line, linebackers, safeties that (West Virginia) had in the box,” said senior left tackle Yasir Durant after Tuesday’s practice. “All that plays into account when having a good run game.”
A play that exemplified that effort against West Virginia came early in the second quarter, on a 10-yard touchdown run from Rountree. A huge hole opened on the left side as Missouri blockers mowed down Mountaineer defenders, and three were left lying on the ground as Rountree ran past on his way to the end zone. The hole was so open that center Trystan Colon-Castillo made it to the goal line just behind Rountree.
Rountree also noticed the difference between Weeks 1 and 2. After the game, he recognized the success of the line in front of him against West Virginia.
“When you control the line of scrimmage, you can run the ball well,” Rountree said Saturday. “I feel like we did that a lot (Saturday).”
Missouri did allow two sacks Saturday, but there were also a few instances when the lineman held their blocks long enough for quarterback Kelly Bryant to make a play with his feet.
One such instance came late in the second quarter. On 2nd and 10, the pocket started to shrink as West Virginia rushed five. All of the offensive linemen stayed with their men, though, and Bryant escaped untouched before running for a first down.
”(It is) just having to know where the defenders are,” Colon-Castillo said Saturday about Bryant extending plays. “That kind of stuff. Sometimes it’s hard, but as you can see, he makes things happen.”
On Tuesday, Colon-Castillo acknowledged there is still room for even more improvement.
”Yeah, we rushed for 200-something yards but we should’ve had more,” Colon-Castillo said.
Missouri’s upcoming game against Southeast Missouri State, an FCS team, could provide an opportunity for the Tigers to further improve their blocking and running game before tougher opponents, like South Carolina the following week, roll in. But Colon-Castillo doesn’t want to fall into the trap of underestimating an opponent.
”We just need to come in and attack this week just like if it was Georgia, just like if it was South Carolina,” he said.
To continue to improve, Colon-Castillo said the unit has to avoid complacency. Overall, he thinks there is better football to be played, despite the good performance against the Mountaineers.
”We need to play at a higher level, especially myself,” Colon-Castillo said. “I haven’t played my best. I think if you ask any guy in (the locker room) and they’re not happy with how we’ve set the tone so far. We want to be more dominant.”