It's going to be inevitable to talk about Missouri in 2009 without talking about losses--Daniel, Coffman, Maclin (probably), etc. However, there is a potentially strong identity for Missouri to carve out of what is returning...namely, threats in the running game.
Derrick Washington (5'11, 215, junior)
Derrick Washington was, to say the least, feast-or-famine in 2008.
First five games: 67 carries, 500 rushing yards, 10 TDs (plus 9 catches, 92 yards, another 2 TDs) (7.8 yards per touch)
Next two: 15 carries, 28 rushing yards, 2 TDs (plus 8 catches, 70 yards) (4.3 yards per touch)
Next four games: 59 carries, 381 rushing yards, 4 TDs (plus 7 catches, 66 yards) (6.77 yards per touch)
- Final three games: 36 carries, 127 yards, 1 TD (plus 5 catches, 49 yards) (4.3 yards per touch)
Thanks to his outstanding receiving ability, his per-touch averages were never really too terrible, but three things were clear regarding Washington: 1) his success took the Missouri offense to a stratospheric level, 2) he struggled mightily against the better rush defenses on the schedule (OU, Texas, Northwestern, OSU), and 3) he didn't look nearly as explosive at the end of the season. Now, (1) needs no explanation--matching the Daniel-Maclin-Coffman trifecta with an unstoppable running game is just about unfair. Really, (2) doesn't need an explanation either--better defenses stop good players better. That's, like, science or something. However, (3) needed a bit of an explanation...and it possibly just got one:
Why the drop-off in the second half of the season? Was Washington injured? Gary Pinkel never mentioned his tailback in his weekly injury reports, but, for what it’s worth, a relative of Washington’s recently posted on a MU message board that the tailback injured his knee in MU’s second game, which eventually required his knee to be drained to relieve swelling.
Now, this obviously wasn't a tremendously significant injury, as Washington's most productive stretch--Nevada, Buffalo and Nebraska--came after the second game. Plus, he went for 151 total yards and 2 TDs in frigid temps up in Ames late in the season. Regardless, it's as good an explanation as anything else to explain why Washington was struggling. When #24 is on, he exploits even tiny holes and runs through arm tackles. Against OU and Northwestern in particular, even when there were holes to be exploited, he was only getting 4-6 yards instead of 8-12.
Mizzou's chances for a surprise North title in 2009 rely on Washington being both healthy and productive, and while I'm 90% optimistic he will be both, his late-season struggles prevent me from being 100% optimistic.
De'Vion Moore (5'9, 195, sophomore)
Obviously after one season of mostly junk-time work, it's hard to get a read on De'Vion Moore's potential, but it's tempting to go in one of two extreme directions:
- Barring one big carry against Colorado, here were his stats during conference play (junk time or no): 19 carries, 69 yards (3.6 per carry), 0 TDs. Not amazing stuff. It seems clear early on that he has the ceiling of Marcus Woods and the floor of Earl Goldsmith. He's shifty but not all that productive.
- Did you see that one big carry against Colorado (4:03 of this video)? Holy crap! He got a whole and just exploded away from every defender! Kid's got some serious jets and could make a nice inside-outside combo with D-Wash in '09.
As always, reality probably lies halfway between the two extremes, but with three years of eligibility remaining, there's still plenty of potential in De'Vion to be exploited. And he certainly makes for an interesting change of pace with Washington running mostly between the tackles.
Drew Temple (5'10, 190ish, RSFr)
We obviously don't know a ton about Drew Temple at this point, but his Rivals video tells us that he runs a lot like his older brother Tony--stringing runs outside until a hole develops, then trying to explode through it--only, it appears, he maybe seeks out contact a bit more. How that translates to success at Mizzou, who the heck knows, but for as disappointing as Tony Temple was at times, I think we would all be pretty happy to have a TT proxy in the backfield for another few years, huh?
Missouri has not yet gotten commitments from any running backs in this class.
Here's where the 2009 Mizzou running back stable becomes a huge wildcard. With a month to go before Signing Day, it is completely unknown what kind of impact freshmen might or might not be donning black and gold this summer.
Bryce Brown (6'0, 215, Wichita, KS)
Honestly, I probably shouldn't put him on this list. He visited Columbia a while back and said all sorts of complimentary things about the team and his desire to be a Jeremy Maclin-type of back...but a few weeks later he also said he was still a solid Miami commit. Mizzou's opportunity to nail this guy down likely came and went (if it truly came at all), but rumors are still flying around as to how solid he is in his Miami commitment, so I'll naively keep him on the list right up until Signing Day.
Ronnie Wingo (6'3, 210, St. Louis)
Ronnie Wingo's recruitment has been extremely interesting for two main reasons:
- Nobody seems to have a freaking clue as to what position he should play. He was a RB in high school, but honestly with his size and speed he could turn into a pretty interesting RB, WR, TE, LB, or DB. I think I see him most naturally turning into a 6'3, 225-pound Sean Weatherspoon clone at LB, but since he still seems to hold a slight preference for playing offense (and returning kickoffs), I'm putting him on this list.
- He still hasn't committed to Mizzou yet, and nobody has a good idea why. At first, it was thought that his parents might be influencing him to go elsewhere, but recently it seems they've given him the Mizzou go-ahead. Arkansas fans are all sorts of optimistic about his upcoming official visit to Fayetteville, and Gabe at PM has been saying for a while that Arkansas is a huge wildcard in the race. If he's not committed to Arkansas by next Monday morning, the odds of him becoming a Tiger are quite high. What Mizzou does with him if they get him in black and gold, nobody knows.
Stepfan Taylor (5'11, 205, Mansfield, TX)
A personal favorite of mine for quite a while now, Kenji Jackson's best bud from high school has been committed to Stanford since late summer. However, there's a buzz that he may still visit Mizzou if it looks like he may not qualify at Palo Alto. I don't want to root for the kid to not get great grades or a high test score, but I would be thrilled to see him in a Mizzou jersey next August. It's easy to be impressed with a kid's high school highlight film (see link above), but his has been more impressive than most. He's an oustanding combination of size, speed, and quickness. I guess I shouldn't get my hopes up too much here.
Kendial Lawrence (5'9, 180, Rockwall, TX)
Lawrence really came into his own his senior year at Rockwall-Heath, winning Texas District 10-4A Player of the Year honors and finding a ton of late offers coming his way. A lot of folks thought he was a strong Mizzou lean a few weeks ago, but he's played things so close to the vest that nobody knows for sure. Of the names on this list, I'd say he's the second most likely Tiger behind Wingo, but who knows? Lawrence fits the mold of a De'Vion Moore/Marcus Woods/Tony Temple/Jimmy Jackson type--short with strong legs and nice quickness. He was something of a late bloomer, but he would be a great pickup for Mizzou.
2008 vs 2009
The only departure from the Mizzou backfield is Jimmy Jackson, and while I loved #1 to death, it's not out of the realm of possibility that De'Vion Moore can match JJ's production. If that's the case, and if Derrick Washington is healthy and makes the typical improvement from his first year starting to his second, the Mizzou RB corps could be as strong as it's been under Gary Pinkel. And nothing settles down a young starting QB faster than a solid running game.
2009 Mizzou RBs on the YouTubes
Nothing on YouTube, but here's a Rivals highlight video if you're a subscriber.