All photos via Bill Carter.
You can assume something of any running back who signs with Missouri over the next couple of years: he’s not lying to himself about getting a boatload of carries out of the gates. With a four-headed running back returning in 2011, and three of the same four runners still eligible in 2012, Mizzou is loaded with interesting, similar backs for the foreseeable future. Recent recruiting efforts suggest they have attempted to land a bigger back or two -- and to be sure, they redshirted one this year -- but what they have now is a deep stable of smallish, stronger-than-they-look backs, any of whom might assume the lion’s share of duty in a given week. And as long as there are no ego issues among them, that is a phenomenal thing.
Just look at the above chart. That is the percentage of carries each player received while the game was still in "close" status (within 28 points in the first half, 24 in the third quarter, and 16 in the fourth). Either due to practice results or gut feelings (and knowing Gary Pinkel, it was likely much more the former than the latter), Mizzou seemed to ride a different hot hand in just about every game. De’Vion Moore received the most carries in the first two games, then Henry Josey the most in the third. There was a three-way tie in Game No. 4, then Moore, Kendial Lawrence and Josey took turns over the next three games. Moore took over as the go-to guy throughout most of November, but Kendial Lawrence’s ever-improving results brought him even in the Insight Bowl.
Until we hear otherwise, we can expect much of the same in 2011. If anything, the competition could get even more interesting. Players tend to make pretty big leaps between their freshman and sophomore seasons (just ask Kendial Lawrence, who improved from 4.2 yards per carry as a freshman, to 5.8 as a sophomore), meaning Henry Josey could surge ahead of the pack while Marcus Murphy forces the coaches to give him the ball. Plus, for all we know, Greg White could carve out a short-yardage niche … though he’ll have to pry that title away from the surprisingly effective De’Vion Moore.
In other words, there is a lot to be excited about at this position.
De’Vion Moore (5’9, 195, Sr., St. Louis, MO)
2010: 99 carries, 517 yards (5.2), 8 TD; 3 catches, 7 yards (2.3)
2009: 63 carries, 258 yards (4.1), 1 TD; 3 catches, 13 yards (4.3)
2008: 41 carries, 231 yards (5.6), 1 TD
RPT: The "Grandpa" of the running backs, as named by Gary Pinkel, returns for his 413th season with Mizzou in 2010. But do not take my tone of jest as one of ambivalence or disrespect. Moore was a consistent contributor as the psychological leader of Missouri’s running back quartet, and though several of his tailback compatriots probably exceed him in explosiveness and shiftiness, Moore was the man Mizzou needed for tough yards in 2010. He produced in the redzone time and time again, and he provided one of the most memorable moments of 2010 by dragging several defenders 20 yards across midfield in the fourth quarter against Oklahoma. Moore may lose a couple of carries per game to the other backs in 2011, but that should in no way be an indictment of Moore’s ability.
Bill C.: Moore’s run against Oklahoma was truly the moment that most Mizzou fans came to the same "Oh my God, we can compete physically with the big boys now!!" moment. While Mizzou coaches distributed the ball rather evenly throughout the season, Moore really was the go-to redzone guy. Mizzou running backs took 39 handoffs inside the opponent’s red zone (while the game was close) in 2010, and Moore received 22 of the carries. Moore, Josey and Lawrence all seemed equally adept there -- Moore’s red zone success rate was 50%, Josey’s 55% and Lawrence’s 60% -- but that distribution belied the staff’s level of trust.
De’Vion Moore has been the true epitome of a team player throughout his time at Mizzou. He runs stronger and harder with each successive year, and though injuries have set him back here and there, he has still managed to be the model of consistency for a young backfield. He will be asked to fill the same role in 2011, whether or not his carries rise or drop.
Henry Josey (5’10, 180, So., Angleton, TX)
2010: 76 carries, 437 yards (5.8), 5 TD; 4 catches, 19 yards (4.8); 1 kick return, 20.0 avg
RPT: There were two undeniable cult-like, supernova-eque stars born into the Mizzou fan base in non-conference play. First and foremost, it was T.J. Moe that Mizzou fans fell in love with, but they managed to save enough room in their hearts for Henry Josey. And from what we saw in 2010, it was largely warranted. I don’t have Bill’s individual PPP averages for each tailback (which are probably skewed by Marcus Murphy’s big run vs. Tech), but if Josey wasn’t Mizzou’s most explosive backfield weapon, it sure felt like it. His touchdown numbers may be kept small by Missouri opting to roll with Moore in the red zone, but Josey showed enough in 2010 to warrant consideration for top priority as Missouri’s feature back in 2011.
Bill C.: RPT is correct on both counts -- Murphy’s Tech run does indeed skew the averages, and Josey did indeed have the highest Points Per Play (while the game is close) average of the other three backs.
While each runner in Mizzou’s 2010 stable was mostly the same size, each had a very different style of running. Josey’s was based more around straight-line speed than the others. He did not show off as much agility as Moore or Lawrence, but it did not take him long to reach full speed. He made enough of an impression in non-conference play that I think most of us assumed he would be taking the lion’s share of the carries by end-of-season. It is a credit to the abilities of Moore and Lawrence that he did not.
Kendial Lawrence (5’9, 190, Jr., Rockwall, TX)
2010: 73 carries, 422 yards (5.8), 4 TD; 5 catches, 56 yards (11.2)
2009: 52 carries, 219 yards (4.2); 3 catches, 49 yards (16.3); 12 kick returns, 18.2 avg
RPT: I’m still a bit baffled as to what I saw from Kendial Lawrence in 2010 simply because two years into his tenure at Mizzou, I’m still unsure of what constitutes both his floor OR his ceiling. We saw Kendial have probably the best game of his career against Kansas, but yet, it still seemed there’s one more level awaiting him.
Bill C.: Lawrence does not quite have the speed of Josey or the power of Moore, but he is most likely Mizzou’s most well-rounded running back. To differing levels, he has every trait you could ask for from a back in this (or any other) system -- agility, speed, a little bit of power, and perhaps the best set of hands among Mizzou’s three main backs. Though it appears he will fall at least two short of the four Heismans certain Rock M posters predicted, Lawrence proved very valuable to the Tigers as the season wore on. Moore may have been the most trusted back n the stable, but the coaches clearly did not have a problem with giving Lawrence the ball in tight spots either.
Marcus Murphy (5’9, 180, So., DeSoto, TX)
2010: 22 carries, 181 yards (8.2), 2 TD; 2 catches, 5 yards (2.5); 24 kick returns, 19.8 avg
RPT: Murphy remains the enigma of the four-man committee thanks to only 22 carries in 2010, and though we may not know much about him beyond his kickoff returns, we know about what type of skills he offers. He’s got the afterburners he flashed in Lubbock. He’s got the hands that may FINALLY revitalize the Mizzou tailback receiving game. But perhaps his best asset is his decisiveness. Moore is patient on the interior, Josey will flat beat you to the gap, and Lawrence will hesitate waiting on an opportunity. Murphy is the quintessential "hit the hole and go" back over which coaches frequently salivate. Just like all of the other backs, he’ll have to earn his carries in a stacked backfield in 2011. He may not create something out of nothing, but Murphy’s skillset lends itself to punishing teams for overcommitting or making small mistakes. That alone makes him valuable to Mizzou.
Bill C.: Though I would like to make fun of RPT for calling Lawrence a mystery and Murphy an enigma, I will instead agree with his point about Murphy’s decisiveness. Thanks to a handful of great November and bowl performances, Tony Temple finished his career quite well-regarded in Tiger Land; when he was at his best, Temple was doing exactly what RPT said of Murphy: find your opportunity and take it. Murphy’s ceiling is difficult to figure out -- we saw great vision and speed in his long run against Texas Tech, but a) the play was so well-blocked that he didn’t have to make a move or decision of any kind until he was 40 yards downfield, and b) that was just one carry. As mentioned above, players tend to take big leaps between their freshman and sophomore seasons. If Murphy does so, how far does he get? Which of the running backs above him are vulnerable to being passed? Do we just split everything up 25%-25%-25%-25%? And what does that leave for the next interesting weapon on this list?
Greg White (6’1, 215, RSFr., DeQueen, AR)
RPT: It’s probably a good thing that Greg White was recruited as somewhat of a niche power back for Missouri, because he’s going to need to cling to one specific skill to see the field in 2011 and maybe even beyond. White’s battle for playing time attests to the explosion of depth in a Missouri backfield that was presumed to be scrambling for answers after Derrick Washington’s departure. The four-headed group in front of him will be a tough mountain to climb, so it’s time for White to start making noise in short yardage in practice, especially if he wants to set up for increased opportunities after Moore’s graduation following the 2011 season.
Bill C.: Again, letting RPT go first has backfired. Not sure what else I can add here. Unless Greg White has a killer spring, he will be looking to find a niche instead of any sort of role as a big-time contributor. Being that he is three inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than anybody above him, his size could be beneficial in that quest. Mizzou has plenty of homerun hitters -- I don’t think anybody would complain if they added a Gerald Riggs-esque short yardage guy to the equation, even if De’Vion Moore did pretty well in that role already.
2011 vs 2010
No need to over-analyze this one. Mizzou returns everybody from a group that combined for 1,557 yards and 5.8 yards per carry over 21 carries per game, and they add another interesting piece to the equation. Oh yeah, and four of five linemen return as well. The coaches trusted the running game more and more as the 2010 season progressed, and there is no obvious reason why they won’t be able to do so -- with ever improving results -- in 2011.