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 three-headed running back group returning in 2011, two of whom will remain eligible in 2012 (along with incoming freshmen Jonathan Williams and Morgan Steward and 2011 injury redshirt victim Marcus Murphy), 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, but what they have now is a deep stable of smaller yet efficient backs, any of whom can 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.
As the result of 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 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. 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.
#26 De’Vion Moore (5’9, 195, Sr., St. Louis, Mo.)
The "Grandpa" of the running backs, as named by Gary Pinkel, 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. In close games in 2010, Tiger running backs took 39 handoffs inside the opponent’s red zone, with Moore receiving 22 of the carries.
Moore, Josey and Lawrence all seemed equally adept, but that distribution belied the staff’s level of trust. 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. 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.
#4 Kendial Lawrence (5’9, 190, Jr., Rockwall, Texas)
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 primary backs. Lawrence proved very valuable to the Tigers as the season wore on. Moore may have been the most trusted back in the stable, but the coaches clearly did not have a problem with giving Lawrence the ball in tight spots either. His development has been slow but steady, as he has gradually become more resistant to contact after struggling with balance in his freshman season. A strong spring resulted in Lawrence being named the team’s most improved tailback, and he’ll have every opportunity to command carries in 2011.
#20 Henry Josey (5’10, 180, So., Angleton, Texas)
Non-conference play produced two undeniable stars in collective eye of the Missouri fan base. The first, of course, was T.J. Moe. The other was Henry Josey.
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 many Missouri fans 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.
The next step for Josey is performance in big spots. In 2010, he averaged 9.68 yards per carry against opponents that did not qualify for bowl games. Against bowl-eligible teams, he averaged only 3.82 yards per carry. Josey may be a rhythm runner who needs successive carries for optimum success, but with Missouri’s current system in place, he’s going to need to just take advantage of whatever carries he gets.
#24 Greg White (6’1, 215, RSFr., DeQueen, Ark.)
Greg White was recruited as somewhat of a niche power back for Missouri, and he’s may need to cling to that 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 three-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.
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.