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Go ahead, try to convince me Missouri’s run game isn’t going to be awesome this year

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Here are three Mizzou things for Sunday, August 20.

NCAA Football: Eastern Michigan at Missouri Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

1. Can’t wait to see this run game

As you might assume, my own impression and that of the stats and advanced stats don’t conflict all that often. I use stats to back up what my eyes are telling me, and it’s relatively successful experiment most of the time.

Reconcile this, then:

A. Missouri ranked 67th in Rushing S&P+ last year — better than 2015 but not great. The Tigers were 87th in rushing explosiveness and 105th in Adj. Line Yards (which tries to divvy out credit to the line for its blocking). The Tiger with the most carries averaged just 4.6 yards per carry and gained five-plus yards on only 32.5 percent of his carries. None of that is particularly good.

B. Good luck convincing me Missouri’s run game is going to get slowed down by that many teams this year. It just won’t. I wouldn’t even call this some sort of defiant belief — in my head, it is damn near fact.

I don’t have all that much faith in the offensive line, either. I think it will be a step or two better than last year’s, but we still don’t have a firm view of its ceiling. It might be low for all we know. But I guess that’s just how much faith I have in Damarea Crockett.

In nine fewer carries than Ish Witter, he gained 312 more yards. And even when nothing else was even slightly working against LSU and Florida, he still rushed 20 times for 180 yards. He had just 35 carries after five games, then carried 118 times for 817 yards in the next six. That rate, projected over a 13-game (because we’re being optimistic right now) season: 1,770 yards.

But the line is trying as hard as it can to make me optimistic, too. Dave Matter’s recent Post-Dispatch piece on the OL didn’t dampen that.

Players point to last year’s loss at Florida on Oct. 15 as the line of demarcation. The running game showed some life in the second half against the Gators’ reserve defense, but the next week in practice, Elarbee challenged his charges. In practice, the Tigers ran fewer plays but he stressed holding blocks through the echo of the whistle that blew the play dead.

“That taught us how to strain and put our body all the way out there every play,” [Kevin] Pendleton said. “It built a mentality.”

The next week, in a homecoming loss to Middle Tennessee that was more about Mizzou’s unraveled defense, the Tigers ran the ball 64 times for 348 yards and four touchdowns. ... The ground game launched a star in running back Damarea Crockett and a trusty sidekick in Ish Witter, but even when both were unavailable in the season finale against Arkansas, the line paved lanes for third-stringer Nate Strong in a comeback victory.

Meanwhile, though all seven players with starting experience up front return, a couple of others — namely, sophomore Tre’Vour Simms and redshirt freshman Trystan Castillo — are still threatening to crack the starting lineup. The competition is ongoing and will remain that way.

It’s a stable group from the outside looking in. Upon closer inspection, it’s a group with a lot of turbulence. O-line coach Glen Elarbee said the depth chart changes almost daily in fall camp.

“If you have a bad day or you didn’t have your best day and a guy had a good day, then a guy jumps ahead of you,” he said. “We’ve started with that a week into camp. It’s been a lot less bad days because you know if you want that starting spot, you better be in the game.”

If the line goes from mediocre to solid (and it may have undergone that transformation already at the end of last year) and Crockett remains reasonably healthy* for most of the season ... yeah, good luck convincing me Missouri’s run game is going to get slowed down by that many teams this year. It just won’t.

* While I like Witter a decent amount, and freshman Larry Rountree III is building hype very, very quickly in camp, obviously Crockett remaining upright is a massive key for both the run game and Mizzou’s 2017 prospects.

2. A couple of Mizzou targets had huge games this weekend

Two pretty noteworthy prep results from the opening week of the high school season:

If you’re tuned into the prep world, you know why those are noteworthy — Mater Dei is a well-regarded small school, and Rockhurst is, well, Rockhurst. The Hawklets are ranked third in Class 6, and the Bruins hadn’t beaten them in 11 years.

Whether you care about preps or not, though, if you’re a Mizzou fan, you’ll find these results interesting, too.

Lutheran North star Ronnie Perkins, uncommitted and up to No. 111 in the 247Sports Composite, had a big game against Mater Dei.

Meanwhile, Rock Bridge’s Nathaniel Peat, one of five 2019 prospects to already receive an offer from Mizzou, rushed 31 times for 190 yards in the upset of Rockhurst. From the Trib:

Rockhurst answered with a 10-play 90-yard drive capped by a Green quarterback sneak. Green finished the day 17 of 34 for 226 yards.

Then Peat took over.

On the next possession, Rock Bridge ran four plays. Peat carried the ball each time and capped the 80-yard drive with a 51-yard touchdown.

Peat broke a 56-yard run on the next possession that put the Bruins back in scoring position with just less than five minutes left.

Peat is only a mid-three-star prospect at this stage, but a few more games like that will likely change that.

3. Camp is over. Practice begins.