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2020 Missouri Football Position Previews: Running Backs

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With four familiar names and an exciting freshman the stable of running backs should - and arguably must - be the main strength of the 2020 Tiger offense

NCAA Football: SE Missouri State at Missouri Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Missouri offense ended up being very bad last year but I still don’t understand how. Whether it be scheme, quality of opponent, injuries we didn’t hear about or...magic?...the Tigers were incapable of moving the ball effectively, even at the beginning of the year when everyone was healthy. And while an inconsistent passing game was a major culprit, the biggest shock was how they absolutely stunk at running the ball.

Part of that was the offensive line, yes: the line was getting runners five yards on their carries 43.4% of the time which ranked 106th in the country. On top of that, they were allowing runs to get stuffed at or behind the line 19.5% of the time, or 72nd in the country. But the running backs did the run game no favors, either! The Tigers were 85th when it came to running the ball efficiently and were even worse at logging explosive run plays (100th). When you can’t grind the chains OR bust a big gainer on the ground...what can you do?

Until proven otherwise I’m going to blame scheme and poor play calling and look to Coach Drinkwitz to use his offensive wizardry to get this running game back on track. The Tiger backs return the most experience of any unit outside of the defensive tackles and add an exciting, absurdly hyped freshman to the rotation for 2020. Here are the five gentlemen you can expect to see carrying the ball this season:

The Thunder

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 09 Missouri at Georgia
Larry Rountree III
Larry Rountree III’s Career Stats

I’m really curious to see how Larry bounces back. The 2019 campaign was his worst from a per-carry standpoint, logging the worst yards per carry (4.5), highlight yards per carry (4.1), and success rate (38%) of his career. We’ve seen what he can do with a competent passing game to open up the run and a line that can actually open holes for him (48% opportunity rate in 2018, 42% in 2019) so the hope is that - even with a new cast of characters - Drinkwitz and his offensive staff can scheme that to reality. He doesn’t add much to the passing game - 81% catch rate, yes, but only a 31% success rate - but this will be the year for him to show his full range of abilities to better his chances of making it in the NFL in 2021.

The Lightning

Missouri v Arkansas
Tyler Badie
Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
Tyler Badie’s Career Stats

I argued to anyone who would listen that Tyler Badie was the most important piece of the Tiger offense last year. There is a chance that I was a bit dramatic about that take, but the offense was better when Badie was getting multiple touches on the ground and the air. His 43% success rate on the ground graded out better than Rountree and his 72% catch rate paired with 11 yards per catch was the best combo of any one who caught a ball last year. In fact, Badie is Missouri’s leading returning receiver! What Drink ends up doing with him is anyone’s guess but his talents extend beyond just “fast running back,” and if utilized correctly, should give a lot of defenses headaches as he zips around the field.

The Backups

SEMO v Missouri
Simi Bakare
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Simi Bakare’s Career Stats

I’m really curious to see what kind of role Bakare carves out in Drinkwitz’s offense (other than, ya know, COVID is going to force every guy to play at some point). Much like every other Odom recruit, Bakare was liked well enough by the prior staff to play him as a freshman and avoid a redshirt but not good enough to continue to be played as a sophomore, gathering only 8 carries for 37 yards in 2019. He’s taller than Larry and Tyler and only a few pounds lighter than Rountree but that tweener status might be part of the reason why he was passed up by Badie. The touches will be there this season, but if the other backs on this list see more frequent usage than he does this year the writing might be on the wall. Regardless, this is the year that depth is needed so I hope he’s able to prove what he can do in the opportunities he gets.

Mississippi v Missouri
Dawson Downing
Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images
Dawson Downing’s Career Stats

BREAKING: On a per play basis, the former walk-on was Missouri’s best running back last year. He averaged 5.7 yards per carry (Badie averaged 4.2), got 5-yards on 47.5% of his carries (Rountree was at 42.5%), and averaged 6.6 yards extra after getting five from the line (Badie averaged 5.1). Is he the beneficiary of a small sample size? You bet your sweet bippy! 40 carries over 10 games isn’t close to being statistically significant. But he capitalized on the chances he got and scored one of the more satisfactory touchdowns of the 2019 season while dragging an Ole Miss defender across the goal line. If we end up seeing more of Downing in 2020 just remember that it’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The Kendial-Lawrence-Hyped-Freshman-Foundation (TM) Award Recipient

Elijah Young
The Des Moines Register

Newer readers of this fine blogging establishment might not remember Kendial Lawrence. The high 3-star 2009 signee from Roundrock, TX was a late steal for Gary Pinkel, and based off of his incredible senior film, we all at Rock M were just adamant that he would be a game breaking running back for the three lucky years we had him before he turned pro early. Now, he ended up being an excellent back, compiling over 2,200 yards in four years, ranking 10th all-time in total rushing touchdowns, and was the lone bright spot to an injury-plagued 2012 season where he ran for over 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. But the fanfare and expectations didn’t quite match the sizzle of the highlight reel, something that can be more common than we believe.

I bring that up simply because Elijah Young’s highlight film is just as amazing as some of the 4- and 5-star guys I’ve seen, and rushing for over 2,100 yards with 39 touchdowns at 8.9 yards per carry is some incredible stuff. As fans we should pump the brakes on our expectations and let him learn from the pounding he’ll get from the hardened SEC defenses. I’m sure we’ll see plenty of flash and potential throughout the year, and he certainly has the ability to make an instant impact if he can learn the playbook quickly, but nothing drowns the excitement of a new, incredibly athletic player than sky-high expectations. So, let’s be excited and reasonable for what Mr. Young can do.

What would dumb Nate do?

Start Rountree, flex Badie into the slot, and run a ton of misdirection with both of those dudes on the field at the same time. If you ever watched Rondale Moore at Purdue in 2018, they had a lot of offensive concepts that used Moore’s versatility to abuse defenders on the edge. Get Badie outside with the constant threat of Rountree on the inside and go neo-triple option. GET WEIRD ITS COVID FOOTBALL BABY.

What’s actually going to happen?

Rountree and Badie will be get the highest usage rates. Bakare and Downing will be brought in if/when those two go down for whatever reason. I think Young will show enough to become the third back towards the end of the year and he avoids a redshirt, prepping him to either ride shotgun with Badie in ‘21 or be the new star if Badie goes pro.