One thing that remains true in college football is that in order to be successful you need to be able to pick up yards through the ground game. In 2022, the top 50 teams in terms of rushing yards per game in the FBS combined for a record of 414-220. Only 12 finished with a losing record.
Missouri (6-7) didn’t finish in the top 50 in terms of rushing yards per game. Despite ranking in the top half of the Southeastern Conference with 458 rushing attempts, the Tigers finished 10th with 158.67 yards per game and an average of 4.16 yards per carry (11th in the SEC). It resulted in the fourth lowest rushing total and second worst scoring offense in the past nine seasons.
At running back, Cody Schrader and Nathaniel Peat were fine in 2022 but the duo isn’t what the Tigers have had in past seasons. It wasn’t Larry Rountree III/Tyler Badie, Damarea Crockett/Ish Witter, or my favorite, Henry Josey/Marcus Murphy/Russell Hansbrough. In order to be more successful, Mizzou is going to need more than Schrader and Peat in the run game and it’s going to be up to Eli Drinkwitz and Kirby Moore to get more creative.
Going Full Maclin with Luther Burden
One thing discovered in 2022 is that Missouri has something special in Luther Burden III. His 375 receiving yards were the third most by a true freshman wide receiver for the program since the turn of the century, but one thing we saw was his ability to contribute in the run game.
At the collegiate level, a successful play on offense is considered as follows:
- 1st Down: A play gains at least 50% of needed yardage
- 2nd Down: A play gains at least 70% of needed yardage
- 3rd and 4th Down: A play results in moving the sticks
Here are all of Burden’s rushing attempts for the 2022 season:
Luther Burden’s rushing attempts in 2022
|New Mexico State||1st||10||7||Yes|
|New Mexico State||2nd||10||2||No|
|New Mexico State||1st||10||2||No|
In his freshman season, Burden carried the ball a total of 18 times for 88 yards, equaling 4.89 yards per carry. 10 of those 18 (55.56%) resulted in what is considered a successful play, with two of them resulting in touchdowns.
Welcome to the Luther Burden show, America pic.twitter.com/fuqKXzM5WJ— Barstool Mizzou (@BarstoolMizzou) September 2, 2022
Whether it’s an end-around, jet sweep, reverse or taking a direct snap out of the wildcat, it would be wise for Drinkwitz and Moore to incorporate more of these types of plays into the offense where Burden has shown in a small sample size he can thrive.
And it’s been done before.
In the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Gary Pinkel and Dave Christensen utilized Jeremy Maclin in the rushing attack, and he carried the ball 91 times for 668 yards (7.34 yards per carry).
Of course, Burden isn’t in the same tier as Maclin (at least not yet) but it’s an example of how a special talent like Burden can be utilized more in the run game. Maclin averaged 3.25 carries per game for the black and gold; Burden averaged just 1.5 last season.
After the Abilene Christian game, Burden didn’t record a single rushing attempt for three straight games. Mizzou ironically lost all three, but when they faced Vanderbilt Burden gave MU a two-possession lead on an end-around.
Let’s Cook on the Ground Game with Brady Cook
While yes, there are still question marks as a passer — a torn labrum may have hindered his performance — Brady Cook in 2022 showed that he is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference.
Cook's ability to execute power reads, read options and quarterback draws adds an extra element to the ground game. But, like with Burden, it's going to be up to Drinkwitz and Moore to use more of those plays in the offense.
With Cook, it seemed as if this was the plan over the final half of the season.
- Cook’s First Six Games: 65 attempts, 162 yards, 2.49 yards per carry, 2 touchdowns
- Cook’s Last Six Games: 74 attempts, 423 yards, 5.72 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns
Against Tennessee, Cook netted 106 rushing yards on 16 attempts. 11 of his carries were designed run calls with six of them (55%) resulting in a successful play. Two weeks later Cook gashed Arkansas for 18 attempts, 138 yards and a score on a designed QB draw.
Seems appropriate Brady Cook would score on Thanksgiving weekend. pic.twitter.com/1DWJuX634U— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 25, 2022
Having everyone back should equal more success on the ground game. Drinkwitz has seen what he’s got with Burden, Cook, Peat and Schrader. For 2023 it should be a true rushing attack by committee, and the quarterback and wide receiver run game is just as important. Having Cook rush the ball 15-plus times a game and Burden touch the ball five-plus times in the running game is obtainable. The question is, will we see it this upcoming season?