Among the many encouraging signs from the Missouri offense in 2016 -- the stalwart line, gunslingin’ Drew Lock, 1,000-yard receiver J’Mon Moore, jack of all trades Dimetrios Mason — perhaps none were quite so encouraging as Damarea Crockett’s breakout season.
The Boise State poachee set Missouri freshman records with 1,062 rush yards and 10 scores on the ground, and he only got stronger as the season went on...before being suspended for the final game of the year after an arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of marijuana.
“It’s made me a completely different person,” Crockett said of the arrest, talking to a group of reporters, including one from RockMNation, at Tuesday’s spring practice session. “It’s changed me for the good, for the better. It’s made me a way better person and football player. It made my focus that much stronger. And it’s going to make my comeback that much more stronger too.”
Stronger comeback, eh?
So what could that look like for Crockett? How can he improve upon the blockbuster season that was his freshman year?
Well, we’ve got a couple ideas...
1) Make Both Halves Like the Last Half
Right at about the halfway point of the season, after Crockett put up 145 yards on 14 carries against Florida, Missouri realized just what they had in him. And, perhaps, Crockett realized just how good he already was.
In the first six games of the season, Crockett averaged 65 yards and 0.5 touchdowns on nine carries a game (7.22 yards per carry). Over the final five games, he averaged 134.4 yards and 1.4 touchdowns on 19.8 carries a game (6.88 per).
He carried at least 10 times a game in all five and at least 20 times in three. And the per-carry production didn’t really drop off all that much.
After playing only 29 percent of the running back snaps and receiving a carry on 42 percent of his snaps in the first six games, he took 54.6 percent of the back snaps and got a carry on 47.5 percent of them.
The rise was precipitous.
Say Missouri duplicates its 79 snap a game pace this season. Say Crockett takes 54.6 percent of those snaps and gets a carry on 47.5 percent of them.
Over a 12-game season, that’s a 246-carry season. Give him those 6.88 yards a carry, and it comes out to 1692 yards.
You think Josh Heupel would take that?
2) Use Ish Witter to Stay Fresh
OK, so maybe this isn’t a Crockett to-do as much as it is a coaching staff to-do.
Witter, aside from being a dependable ballcarrier when it comes to fumbling — unless he’s prematurely flipping a touchdown ball into the air — and a steadying influence as a senior, can serve a key role as a way to keep Crockett fresh.
Crockett can serve the same role for Witter but, with Crockett standing at 5-foot-11 and hoping to play at near 230 pounds and coming off that freshman season, Crockett’s the more prototypical option for feature back.
Plus, he’s the one upon which this post is focusing.
“It’s great, just to always have a guy that we can both be in the game,” Crockett said Tuesday. “You’re not losing a step when one of us is in the game. That’s always a great feeling.”
Below is a list of all the running backs who have received at least 10 percent of Missouri’s carries in a season from 2007 to 2016. So you can get a sense of how the Crockett-Witter interplay was last year and how other groups divvied up the work in years past.
I also added in their touches in the pass game to see what proportion of rushes, rush yards, receptions, receiving yards, total touches and all-purpose offense yards each player accounted for.
In six of those years, Missouri had two backs take more than 10 percent of the carries. In the four others, the Tigers had three.
The former is what Crockett and Witter did last year, when they almost evenly split 63 percent of the team’s carries and provided for 73.5 percent of the team’s rush yards.
Over the course of this study, on the average, the lead back accounts for 34.3 percent of the team’s carries and 41.3 percent of its rush yards. The secondary — or top two secondaries -- accounts for 25.4 percent of the carries and 29.3 percent of the yards.
If we recast last year’s 500 carries with those proportions — and Crockett getting the plurality — that comes out to 172 carries for Crockett and 127 for Witter. If he stayed at the same 6.9 a carry clip, that puts him in the 1190-yard range.
On the upper end of the spectrum is the Kendial Lawrence 2012, Derrick Washington 2008-09 type of season, wherein the lead backs averaged 43.2 percent of the team’s carries.
Setting that proportion to last year’s numbers would put Crockett at about 216 carries and 1490 yards.
However many carries Crockett gets, the more effective Witter can be at keeping a defense winded, the better Crockett’s time in the game will be.
3) Make Yourself Indispensable
Notice Witter’s receiving proportion in 2015 -- 8.1 percent of the team’s catches.
Notice Crockett’s in 2016 — 2.0 percent.
Room for improvement, yes?
Also, making up some ground in pass blocking and in the aforementioned realm of ball security.
Crockett has already shown he can be a first- and second-down back. Witter is still the more valuable, versatile option on third downs.
You can see a similar relationship reflected with Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy in 2014, when Hansbrough held a 38-33 percent edge in rushes but only a 28-27 edge in total touches because Murphy was so much more of an accomplished pass-catcher.
If he wants to get into the 30-percent of total offensive touches range like Lawrence in 2012 and Washington in 2009, he’s going to show he deserves to be more involved in the pass game.
Going back to last year’s numbers again, you put Crockett at 30 percent of the team’s offensive touches, that’s around 225 touches. Apply those 6.8 yards a touch and it comes out to more than 1500 yards.
Crockett, for his part, recognizes the need to keep improving. But how quickly will it take? And what will that mean for his sophomore year in 2017?
“I don’t expect anything less than being great. That’s what I hold myself accountable to,” Crockett said Tuesday. “If you’re not trying to be the best, why are you playing? You know what I’m saying?”