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How Missouri can replace a 1,000-yard rusher ... and a 1,000-yard receiver

For the first time in program history, the Tigers are losing both at the same time.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Arkansas
J’Mon Moore is the fourth-leading receiver in Missouri program history. Would you have guessed it?
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Lock is coming back and should put up video-game numbers in 2018. The offense surrounding him is returning its entire starting line, three receivers and — even if there is a bit of an adjustment period under new coordinator Derek Dooley — should be pretty healthy.

Lost in all that, however, is the fact that Missouri is undergoing a loss this offseason that is unprecedented in program history. For the first time since the Tigers began playing football, they’re having to replace a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher in the same offseason.

J’Mon Moore, in spite of fan griping, became only the second Missouri player in program history to record back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and ended his career fourth on the all-time yards list. Ish Witter, in spit of fan griping, became the fifth different Tigers running back in the past seven seasons to top 1,000 yards and ended his career ninth on MIssouri’s all-time list.

Missouri has lost 1,000-yard rushers before. It has lost 1,000-yard receivers before. Never both in the same offseason.

While we’re at it, though, let’s look back at the Tigers’ departing 1,000-yard players in the modern era and how ably Missouri replaced them.

1,000-Yard Rushers

Henry Josey (2013) — 1,166

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 35.0
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 17.9

Josey’s replacement story for 2014 was fairly conventional: Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy were the team’s second and third options behind him in 2013, then they became the team’s first and second options in 2014. Hansbrough rushed for 1,084 yards and Murphy chipped in 924 on an offense that relied heavily on its run game down the back end of the season.

Kendial Lawrence (2012) — 1,025

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 61.7
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 26.6

Lawrence was about the only good thing going for Missouri in 2012, subbing in for an injured Josey coming off a 1,000-yard year of his own. You see how his succession plan went, with Josey returning to form and bit players Hansbrough and Murphy stepping up their games.

Henry Josey (2011) — 1,168*

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 36.9
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 18.9

The asterisk stands for “season-ending knee surgery.” For while Josey was not departing from the team like the rest of the players on this list, he was unavailable for the entire season coming off his first 1,000-yard outing. Luckily for the Tigers, Lawrence went from second fiddle to first chair.

Tony Temple (2007) — 1,039

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 42.1
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 16.1

This is the first one the list who kind-of, sort-of comes out of left field. Derrick Washington, who ran for 184 yards in limited action as a freshman behind Temple, hop-scotches Jimmy Jackson and becomes the guy in 2008, rushing for 1,036 yards. He made his exit after the 2009 season, in which he didn’t hit 1,000. So he doesn’t make the list.

Brad Smith (2005) — 1,301

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 52.8
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 23.3

Smith’s graduation caused a reformulation of the backfield relationship. Instead of the quarterback being the team’s primary rusher, Chase Daniel started handing off a whole lot more in Temple, who emerged from a by-committee approach with Marcus Woods in 2005 to become the featured back and 1,000-yard rusher in 2006.

Zack Abron (2003) — 1,155

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 37.2
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 25.3

Smith was the actual leading rusher on Gary Pinkel’s first bowl team, as he would be the next two seasons, but his production dipped precipitously in 2004. So did Abron’s replacement as lead running back. Damien Nash, who went from backup to starter and finished with 792 yards.

Devin West (1998) — 1,578

  • % of Team Rush Yards: 61.8
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 42.1

West had such a blockbuster year that the two guys who replaced him in 1999 — Zain Gilmore and DeVaughn Black — couldn’t duplicate his yardage combined (1,504). Both were little-used backups the year before.

So that’s good news. Each of the past five departing 1,000-yard rushers were replaced, in turn, by 1,000-yard rushers. Usually, they were players that saw consistent action as backups the year before. Missouri’s got that this year, in Damarea Crockett (a former 1,000-yard rusher himself) and Larry Rountree.

1,000-Yard Receivers

Bud Sasser (2014) — 1,003

  • % of Team Receiving Yards: 37.9
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 19.5

Maty Mauk’s best — and, many times, only — target on that surprise SEC East champion team left a gaping hole when he graduated. The Tigers’ top three receivers the next year — Moore, Nate Brown and Wesley Leftwich — combined for only 961 yards. Lock was an overwhelmed freshman that year. Oh, how much has changed since then...

Danario Alexander (2009) — 1,781

  • % of Team Receiving Yards: 48.0
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 33.4

Missouri had a lot better luck replacing the most prolific single-season receiver in program history. T.J. Moe, who saw the field sparingly as a true freshman the year Alexander went off, became Blaine Gabbert’s main target the next season, catching 92 passes for 1,045 yards.

Jeremy Maclin (2008) — 1,260

  • % of Team Receiving Yards: 27.2
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 22.9

You already know who stepped up in Maclin’s absence. Alexander had modest success on a hugely productive pass offense in 2008, catching 26 passes for 329 yards. Or, you know, like, his per-game average the next year.

Justin Gage (2002) — 1,075

  • % of Team Receiving Yards: 44.1
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 23.4

Missouri had Sasser-level difficulties replacing Gage. The Tigers’ top three receivers the next year — Thomson Omboga, Darius Outlaw and Sean Coffey — combined for 1,074 yards. They combined for 964 yards alongside Gage the year before.

Victor Bailey (1992) — 1,210

  • % of Team Receiving Yards: 37.5
  • % of Team Scrimmage Yards: 28.6

Top wideout Kenny Holly couldn’t replicate Bailey’s production in 1993, finishing with 623 yards. So the Tigers turned to a tight end to fill the gap...A.J. Ofodile. Funny how everything comes full-circle, right? Holly was Missouri’s second-leading receiver the year before, and his yards actually went down in 1993. Ofodile’s went up by 141 percent.

Weirdly — and counter to what we found with the rushers — it seems as if Missouri’s most capable replacements for departing 1,000-yard receivers have been relative also-rans the year before. Your T.J. Moes and your Danario Alexanders. So, while the Tigers have the luxury of Emanuel Hall, Johnathon Johnson and 1,541 combined receiving yards coming back, perhaps someone more in the Richaud Floyd mold is the one to watch?

An epilogue of sorts.

An astute follower pointed out that the Tigers’ situation this offseason could be fairly analogous to the one entering 2014.

Josey was gone, as we discussed. Nobody was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2013, but L’Damian Washington, Dorial Green-Beckham and Marcus Lucas were all formidable. And all gone.

So, in 2014, the Tigers rode two experienced backs (Hansbrough and Murphy), two experienced receivers (Sasser and Jimmie Hunt) and a quarterback with SEC starting experience (Mauk) to an offense that worked well enough to complement a good defense.

This year’s Tigers have two experienced backs (Crockett and Rountree), three experienced receivers (Hall, Johnson and Albert Okwuegbunam) and a quarterback much more experienced than Mauk entering 2014 (Lock).

So the offense should be fine, if recent history is any indication.