As the 2023 season approaches, we’re asking our football staff to answer a series of questions facing the Mizzou Tigers. Read along to get their takes on who should start, who will shine and who will leave their mark on the season.
It’s always fun to have a bona fide, bell-cow running back. Remember Tyler Badie? Those were the good old days, back when Eli Drinkwitz’s Star Wars jokes were still funny.
But very few programs recruit and operate in a way where the one-RB approach works out for them. Even the best programs will throw out a few different options to put a scare in you unless they’ve got a guaranteed NFL first-rounder lining up behind the QB. This leads us to wonder...
There are several “proven” running backs on Mizzou’s roster, though none have grabbed hold of the starter role. Should Mizzou lean on one running back or go with a committee?
Parker Gillam, Beat Writer: In the SEC, you need a committee at the running back position. For every Derrick Henry, there is a Kenyan Drake to complement him. For every Leonard Fournette, there is a Derrius Guice to lighten the workload. Injuries are obviously a major concern in such a physical conference, but having running backs that complement each other can go a long way in keeping opposing defenses off-balance.
For Mizzou, the script is flipped from last offseason. At this point in 2022, we believed that Nathaniel Peat would handle the bulk of the carries, and the Tiger offense was in search of a secondary option. Now, Cody Schrader has more than proven himself as a solid SEC running back after running for 745 yards in ‘22, and Mizzou is now looking for some lightning to complement his thunder. Peat could be that guy, but redshirt-freshman Tavorus Jones has shown promise in his time on campus and could step up as well. I can certainly see Schrader handling the bulk of the carries as he continues to grow, but either Peat or Jones needs to step up to provide some explosiveness to the rushing attack.
Josh Matejka, Deputy Site Manager: When has Mizzou not successfully leaned on a running back by committee? When they have one obvious answer and a whole lot of nothing behind him. Take a second to find the obvious answer on the roster. Go ahead, give it a glance.
Nothing standing out to you? Me neither. Nathaniel Peat has the versatility Eli Drinkwitz wants in his backs, but struggles mightily in pass blocking. Cody Schrader is the most dependable rusher but lacks the breakaway speed you need to thrive. Tavorus Jones has these things in theory, but theory will only get you so far, eh J. Robert Oppenheimer? Kirby Moore must find a more effective way to use his stable of running backs this fall, or the offense will continue to flounder.
Nate Edwards, Football Analyst: It’s 2023. Outside of a few, rare talents, there is no way a successful offense can operate the run game without a committee. Yes, you still need a bell cow to eat the majority of carries, but you need at least one other guy, and really at least two, to let the lead guy take a breather or at least introduce a different style of runner to keep the defense on their toes. 2007 had Tony Temple, Jimmy Jackson, and Derrick Washington; 2010 had Kendial Lawrence, De’Vion Moore, and Henry Josey. 2013 had Josey, Marcus Murphy, and Russell Hansbrough. It’s how it’s done now and it’s something that has been a quiet issue for the Drinkwitz regime: finding multiple worthy running backs to trot out.
Jaden Lewis, Beat Writer: Looking at the evolution of the game of football over the past decades, teams have started to go away from depending on just one running back to carry the load. This is true at both the collegiate and professional levels. Look at Georgia over the past couple of years, Alabama, and Tennessee; those teams have been successful in the ground game with more than one rusher. Cody Schrader and Nathaniel Peat both present different skill sets but both can complement each other well if playing at the top of their games. The question is— will there be another running back who emerges to join the duo? The Missouri teams which had the most success on the ground were rushing attacks by committee, with the lone exception being Tyler Badie in 2021 where he practically was the entire offense. Using all your available playmakers is something that Eli Drinwitz and Kirby Moore need to strive for in 2023, and that includes a committee of rushers.
Quentin Corpuel, Staff Writer: Even when there’s a super-duper star rusher, lots of running back rooms usually mirror the tendencies of thunderstorms: whenever there’s thunder, there’s lightning. Even in Melvin Gordon’s historic 2014 season, for example, Corey Clement provided a fresh spark that helped the Badgers rumble over most of their Big Ten brethren.
Do I think Mizzou can emulate the rushing success of those old Wisconsin teams? Nope! But considering that Mizzou’s current running back room features a handful of guys who a) bring different skill sets to the table, and b) don’t seem to have one guy who’s separated themself from the others, a committee is likely the best option here. I’m eager to see if Tavorus Jones can be the lightning to the thunder of Cody Schrader and Nathaniel Peat, especially considering how electric Jones was in high school.