ORLANDO, Fla. — Sheldon Richardson has turned in a marvelous junior campaign thus far, and it was interesting to finally hear what the big defensive tackle had to say after Missouri’s 21-16 win over Central Florida on Saturday.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
Kansas City Star
Richardson, of course, was speaking publicly for the first time since his “old-man football” comment, and he took a moment to address the conversation he had with Georgia coach Mark Richt after MU’s 41-20 loss to the Bulldogs in Columbia.
“I told him ‘Great game, good team, best of luck to you the rest of the season, that probably shouldn’t have gotten blown out of proportion,’” said Richardson, who saw the photo. “He said ‘I respect you more for coming and saying that’ and I was like ‘I just want to let you know how it really happened,’ and that was that.”
The “old-man football” thing became a national story, but just as notable is how Richardson has become a destructive force in the middle of MU’s defense this season.
You can read about his on-field exploits here, but the most interesting thing Richardson said was that he actually faced some triple-teams Saturday – dead serious – and still managed to rack up nine tackles (two for loss), two quarterback hurries, a sack and a fumble recovery.
“I put more pressure on myself than anybody,” Richardson said. “Being the greatest player on the field is what I strive to be every play, every snap, every game.”
When Richardson, who has lost 20 pounds since last year, was told that the humid weather didn’t seem to affect his play, he smiled and agreed.
“Oh yeah, tip-top shape,” he said. “Tip top. Don’t get me wrong now, I had to catch a few breathers every blue moon. But for the most part, Coach (Steckel) and Coach (Kuligowski) made it clear that I’m not leaving the field.”
That’s because he’s simply too valuable.
“He keeps getting better,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “I just really see him grow as a young man. And just like I said before, the more he’s in the program, the better he’s going to get. And I’m proud of him because he’s one of the team guys now, he understands what we’re about, who we’re about, and he’s doing a great job.”
If it sounds like Richardson is becoming more of a leader, that’s because he is.
“I just reiterate what Coach Steck does, man,” Richardson said, referring to defensive coordinator Dave Steckel. “We really bought into his system, the chemistry is there, we know our assignments…we just need to make sure we make plays.”
Richardson also said he’s made an effort to be more vocal since the injury to star linebacker Zaviar Gooden, though he noted that he still follows seniors like linebacker Will Ebner and cornerback Kip Edwards.
“Zaviar Gooden went down, so he does as much as he can, but he feels down on himself that he can’t be out there with us,” Richardson said. “So I feel like I’ll just step up and take a role. I’m not trying to be a leader, but I say what I need to say to get my point across and make sure we’re still firing off and playing and executing our defensive game plan.”
Lawrence anchors the running game
After logging only one carry in the first half, senior running back Kendial Lawrence proceeded to tote the rock 18 times for 101 yards in the second half, giving him a career-high 19 carries for the game.
This reliance on Lawrence – and, it appears, the lack of largely fruitless quarterback runs – in the second half was no coincidence, it appears.
“Yeah, we talked about that a little bit,” Pinkel said. “We have all the stats at halftime, we looked at it and said we wanted to put him in a position to do that, (so we) made a couple adjustments and got him involved.”
Pinkel couldn’t have been happier with the result, as Lawrence showed toughness and determination by popping a 33-yard run to set up a 10-yard touchdown jaunt.
“That was Kendial Lawrence saying I’m going to make a play…he got in position where he couldn’t find a space in there and he bounced it to the outside and scored,” Pinkel said. “Talk about a guy that’s had a great camp, having a great year, great acceleration and making plays when we need a play.”
O’Leary shows no mercy
The transcript from Central Florida coach George O’Leary’s postgame press conference drew chuckles from the contingent of Mizzou scribes who made the trip to Orlando. If you thought Pinkel did Franklin a disservice during “Shotgate,” check out what O'Leary said about quarterback Blake Bortles, who apparently talked him out of kicking the field goal before the end of the first half (with disastrous results).
“My thought was, I knew it was third down, I’ve been through this before, and whatever you do, don’t take a sack,” O’Leary said, “so that’s why I sent the field goal team out. And Blake was like, ‘No, coach we can get a play.’ And I know we could, just make sure we throw it through the end zone and whatever you do, don’t take a sack, so we can kick a field goal before the half. ‘Yes coach, I know coach, no problem.’ Well, we didn’t do it and you can’t give up points like that.”
O’Leary had a legitimate reason to be peeved. MU probably deserved to be down at least 13-7 at halftime, and Michael Sam’s ensuing sack of Bortles not only kept the Knights from tacking on a few more points to a 10-7 lead, but apparently energized MU’s locker room.
“Everybody went in with their fists pumping,” said receiver T.J. Moe. “Meanwhile, everybody’s booing the coach over there for not going for it, so then they go for it and they see what happens. So the locker room had a ton of energy.”
• The five sacks allowed by Missouri on Saturday were the most the Tigers have given up in a single game all season. South Carolina finished with three sacks while Georgia and Arizona State each finished with two. The Tigers are now tied with South Carolina for the second-most sacks allowed among SEC teams with 13. Only Ole Miss, which has allowed 16 sacks, is worse.
• Missouri went 1-for-11 on third-down conversions, while Central Florida went 6-of-18.
• No opposing ball carrier has cracked 100 yards against the Tigers this season. UCF sophomore Storm Johnson came close, however, racking up 93 yards on 15 carries.
• Saturday’s game was Missouri’s first in the state of Florida since 1988, when the Tigers ventured to Miami to face the Hurricanes. Missouri will return to Florida on Nov. 3, when they head to Gainesville to face Florida at The Swamp.
• Missouri has now allowed a touchdown in the first or third quarters this season. In fact, UCF’s first-quarter field goal was the first time MU has allowed an opponent to score at at all in the first quarter.
• Missouri recorded a turnover for the 23rd straight game on Saturday.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.