Knoxville, Tenn. — Missouri had plenty of heroes in its thrilling 51-48 quadruple overtime victory over Tennessee on Saturday, but one player whose efforts always seem to go under the radar (at this in this space) is running back Kendial Lawrence.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Well, not today, Kendial. Not anymore.
Quarterback James Franklin was clearly the story in MU’s come-from-behind win – you can read about that here – but the Tigers’ best offensive player this season has clearly been Lawrence, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior who has been every bit as consistent as he has been dynamic. On Saturday, he again showed what he was made of.
Lawrence practically jumpstarted the Tigers’ second-half comeback, as he took a handoff on the first play from scrimmage, cut back against the grain and showed some serious speed on the way to a 77-yard touchdown run that cut MU’s deficit to 21-14.
“That was a huge play,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “Momentum doesn’t just fall out of the sky. You get it because you make plays.”
Lawrence later atoned for a fumble with his second touchdown of the game, and wound up finishing with a career-high 153 yards on 21 carries. That gives him 819 yards on the season, which is the fifth-most in the Southeastern Conference. Lawrence is also averaging a very respectable 5.2 yards per carry and has scored 10 rushing touchdowns, which is the fourth-most in the SEC.
But on Saturday, in the aftermath of the emotional win, Lawrence was way too wrapped up in a monumental team victory to think about any of that.
“I was definitely choked up a little bit (at the end of the game),” Lawrence said. “I kind of just broke down and cried. Our team fought so hard – offense, defense and special teams…Tennessee is a great team and they gave us all we could handle.”
The Redemption of James Franklin
I love making sappy references to “The Shawshank Redemption,” so please tolerate this not-so-great headline. But honestly, I can’t think of a better word than “redemptive” to describe Franklin’s four-touchdown performance on Saturday, just one week after he got lambasted by fans and the media for his four-interception performance in a 14-7 loss to Florida.
“When it was time to make plays, he delivered,” Pinkel said. “Hopefully, that will give him a remarkable amount of confidence and get him back in line with where he should be.”
With eight touchdown passes and zero touchdown runs this season, Franklin is well off his production from last year, when he combined for almost 4,000 rushing and passing yards and 36 total touchdowns. Heck, prior to Saturday’s game, he hadn’t even thrown a touchdown pass since MU’s 21-16 win over UCF on Sept. 29 (though he missed nearly three full games due to injury).
But if Franklin continues to play the way he did Saturday in MU’s last two games (against Syracuse and Texas A&M), not only will the Tigers go to a bowl, but most of his struggles this year will be forgotten.
Franklin said a discussion with receiver Marcus Lucas during the week gave him some perspective on his struggles, which are directly tied to the assortment of injuries he’s had to play through this season.
“His grandma always tells him, ‘Whenever you’re going through hard times and you wonder where God is, just remember you’re being tested, and the teacher is always quiet (during a test),’” Franklin recalled after the game. “’But when you have a problem, you go to the teacher.’”
Of course, Franklin was also helped by a group of receivers who stepped up to make some plays for him. Lucas (five catches, 51 yards), T.J. Moe (three catches, 33 yards), Bud Sasser (two catches, 35 yards), Dorial Green-Beckham (two catches, 35 yards) and Jimmie Hunt (one catch, 24 yards) all made big plays during MU’s comeback bid.
“It’s amazing, once you start getting momentum,” Pinkel said. “We looked like the most potent offense in the country in overtime.”
*With the win, Missouri is now 11-4 in overtime games, which gives the Tigers the most overtime wins in NCAA history.
“We’ve been pretty good in my career in overtimes, I don’t know why,” Pinkel said before revealing the punch line. “Maybe we should get in more.”
*Missouri’s linebackers certainly came to play on Saturday.
Weakside linebacker Zaviar Gooden had a team-leading nine tackles, while strongside linebacker Andrew Wilson filled the statsheet with eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a fumble recovery, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. Senior middle linebacker Will Ebner also had seven tackles.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor and on Instagram at TerezPaylor.