During a year marked by injuries and spotty play on the offensive side of the ball, MU’s smallest starter has come up the biggest.
Kendial Lawrence, all 5 feet 9, 195 pounds of him, has emerged as the alpha dog of Missouri’s offense, the best and most consistent performer on unit that has desperately needed someone to carry the load.
Lawrence, a senior running back, has logged 184 carries, second-most in the SEC, and his 11 rushing touchdowns put him in a tie for fourth in the conference with injured South Carolina star Marcus Lattimore. Lawrence has 938 rushing yards, the fourth most in the conference, and with 62 more on Saturday against Texas A&M, he’ll be the fifth MU back since 2004 to crack 1,000 yards rushing in a season.
“It’s amazing he’s almost got 1,000 yards rushing,” said coach Gary Pinkel, a nod to the fact injuries claimed all five of their projected starting offensive linemen at various points throughout the season.
“There’s not really been one game where he hasn’t played at a high level,” said offensive coordinator David Yost. “Now, we might not have gotten him the ball enough or opened up enough holes for him, but he’s really been our most consistent playmaker.
“He’s made a lot of things out of nothing.”
Lawrence, who rushed for 566 yards and five touchdowns last season, attributes his improvement to additional film study.
“Film has helped out more than I imagined it would,” Lawrence said. “Just by watching film and studying guys, you learn about opponents. But it’s helped out because you notice different things on different downs, how defenses are going to come at you, how physical, how tough they are.”
Pinkel said he’s noticed an improvement in the speedy and elusive Lawrence, who has a much more direct running style than before.
“He’s more of a vertical runner than he used to be,” Pinkel said. “He’s a great cutback player, but at this level if you look for the cutback too much, you’re going to have seven guys standing around you. So there’s a fine line in how you do it.”
Lawrence has toed that line just fine this season, and while his focus is clearly on the Aggies on Saturday, he’s never felt better about his chances of playing in the NFL.
“Yes sir, I feel like I’ve done enough (to catch the NFL’s eye),” Lawrence said. “Guys use this conference as one of the closest things to the NFL, so doing positive things in this conference, I think it can help me get ready. I’m glad I was able to do what I did this season.”
| Terez A. Paylor, firstname.lastname@example.org