COLUMBIA — Missouri leads the Southeastern Conference in rushing heading into its conference opener Saturday night against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn.
By TOD PALMER
The Kansas City Star
Perhaps that shouldn’t be a great surprise, considering the Tigers, who average 262.3 yards per game on the ground, are the only SEC team yet to play a conference game.
Still, what is surprising is the way Missouri has built the 16th-ranked run game in the nation using a three-running back rotation with quarterback James Franklin’s scrambling ability helping pad those stats.
On paper, not much distinguishes Henry Josey, a 5-foot-10, 190-pound junior with 40 carries for 238 yards and four touchdowns, from Russell Hansbrough, a 5-9, 190-pound sophomore with 39 carries for 335 yards and three touchdowns, or Marcus Murphy, a 5-9, 195-pound junior with 31 carries for 224 yards and four touchdowns.
“Maybe there are some slight differences there in what they can do, but I haven’t called a play yet this year where I said, ‘Hey, make sure this guy is in,’” first-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson said. “I’m just calling the plays and you feel like all those guys can go in and execute the plays that we’re doing.”
Still, some differences do exist.
Josey, despite missing nearly two years because of a major knee reconstruction, brings the most experience.
“I’ve been there before, so I’m the smart guy of the group,” Josey said. “I just try to teach them everything I know and then also listen to them about what they think about things. Then, we put it all together. That’s why we’ve been so dominant.”
Center Evan Boehm, a sophomore from Lee’s Summit West, said Josey’s the fastest of the three in getting to the edge and turning upfield, but it’s Hansbrough who is most likely to lower a shoulder and bowl over a defender.
“(Hansbrough’s) a little back with a huge heart,” Boehm said. “He’s got speed and quickness, but at the same time he’s a powerful back.”
Meanwhile, Murphy is like a ghost in the backfield, hiding behind his blocks before springing free and darting past defenders.
“Everybody views it as, ‘Why are we doing this?’” Henson said of the three-back rotation. “But it doesn’t seem to be a problem for me right now. I look at all the guys, and they all seem to run the ball well. The good thing is you’ve got fresh weapons coming into the game.”
In addition to keeping the running backs fresher and healthier, it also breeds healthy competition in the backfield.
“It’s the biggest competition ever going on around here,” Josey said. “We’re going against each other every day, but that’s what’s helping us on the field. We’re transferring that competition to the field, and we’re also having fun with it.”
Fortunately, it has remained a friendly rivalry, which is a key to the rotation’s success so far.
“It could be difficult, but we have a good relationship in our running back room, and we have a good relationship with everybody on the team,” Murphy said. “That’s what I think is special about this team.”
Still, the trio definitely takes note of one another’s exploits.
“Of course, I’m more happy when I get to the end zone,” Hansbrough said with a laugh.
But if it’s Josey or Murphy doing the honors, Hansbrough is almost as thrilled.
“If one guy scores, the other ones are the first to congratulate them, and that’s a cool thing,” Boehm said.
To reach Tod Palmer, call 816-234-4389 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/todpalmer.