Poor Ish Witter.
The Missouri senior running back whiffed once in pass protection last season, allowing his only quarterback pressure against South Carolina as he graded out as one of the nation’s best blocking running backs, according to College Football Focus.
Despite his small stature, Witter — a 5-foot-10, 195-pound graduate of Alonso High in Tampa, Fla. — might as well have been the wall guarding Castle Black aside from that lone slip up.
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But there was the one flub against the Gamecocks on a delayed “mug” blitz, according to Tigers running backs coach Cornell Ford.
“He gave up one (pressure), but we never let him forget,” Ford said, flashing a smile.
Jokes aside, Ford called Witter “one of the better blockers in the country” and “by far, my best blocker in the room.”
“You’ve got to have the heart to be a good blocker and the tenacity to be able to stick your face down the middle of a guy, gets your hands on them and stay in front of them,” Ford said. “Ish is not a real big guy, but he’s a competitor and the competitiveness keeps him fired up and effective on the football field.”
It’s one of the many under-appreciated traits for Witter, who started 10 games last season and finished with 162 carries for 750 yards with six touchdowns, all career-highs.
“He’s not unappreciated by his coach, trust me,” Ford said. “To maybe some of the fans he’s not the flashiest guy in the world, but he just is a blue-collar, go-to-work, put-his-hat-on-and-get-the-job-done kind of guy.”
Witter doesn’t make a lot of defenders miss and only owns three runs longer than 20 yards among 315 career carries.
His longest run at Mizzou is 27 yards and his career 4.3-yard average is pedestrian, but those figures paint an incomplete picture of Witter’s value given his elite pass-blocking, pass-catching value and tone-setting leadership at the position.
“He’s going to fight and compete with everything he’s got,” Tigers offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “He’s a smart player. He knows his job, and because of that, he’s in position. Does he win every battle? No, but nobody wins every battle. But he’s willing to step in there and fight the war and fight hard.”
The blocking is a particular point of pride for Witter, who hopes NFL teams will notice the skills so often overlooked by fans, but there’s no secret to his success or why he takes pride in it.
“It’s just studying, knowing where the (linebackers) are going to be and what lineman has who,” Witter said. “You just want to give time to your quarterback, so he can release the ball. … I love to block for (junior) Drew (Lock) any day just to make sure our offense is scoring.”
Midway through last season, sophomore running back Damarea Crockett eclipsed Witter as the Tigers’ feature back and he’ll likely continue to receive more carries in 2017.
Still, Witter won’t vanish from MU’s plans.
“You know exactly what you’re going to get (from Witter),” Heupel said. “… I trust him that he knows his job, and I trust that he’s going to go out and compete the way that we want to compete. That’s why he’s going to continue to have a huge role in what we’re doing.”