Missouri coach Gary Pinkel made a promise to sophomore defensive tackle Harold Brantley in mid-December based on the success of the fake punt the Tigers installed for the Citrus Bowl.
“If that works,” Pinkel said, “then you’re going to be starting in our short-yardage offense next year.”
Brantley locked eyes with Pinkel and said, “Coach, that’s going to happen.”
Early in the second quarter, Pinkel pulled the trigger, and Brantley responded with a 19-yard run.
“Coach (Alex) Grinch drew me up a direct snap, where I would have the two other men in the shield blocking for me and I basically get to pick anywhere I want to go and go with what’s open,” Brantley said. “They made a couple good blocks, and I was able to break it for a couple yards.”
It’s the third fake punt he’s run in the last two seasons, including a 26-yard run at Mississippi last year and a 10-yard run against Indiana this year.
Brantley has picked up a first down each time and averages 18.3 yards per carry. He’s looking forward to extra duty next season.
“Every time I can get my hands on the ball, I’m going to take the opportunity,” Brantley said. “You can ask coach Pinkel, I’m always in his ear, like a gnat, begging for the ball — ‘Coach, third and 1, I can get it for you. Throw me in there.’ Anytime I can get the ball in my hands, it feels amazing.”
Brantley joked — well, half-joked — that he hopes to become a two-way player next season.
He was one of four players Missouri submitted for an early-entry evaluation from the NFL along with Shane Ray, Evan Boehm and Connor McGovern, but Brantley said he expects to remain with the Tigers.
▪ For the first time since 2008, Missouri had a 1,000-yard rusher (junior Russell Hansbrough) and a 1,000-yard receiver (senior Bud Sasser) in the same season.
Hansbrough finished with 15 carries for 114 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown, against Minnesota, giving him 1,084 yards rushing on the season.
Henry Josey was the last Tigers running back to bust 1,000 yards in 2013.
Sasser led Missouri with seven catches, 68 yards and two touchdowns in the Citrus Bowl and wound up with 1,003 yards receiving thanks to a 7-yard touchdown reception with 4:51 remaining.
He is the first 1,000-yard receiver at MU since T.J. Moe in 2010.
Derrick Washington rushed for 1,036 yards, and Jeremy Maclin had 102 catches for 1,260 yards in 2008.
▪ Missouri junior defensive end Shane Ray walked into his postgame media session with a boot on his right foot, but he also wore a smile.
It’s only a minor toe strain, he said, but it was very painful “when you push off on your toe with everything you do.”
Ray suffered the injury in the first quarter and subbed out for a few plays.
“I got caught under a pile making a tackle,” he said. “My big toe got popped, hyperextended. I couldn’t really put any pressure on it, so I had to play through it at first and get some treatment at halftime. But I was able to come back strong and finish.”
Ray said he got the taped and popped a couple ibuprofen at halftime.
“I’s a tough guy, so I’m not going to let pain hold me back,” he said. “I’m going to play through it.”