Don’t ask Oklahoma graduate-student transfer Alex Ross to be the savior for Missouri’s moribund rushing attack.
The Tigers ranked near the Football Bowl Subdivision cellar last season in average rushing yards, yards per carry and rushing touchdowns.
Ross, a graduate of Jenks (Okla.) High, is perhaps the prize stallion in a remade backfield, but he’s not approaching the season like he’s being asked to rescue Mizzou.
“I didn’t do much running-wise last year either,” said Ross, who finished with 32 carries for 172 yards and a touchdown with the Sooners as a junior. “We’re all just working hard. Ain’t nobody a savior.”
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Still, it’s clear that Ross — along with the summer additions of Nate Strong, an East St. Louis grad and Hinds (Miss.) Community College transfer, and Little Rock (Ark.) Christian freshman Damarea Crockett — represent a sea change for the Tigers.
“You’ve got a lot more competition, a lot more depth (compared to the spring), but you want to see some guys … start separating themselves,” new offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. “The competition, without a doubt, is going to force everybody to play at a higher level.”
Heupel was Oklahoma’s co-offensive coordinator for the first three seasons of Ross’ career there, including a redshirt campaign in 2012.
“He’s got a unique skill set compared to the guys that were here on campus already just in physical size,” Heupel said. “He’s a different pace of back than a 5-(foot)-9 guy — not better or worse, just a different pace of back.”
When Ross, who’s listed at 6-feet-1 and 200 pounds, decided to leave his home-state Sooners and play his final season elsewhere, it was a no-brainer for Missouri to go after him.
“He’s played at a high level and my experiences with him — just knowing who and what he is, his work ethic, his toughness and all those things — made it an easy decision for us to try and get him inside of our program,” Heupel said.
That relationship with Heupel also made the Tigers an easy sell for Ross.
“Coach Heupel is a real good guy and a great coach,” Ross said. “I did well with him a long time ago and I have one more year. … That was a lot of the reason.”
During Heupel’s last season at Oklahoma in 2014, Ross finished with 88 carries for 595 yards and four touchdowns as a sophomore — all high-water marks for his college career.
At Iowa State that season, he rushed 13 times for a career-best 144 yards in a 59-14 win.
Ross — Tigers fans surely will be pleased to know — posted a career-high 14 carries for 103 yards in a 62-7 win at Kansas last season, but he didn’t have more than six carries in any other game and didn’t receive any handoffs in seven of the Sooners’ 13 games last season.
During three seasons at Oklahoma, Ross only totaled 123 carries for 786 yards and five touchdowns, spending the last two seasons as Samaje Perine’s backup and also finding himself behind freshman Joe Mixon on the depth chart last season.
He’s never been a workhorse at the college level.
Asked if Ross can handle a substantially greater workload, Heupel said, “Absolutely, he got stuck in a unique situation behind some special players.”
Now, the Tigers hope he can fulfill his potential and emerge as a special player in his own right.
“There are a number of guys that caught my eye a little bit,” first-year head coach Barry Odom said Thursday, assessing the Tigers’ first official practice of the 2016 season, “and he was one of them. … He’s got a tremendous inner drive to be successful. That stands out and is pretty easy to see.”