It took nearly three quarters for the Missouri run game to find its footing Saturday against Toledo, which obviously is a cause for concern.
After all, if the Tigers struggle to get going on the ground against a Mid-American Conference opponent, how much more difficult will the task be against Southeastern Conference competition?
The raw numbers looked fine after Missouri finished with 172 yards rushing, but a deeper analysis paints a less flattering picture.
The Tigers averaged 3.7 yards per carry in 47 attempts and had 22 carries for 38 yards before quarterback James Franklin took control on the final drive of the third quarter.
“Everything’s a concern,” coach Gary Pinkel said. “I think they did some good things to try and take away some of our running game.”
Certainly, Toledo deserves some credit. The Rockets stacked the box early against Missouri and dared Franklin to throw.
“You still want to run the ball, but they’re sitting there saying, ‘Throw it. We’re going to do everything we can to get an extra guy in there and outnumber you,’” Pinkel said. “That’s what they did. The first couple drives, we made throws.”
The trouble was that, after the Tigers bolted to a 10-3 lead, the Rockets found ways to pressure Franklin and the offense fell into a rut.
Franklin was sacked twice on the last drive of the first quarter, threw an interception on the third play of the second quarter and his backup, redshirt freshman Maty Mauk, was sacked twice on a drive early in the second quarter.
Without a power running game to wear down Toledo, the Rockets took advantage of excellent field position and crept back into the game with two field goals, drawing within 10-9.
“It hurts as an offensive lineman to see that our running game wasn’t where it was supposed to be,” sophomore center Evan Boehm said.
It also proved to be a valuable learning experience for the Tigers’ offensive line.
“They were throwing a lot of stuff that we hadn’t seen, and we knew coming into the game we were going to see a lot of that,” Boehm said. “It’s all a matter of getting on the sideline and figuring out what we need to do.”
Toledo created some confusion with the different looks, but the Rockets also provided a learning opportunity for Boehm, guards Max Copeland and Connor McGovern, and tackles Justin Britt and Mitch Morse.
“The coaches do a great job with the whiteboard on the sideline, saying, ‘Here’s what they’re doing, and here’s what needs to happen,’” Boehm said. “We get it corrected fast. Sometimes, we’ve got to re-correct the corrections.”
Eventually, those adjustments paid dividends.
In the fourth quarter, the Tigers racked up 86 yards in 17 carries, a much more respectable 5.1 yards per rush, including a nine-play drive that devoured the final 5:30 and iced the victory.
Showing that with more consistency will be key as the season progresses.
“The last 6 minutes, it’s all on us,” Boehm said. “We’ve got to get the first downs. We’ve got to run the ball. They knew we were running the ball. Everybody in that stadium knew we were running the ball. It’s how much and how bad do you want it?”