With a combined 91 points in its first two games, Missouri ranks fourth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring. Quarterback Drew Lock has played like an NFL prospect, and receiver Emanuel Hall has given his defenders fits.
But one facet of the Tigers’ attack has yet to flourish: the run game. Their offensive linemen put that on themselves.
“It’s a struggle at this point,” senior tackle Paul Adams said. “Call it as it is.”
Missouri rushers enter the weekend averaging 3.9 yards per carry, which ranks 87th out of 130 FBS programs, and the Tigers have yet to face a Power 5 defense.
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Adams, a team captain, said Tuesday that the linemen had a physical practice that morning, and the unit focused on the run. The senior said the line needs to hold their blocks longer and open bigger holes for the Missouri running backs.
“We obviously had some issues the past two weeks with running the ball, and our guys on the outside — E-man (Emanuel Hall), Drew, everybody around them — have really bailed us out,” Adams said. “I’m very thankful for that, but hopefully this week we change it.”
On Saturday, Missouri takes on Purdue, which has kept opponents to 117.5 rushing yards per game. The Boilermakers stomped the Tigers last season, winning 35-3 in Columbia. Missouri ran for only 70 yards.
All five of the Tigers’ starting offensive linemen from 2017 are still on the team. They’ve adjusted to a new offensive coordinator (Derek Dooley) and offensive line coach (Brad Davis) after Josh Heupel and Glen Elarbee left Missouri for Central Florida.
Because of the faster pace of Josh Heupel’s offense, opposing defenses often scrambled at the line of scrimmage, and the offensive line had fewer blocking responsibilities. The line allowed the fewest tackles for loss in the nation last season and the fifth-fewest sacks. Despite the different systems, Adams said the coaching changes didn’t prompt the running struggles; the play calls have been good, but the linemen haven’t finished their blocks.
Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree serve as the Tigers’ two main running backs. Both have rushed for at least 700 yards in a season, but neither has broken a run of more than 15 yards this year.
“That’s not a good look on us,” left guard Kevin Pendleton said. “That’s not a good look on Coach Davis. We’ve put in too much work since Coach Davis got here in January to come out here and have our backs not be able to get big runs and explosive runs.”
While the offensive line has not been pleased with its run blocking, their pass protection has been strong. They have yet to allow a sack, and offensive coordinator Derek Dooley said they have played well.
“I’ve been staying up, so that’s always cool and fun,” Lock said.
With a well-protected pocket, Lock has thrown for 687 yards and eight touchdowns. The Tigers’ daunting air capabilities could lead opposing defenses to focus more on stopping the pass, which might provide openings for Missouri’s ground game.
Adams would be fine with that. He knows the running backs are capable when the linemen to do their job.