University of Missouri

Could Missouri’s run game give No. 1 Alabama some trouble on Saturday?

Aside from Drew Lock, Missouri’s run game entered the season with high expectations, given the return of Damarea Crockett and Larry Rountree III.

But the Tigers’ tailbacks did little to back up the noise so far this season — until Saturday.

The backfield was a major reason why Missouri had a chance to win before losing 37-35 at South Carolina. Crockett rushed for a season-high 154 yards that was part of a Missouri ground game that ran for a season-high 286.

“It’s a three-headed monster,” offensive lineman Paul Adams said. “They all bring something different to the table. Sometimes we don’t have the perfect hole for them and they find a way to get those six yards into 16.”

Aside from Crockett, sophomore Larry Rountree had 90 yards rushing, while true freshman Tyler Badie ran for 45. All three tailbacks were major parts of Missouri drives and delivered when a monsoon hit in the third quarter, which made offensive coordinator Derek Dooley keep the ball out of the air.

Before South Carolina, the Tigers had yet to have two of three running backs rush for 90 or more yards. In its win over Purdue, Missouri rushed for 233 yards, with Rountree’s 168 yards accounting for most of the total. Crockett only had 17 yards rushing against the Boilermakers while Badie ran for 61.

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Running backs coach Cornell Ford said his mindset going into the season was to split carries between Crockett and Rountree with Badie playing mop-up duty. Badie’s action in the first few games mainly came off specifically designed plays. But as Badie showed he was capable of a heavier load, Ford decided to increase his carries.

After Rountree and Crockett each scored a first-half touchdown against the Gamecocks, Ford told them at halftime that they could be doing more.

“That’s the emphasis,” Ford said. “We’re trying to get all of them to play. Make it hard for me to say, ‘One of you has to sit out.’ I thought Saturday was about 85 percent of what we’re capable of. I told them at halftime there’s a lot of yards being left out there.”

Crockett’s breakout game on Saturday was encouraging to Ford. The 5-foot-11 tailback said that he isn’t used to splitting carries with two other players and that it took some time to adjust to the rotation. He said the key to replicating Saturday’s performance is the entire unit starting getting off to better starts.

“I think he’s done a better job of seeing and hitting his holes and his cuts,” Ford said of Crockett. “For whatever reason he was a little slow but he’s starting to hit his groove. I knew he would, it just takes a while.”

Odom said Missouri’s run game has allowed its average time of possession to increase roughly eight minutes from last season. New offensive coordinator Derek Dooley’s offense operates slower than his predecessor Josh Heupel’s attack, which also aides that statistic.

Alabama’s rushing defense ranks No. 49 nationally, which is low considering the Tide are the nation’s top team. Missouri’s run game could be a factor in a game where the Tigers have very few advantages.

That’s fine with Crockett.

“My mom probably doesn’t think we’re going to win this game,” he said. “Your mom probably doesn’t think we’re going to win this game. As a team, we can’t let the outside noise get in.”

Alex Schiffer

Alex Schiffer covers University of Missouri athletics for The Star.