University of Missouri

Missouri’s offense had no problem passing at Wyoming. Can it get the run game going?

Ryan Walters on Mizzou’s defense

Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters talks about the defense after a tough outing at Wyoming.
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Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters talks about the defense after a tough outing at Wyoming.

Throughout the offseason, all the talk about Missouri centered around the Tigers offense and how it would utilize former Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant and his dual-threat ability.

So it was a surprise when Missouri threw for 423 yards, more than it had in any game in 2018.

“I don’t think anyone would have expected that,” said Derek Dooley, MU’s offensive coordinator. “He got knocked for he couldn’t throw the ball. We were the opposite. Now, we have to get the quarterback run thing going.”

Dooley alluded to the bigger issue with Missouri’s offense going into Saturday’s home opener against West Virginia: The Tigers ran for just 114 yards at Wyoming despite returning tailbacks Larry Rountree and Tyler Badie along with the addition of Bryant.

Late in the second quarter, Rountree had a costly fumble at the goal line that was nearly returned for a touchdown and he didn’t play much in the second half because Badie was helping MU move the chains.

Badie rushed for 53 yards while Rountree rushed for 41 and MU only averaged 2.7 yards per carry. Dooley said the offense aims to gain at least 4.5 yards per carry in a game.

“It certainly didn’t meet the standard that we want,” Dooley said.

Dooley said the decision to play Badie over Rountree also stemmed from Badie’s pass-catching ability, which translated to seven catches for 49 yards against Wyoming. Center Trystan Colon-Castillo said Badie regularly talks in practice about modeling himself after Saints running back Alvin Kamara, who is one of the NFL’s better receiving tailbacks.

“I thought overall he was our most physical back,” said Cornell Ford, MU’s running backs coach. “He made some stuff happen. I think he can play a lot better, but the guys that were out there, he was the best one.”

Missouri didn’t use tailbacks Anthony Watkins and Simi Bakare against Wyoming, which Odom said was because of how the game went. A true freshman, Watkins is physically ready to play but Odom said MU needs to see more out of him in practice before deciding whether to burn his redshirt.

Gauging MU’s chances at a turnaround against West Virginia are tough. Mountaineers coach Neal Brown, who is in his first year, had a run defense at Troy that ranked in the nation’s top-30 in 2018. In 2018 the Mountaineers ranked in the nation’s top-50 against the run. West Virginia gave up 172 yards rushing in its season opener to James Madison, but it’s too early in the season to gauge how strong the Mountaineers will be at stopping the run.

Odom said MU has prepped for West Virginia by watching film on Brown’s teams from Troy, which he said showed a similar scheme to what WVU did against JMU. While it’s tough to tell how MU will do against the run, both Odom and Dooley are optimistic that Rountree will play better than he did on Saturday.

Dooley’s more pressing concern is getting Bryant’s run game to blossom, after the 6-foot-3 quarterback rushed for just 20 yards in his MU debut. Bryant had a costly fumble and interception in his MU debut, but still set a career-high in passing yards.

“You can’t take away two plays,” Dooley said. “He was exceptional in some ways. Now, we have to get the quarterback run thing going.”

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Alex Schiffer has been covering the Missouri Tigers for The Star since October 2017. He came in second place for magazine-length feature writing by the U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association in 2018 and graduated from Mizzou in 2017.