Missouri’s top two running backs left the Tigers’ spring scrimmage Saturday at Memorial Stadium with injuries, but third-string running back Morgan Steward made sure it didn’t matter.
Steward, a sophomore from Staley High School, powered the Missouri offense to victory with 15 carries for 130 yards and three touchdowns, including a 58-yard scamper during a two-minute drill on the scrimmage’s final play.
“Morgan had a great day,” junior center Evan Boehm said. “It’s kind of what I saw in that 76-70 overtime against Staley our senior year — no hard feelings there at all. But taking on the ones and the two reps, getting very little break and then coming out and doing the things he’s doing and seeing how fast he can break it …”
It was impressive.
Certainly, it was also welcome for Steward, who endured a redshirt season in 2012 and was used sparingly in 2013. He finished with 21 carries for 84 yards with a touchdown last season.
“It was really hard, but I’m glad I’m in a position to step up now for the team,” said Steward, who clocked a 4.35 40-yard dash this spring. “I’ve got to keep focused, but we’re still a long way from the season. But it’s very exciting to see everything I’ve been working for on the horizon. It’s been two years I’ve worked for this, so I’ve got to take advantage of it.”
Steward did precisely that Saturday.
Missouri’s offense had a little trouble getting untracked early in the scrimmage. Drives by sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk and fourth-string quarterback Trent Hosick, who was Steward’s teammate at Staley, netted field goals.
The Tigers didn’t find the end zone until midway through the scrimmage when Steward rumbled in on a 5-yard run.
Getting the bulk of the work during the final hour with senior Marcus Murphy and junior Russell Hansbrough sidelined, Steward found the end zone again on a 20-yard pinball run up the gut.
“Morgan Steward obviously is a real talent,” Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. “He’s just like the other guys. We’ve been real fortunate to have some difference-makers with the football. … He’s really fast and he’s also the biggest one (of the top three running backs). He’s about 205 pounds and the other ones are about 190.”
As the rest of the Tigers’ offense swarmed Steward in the end zone after his scrimmage-ending touchdown, that size was a factor again when Boehm and junior right tackle Connor McGovern hoisted him into the air.
“He’s a bigger running back, so it’s going to take two of us this year to lift Morgan up when scores,” Boehm said.
Mauk finished the scrimmage 14 of 22 for 164 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown to senior Darrius White in the front corner of the end zone. White outleapt cornerback John Gibson and safety Ian Simon for the score.
Mauk’s backup, Lee’s Summit graduate Corbin Berkstresser, completed 11 of 15 passes for 123 yards, including a 31-yard bomb for a touchdown to senior Gavin Otte. Otte finished with a scrimmage-best five catches for 76 yards.
“I don’t like to be in white jerseys ever, because that means you lost,” said junior defensive end Shane Ray, who recorded a sack. “But the offense did a great job today and you’ve got to take your hat off to those guys. They’ve been working hard competing with us each day.”
Senior Markus Golden finished with two sacks and a fumble recovery, while redshirt freshman Eddie Serrano — wearing Michael Sam’s old number, 52 — had a sack and three batted passes.