COLUMBIA, Mo. – Since Missouri’s bye week – and particularly over its four-game win streak – the Tigers’ offense has gone through a number of evolutions. Drew Lock called its current configuration a “three-headed monster.”
It’s hard to disagree with him. Missouri established a devastating vertical passing game with Emanuel Hall, J’Mon Moore and Johnathon Johnson in games against Kentucky and Georgia. Albert Okwuegbunam and the tight ends became juggernauts over the middle against Idaho and Connecticut.
Against Florida, the Tigers’ run game blossomed. Missouri ran 46 times, more than it has in any other game this year, for 227 yards and three touchdowns.
Attacking the Gators on the ground was the plan from the outset.
“We definitely felt like we needed balance,” offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said Monday. “We had to come at them in the run game. They can get after the quarterback.”
Missouri’s tailback duo of Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III each rushed for 83 yards. Rountree had three touchdowns.
“It was as physical as our backs have probably played since I’ve been here,” Heupel said, “Pushing the pile, turning a 3-yard gain into 5 and 7 — those things play dividends.”
Drew Lock even got in on the action, rushing seven times for 35 yards. He entered the game with 10 rushing yards through the season’s first seven games.
That, too, was intentional. Heupel said Missouri added some read plays this week that would get Lock up the field.
Witter’s effort Saturday made him the Tigers’ leading rusher on the season with 92 carries for 504 yards and three scores. He surpassed Damarea Crockett, who has 481 yards on 80 carries but hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury against Georgia on Oct. 14.
The senior from Tampa is on target to have his best season this year. He’s averaging 5.5 yards per carry, nearly a full yard more than he averaged last year (4.6).
Heupel said that Witter’s offseason shoulder surgery helped him get to a new level this year.
“He had a full offseason, a full summer of getting in the weight room, getting healthy, getting stronger, just being confident,” Heupel said. “I think the previous couple years he was dealing with a serious shoulder injury that he was tough enough to play through, but that wears on you and changes the way you play a little bit.”
There’s no update on when Crockett will return, but it doesn’t look like it will be this week. Odom said Monday that Crockett wasn’t going to participate in Tuesday’s practice and that he doesn’t anticipate him playing against Tennessee.
Last season, Crockett exploded against Tennessee for 225 rushing yards on on 24 carries, setting a single-game record for yards by a freshman.
Crockett would certainly be a boon against the Volunteers, which enter Saturday’s game as the Southeastern Conference’s best pass defense but allow 237 rushing yards per game.
But Witter and Rountree’s combined success against a solid Florida run defense Saturday is an indicator that the Tigers don’t need Crockett to get going on the ground.
“They’ve done well up to this point,” Odom said of the two tailbacks. “We’ve got to be able to run the football. You’ve got to be able to do that in November.”
SHERRILS HONORED: Tigers safety Anthony Sherrils was named the SEC’s co-defensive player of the week after recording six tackles (five solo), a fumble recovery and an interception against Florida.
It’s the first time a Missouri defensive player has received the honor since Marcell Frazier got the award last year against Arkansas.
Sherrils shared the award with Alabama’s Ronnie Harrison, who had six tackles, a half sack and an interception against LSU.