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Mizzou's early deficits costing Rountree chances

Mizzou, LSU consider contingencies for Saturday's game because of hurricane bearing down on Gulf

By Dave Matter
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Missouri running back Larry Rountree III (34) reaches for extra yardage in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game at Tennessee. Tigers coach Eli Drinkwitz said his plan is to get the senior more carries in upcoming games after early deficits limited his carries in losses to No. 2 Alabama and No. 21 Tennessee.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – As he looked down at the box score two Saturdays ago, Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz couldn't hide his regret.

Alabama just handed the Tigers a 38-19 defeat, but hidden in the rubble of all those Crimson Tide touchdowns was an efficient performance from Mizzou running back Larry Rountree III.

"I got to get him some more runs," Drinkwitz said after the loss. "He's a fighter. That's the number one thing. He's a fighter. He runs tough. He runs physical. It means the world to him. I've got to do a better job feeding him."

Rountree did it again Saturday at Tennessee, where, just like the Alabama game, circumstances beyond the senior captain's control limited his carries – and his impact. In both games he made the most of his chances.

Two weeks into the season and heading into Saturday's game at No. 17 Louisiana State, Rountree ranks fourth among Southeastern Conference running backs in rushing with 151 yards on 32 carries. That puts him 55 yards behind Devin West for fourth place all-time on Mizzou's rushing list.

Just imagine his production if the Tigers didn't fall behind so quickly in games. Early deficits kept Mizzou from establishing the running game early against Alabama and Tennessee, depriving the team's most established playmaker chances to do what he does best.

Against Alabama, the Tigers trailed 21-0 before Rountree got his fourth carry of the game. Saturday in Knoxville, Tennessee, he touched the ball just twice in the first quarter. The Volunteers led 14-0 before MU's third series of the game in the second quarter.

For the season, only two of Rountree's 32 carries have come in the fourth quarter. The Tigers all but ditched the running game late against Alabama. Mizzou's comeback at Tennessee dried up in the fourth quarter with Connor Bazelak's interception inside Vols territory.

In both games, Drinkwitz fed Rountree six times on first down for a combined 74 yards. That's a healthy 6.2 yards per carry, though 28 came on one run Saturday.

Drinkwitz's revolving door at quarterback underscores Rountree's value to the Mizzou offense. Shawn Robinson was the choice to run the offense against Alabama, but he sputtered early at Tennessee and gave way to Bazelak after the first quarter. Going forward, whether Drinkwitz sticks with Bazelak or considers a rotation, Rountree can be the constant force in the backfield.

"Honestly, my mindset going out there regardless of who we play, no matter what the circumstances are, whenever I get the ball I run my butt off for the team and try to get as much positive yards as possible," he said last week. "I just run hard for my teammates."

A week ago, Rountree blamed himself for not converting a fourth-and-2 option pitch when Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses dragged him down near the line of scrimmage, later saying he should never be tackled by one defender. At Tennessee, 54 of his 84 yards came after contact, according to Pro Football Focus' postgame analysis. Through two weeks, among SEC running backs with 30 carries, Rountree has PFF's fourth-highest rushing grade at 69.9 percent.

"I'm glad (Drinkwitz) is confident I can run the ball," Rountree said. "It makes me feel that he cares that I got the best of the (carries). It wasn't more of 'Larry doesn't really run that hard.' I always try to run my hardest every game we play. But it makes me feel good, it makes me understand that I got a load that I got to carry when I have the ball."

Rountree enters Saturday's game with 2,899 rushing yards with a good chance to eclipse West, the former All-American who sits in fourth place with 2,954 yards.

MU, LSU MONITORING STORM: Missouri athletics department officials have continued to discuss this weekend's threatening weather forecast for the Gulf Coast with their counterparts at LSU, but as of Tuesday there was no change in venue for Saturday's Mizzou-LSU game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, an MU spokesman confirmed.

Mizzou (0-2) is scheduled to play at LSU's Tiger Stadium at 8 p.m. on Saturday on ESPN. LSU (1-1), ranked No. 17 and the defending national champion, was one of two Western Division teams added to Mizzou's schedule when the SEC adopted a 10-game conference-only format.

Tropical Storm Delta was classified as a Category 4 hurricane on Tuesday and could make landfall in the Gulf states by Friday, the National Hurricane Center posted in a news advisory.

"We are closely monitoring Hurricane Delta and are in close communication with SEC and University of Missouri Athletics officials on contingency plans should they become necessary," LSU said in a statement released Tuesday. "At this time, it is too early to make a determination on any impact the storm may have on Saturday’s football game against Missouri. The game remains scheduled for 8 p.m. CT on Saturday in Tiger Stadium. We will continue to update our fans throughout the week as more information becomes available." 

Should Mizzou and LSU be unable to play Saturday's game in Baton Rouge, the schools could move the game to Columbia. As of Tuesday, the schools had not discussed any potential neutral-site locations, a source confirmed.

Mizzou and LSU have the same bye week this season, Nov. 7, but those open dates were set to give teams schedule flexibility in case of COVID-19 outbreaks.