In reviewing the 2013 season, ShowMeMizzou.com takes a look at the tailback position.
A look at Missouri’s tailback position is also a look at Missouri’s running game, which in 2013 was outstanding. The Tigers ranked 16th nationally, and 2nd in the SEC, in rushing, at 237.9 yards/game. As a team in 2013, Missouri averaged 5.7 yards/rushing attempt. Of course, the credit for that kind of excellence rushing the football has to be spread around, as the entire offense contributed to that level of proficiency in the run game. So, after spreading praise around to the outstanding job done by the offensive line, and the excellent run-blocking of Missouri’s receivers, as well as the contribution in the run game of Missouri’s QBs, the focus of this essay naturally shifts to the guys who did most of the damage toting the rock.
In 2013, Missouri utilized a three-man rotation at the TB position, and those three tailbacks accounted for 74% of Missouri’s rushing yardage. The tailback triumvirate of junior Henry Josey, sophomore Russell Hansbrough, and junior Marcus Murphy combined to rush for 2452 yards and 29 TDs on 380 carries (6.5 yards/carry).
Josey was the starter and the star, with 1166 yards and 16 TDs on 174 carries (6.7 yards/carry), as he concluded his Missouri career with the go-ahead TD in the Cotton Bowl, followed by the announcement that he will forego his final year of eligibility and make himself available in this year’s NFL Draft. Josey’s bounce-back story has been well-documented. He finished his Missouri career with 2771 yards and 30 TDs on 395 carries (7.0 yards/carry), which ranks him 5th among Missouri’s career rushing leaders. In 2013, Josey totaled four 100-yard rushing games. In addition, he finished the season with 10 receptions for 65 yards and 1 TD, and he was proficient in blitz pick-up.
In reviewing the 2013 season, Missouri’s rushing game reached its pinnacle in the final 8:08 at Ole Miss, in a game that Missouri had to win, and which the Tigers led 24-10 when Mizzou took the field in the shadow of their own goal post, and ran the football 13 straight times for 70 yards on the ground, to flip the field and run out the clock. All three of Missouri’s TBs carried the football during that clinching drive that sent the Rebel faithful scurrying for the exits. To be able to convert first downs running the football, and to run out the clock on the road against a top 25 team, when everybody in the stadium knew the Tigers were running it, was a testimony to the proficiency of the Missouri ground game.
Hansbrough was almost always the next man in for Missouri’s three-man TB rotation. He was banged up during the middle of the season, but he played in all 14 games and finished the season with 114 carries for 685 yards and 4 TDs (6.0 yards/carry) on the ground, and with 2 receptions for 11 yards.
One interesting aspect of Missouri’s three-man TB rotation is that they were all very similar in terms of what they each bring to the field. Offensive Coordinator Josh Henson indicated that he didn’t have to consider which back was in the game when he called plays, since all three players were very similar. Running backs coach Brian Jones was the one who handled the in-game substitutions.
On the season, Murphy had 92 carries from the line of scrimmage for 601 yards and 9 TDs (6.5 yards/carry) on the ground, in addition to 11 receptions for 79 yards and 1 TD. As Mizzou’s primary return man, the multi-purpose back also returned 21 punts for 146 yards (7.0 yards/punt return) and 27 kick-offs for 599 yards (22.2 yards/kick return). There were times when Coach Jones rode Murphy as the hot hand in the second half of games, such as during that 8-minute closing drive at Ole Miss, when Murphy did the bulk of the work. Murphy really expanded his role in 2013, as he became a tough inside runner, in addition to being an elusive play maker on the edge and in the passing and return game.
Coach Pinkel has often utilized a committee approach at the TB position during his time at Missouri. And, the Tiger have had some very good duos, trios, or quartets of backs. But in 2013, this trio remained relatively healthy, played in every game, and played a major role in the greatest season in school history.
Four other players from the TB position saw action in 2013. Red-shirt freshman Morgan Steward played in 12 games for the Tigers, as he was a regular on special teams, where he made 4 tackles and forced a fumble. He also carried the football 21 times for 84 yards and 1 TD. Steward showed considerable promise, and he came on near mid-season. He was doing a good job of running the football in the second half of the season, when some of Missouri’s leading backs were banged up. But a fumble at Kentucky was his final carry of the season.
Junior Greg White also played 12 games during 2013, primarily on special teams, and he finished with 9 carries for 36 yards.