October 20, 2009

Tuesday Notebook: Ground game still stuck

Missouri held its seventh media day of the 2009 season on Monday. For the seventh consecutive Monday, Gary Pinkel was asked a variety of questions about his running game. But no matter how they were phrased, the questions amounted to this: "Can you run the ball better?" or "Do you need to run the ball more?"

"I think we should run the football more, probably," Pinkel said. "Probably should. But we also kind of look at what's presented to us and make those decisions accordingly."

It was the decisions that had some Missouri fans scratching their heads (and many more pounding their keyboards) on Saturday night. After running the ball 12 times for 65 yards in the first half against Oklahoma State, Derrick Washington and De'Vion Moore combined for just 15 yards on five carries after the break. If you take away a 15-yard run by Moore late in the game, the Tigers' top two backs had four carries and didn't gain a yard.

"Looking back, like to have got more out of the run game and done more of the run game last week," offensive coordinator David Yost said. "That's just kind of how it happened, but definitely that's a way to take pressure off the quarterback and we have guys that we want to use in Derrick and De'Vion and Kendial (Lawrence)."

But the Tigers certainly didn't use them much last week. As a team, Missouri ran the ball just 25 times. Blaine Gabbert threw it 44, despite a sprained ankle that has clearly limited his effectiveness for the last two weeks. The week before was more balanced, but Mizzou still threw 43 passes versus 35 runs in a downpour against Nebraska. In fact, Missouri has become increasingly imbalanced through the season. In the first three games, the Tigers ran the ball more than they threw. In the last three, the opposite has been true, with the ratio of runs to passes decreasing each week.

"We're a pass-first offense, but we've got to run the ball to establish the pass," Washington said. "To get the pass open, to bring more people in the box, to open things up for Blaine. Until we do that, it's going to be a long season."

This is hardly the easiest of weeks for Missouri to recommit to the run game. The Texas Longhorns bring the nation's number one rush defense to Columbia. The Horns are giving up 35.8 yards per game on the ground. For some perspective, Texas has surrendered fewer rushing yards in six games than Missouri gave up to Nevada. Opponents are averaging 1.3 yards per carry against the Texas defense, a mark that is 0.71 yards per carry better than the national runner-up.

"It's real crazy. Their defensive line is so big, strong and fast," Washington said. "We haven't had anything really going so far this year yet, but I think this is the perfect game to do so."

"You're aware of who you're playing," Pinkel said. "You've got to hopefully block well and run the ball well and gameplan well. But there's no question about it, you're playing one of the best defenses in the nation. That's the challenge."

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