Tigers' three-man approach working wonders in backfield
SEP 29, 2013 12:25a ET
He was pleasantly surprised.
"I kind of looked it up after the game," the first-year offensive coordinator said Saturday night. "I didn't think we had that many yards rushing. I think we're running the ball pretty well."
There is this saying about quarterbacks that tells us a team that plays two really doesn't have one -- at least not one worth much. But that isn't necessarily the case when it comes to players who line up behind the passer.
Especially not in Henson's system.
Missouri, which improved to 4-0 with a comeback 41-19 win against Arkansas State on Saturday, owes a decent chunk of its success to a three-prong rushing attack formed by redshirt juniors Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy and sophomore Russell Hansbrough.
"You know, it's coming to be a real group thing," Murphy said after he ran six times for 45 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas State.
Hansbrough added eight carries for 96 yards, 42 of which came on one rumble. Josey, who also scored, totaled 52. Together the group averaged 9.4 yards every time the ball hit their hands.
"We can't be too selfish back there," Hansbrough said. "As long as someone is scoring, someone is getting the yards and someone is getting the job done, it's cool with us."
Throw in Missouri quarterback James Franklin's 33 rushing yards and the Tigers finished Saturday night with 239 yards on the ground. That brings Missouri's season total to 1,049. For some context, the Tigers compiled just 1,662 yards in 12 games last year.
"We're rushing the football well right now," Henson said when the numbers were mentioned.
But this isn't just a coincidence. Before the season started, Henson said he favored running downfield instead of side to side. He refreshed the playbook with the kinds of calls Missouri left guard Max Copeland says offensive linemen "like to run and understand." The running backs have embraced the shift.
"Our coach teaches us north and south as opposed to going east and west," Murphy said. "It's basically getting the tough yards. Instead of running outside, we can run inside. Guys can pick up their blocks, and we can feed off that and execute as an offense. The north and south running, it's going pretty good."
At its best, Missouri's offense is one hand helping the other. The pass frees up the run, and the run returns the favor. But can it continue as the Tigers move on from non-conference competition to eight games against Southeastern Conference opponents?
Three running backs think so.
"We feel like all three of those guys are interchangeable," Henson said. "They've all proven through the first four games, that if they get the ball in their hands they can do explosive things. We just feel like the best approach, for the longevity of the season, is the rotation."
Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred) or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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