Maybe "poor" is a bad choice in wording (I ran out of space for my headline). But Missouri's running game has hardly been good this year.
Going into the season, many people, including me, thought that the 2009 offensive line would be the best in Gary Pinkel's tenure in Columbia.
With three returning starters from a good unit, plus sophomores Austin Wuebbels and man-child Dan Hoch stepping in following extensive action last season behind the previous starters, I thought this line wouldn't miss a beat after being largely excellent in 2008.
But so far, I've been very wrong.
Young tackles Elvis Fisher and Hoch have been mostly ineffective, especially when dealing with speed rushers. The interior of the offensive line has failed to get any sort of consistent push for the running game, leading to many negative gains and disappointing numbers, especially after Derrick Washington exploded onto the scene last year as a true sophomore.
BUT, D-Wash is not to blame. That's for sure.
First off, the numbers aren't that bad. Sure, they are a tad bit deceiving—aided by a couple of fluke, big gains—but Washington is still averaging 4.4 yards per carry with a couple of touchdowns. Those numbers aren't great, but they're respectable.
In addition, check the footage. D-Wash is breaking at least one tackle per play. He's never been the fastest back, but when there's a hole, he's still getting through it pretty well. There just haven't been many holes.
Missouri's opponents haven't always helped. They have typically sent numerous extra defenders to the line in effort to make first-year starter Blaine Gabbert beat them (something that definitely hasn't worked).
Anybody calling for Washington's head as the starter at Mizzou is crazy.
Literally. Kendial Lawrence and Devion Moore are both smaller backs that have never carried the full-time load as a starter. Plus, it's not like their numbers are any better. Washington is dependable and an above-average blocker.
The buzz around campus has grown loud enough to reach D-Wash's ears—as he tweeted over the weekend that it was rough to hear your own fans calling for your job—but he has only stay motivated.
Although the running game's issues certainly don't fall solely on him, Washington does need to improve. Maybe the less faithful fans will light a fire under him.
Looking forward, the running game must be better in conference play.
Nebraska is looming in a primetime showdown next week. The Huskers have been respectable against the run at 44th in the country in yards/game, and they have a beast on the interior of their line in Ndamukong Suh. If Mizzou can't get a good push off their line, it won't be D-Wash's fault if the running game again struggles.
Tiger fans should appreciate what they have. Washington is a junior who has already rushed for 1,000 yards in a season and scored over 20 touchdowns. Having that kind of talent is an asset few schools can boast.
If he can't get it done, there have got to be more reasons to blame than just him.
I, for one, am trying to remain patient.
Does the running game have to get better? Absolutely.
But that same running game is going to remain completely intact—other than starting right guard Kurtis Gregory—until 2011. For a team that has produced three straight 1,000 yard rushers, I have faith the Tigers will get rolling on the ground.
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