By Ryan Williams
Saturday was bittersweet for the Missouri Tiger football team and all of the fans of Tiger football.
The Sweet: Missouri was able to garner a big win at home against the No. 21 Texas Longhorns, preventing them from scoring a touchdown for the first time since 2004. It would be the first win against Texas in the Gary Pinkel era and the last time these two teams would play each other in Big 12 play. The Tigers, and especially the fans, were excited by the win, as it kept Missouri’s bowl chances alive.
How will Mizzou play without the Franklin-Josey combo?
The Bitter: Henry Josey left the game on in a cart in the third quarter after suffering a knee injury that is now known to be MCL and ACL tears along with a ruptured patellar tendon. After hearing that news, the win over Texas hasn’t seemed as big here in Columbia and the future of the season is left uncertain with the Tigers needing wins in both of their final two games.
In Mizzou’s favor are the locations of the remaining two games: at home against a struggling Texas Tech and at a neutral site versus Kansas, where Mizzou has won four of the last five. But there is still the question: what will Mizzou’s offensive game plan be from here on out with two must-win games left in the season. One player willing to step-up is junior Kendial Lawrence who was set to be the starter at running back for Mizzou coming into the season.
“I’ve always had confidence,” Lawrence said. “If anything, it just gives me the urge to work harder for (Josey) and pick up the slack for him.”
De’vion Moore and redshirt junior Jared Culver will be his back ups. Lawrence is definitely fit for the role and he proved that against Texas when he had 106 yards in relief for Josey. We saw the running game with Lawrence and Moore taking a majority of the carries in the backfield in the first game of the season versus Miami (Ohio), and who was the leading rusher in that game? Quarterback James Franklin.
Another telling stat is that in the five games Mizzou has won this season Franklin rushed 68 times for 287 yards; in the five Mizzou losses Franklin rushed 94 times for 355 yards. Now, Franklin is a fantastic runner—he’s second on the team statistically–but going forward the Tigers are going to need Franklin to be dominant in the pocket. Since the Oklahoma State beating the Tigers took at home, Franklin has thrown for 709 yards and five touchdowns, with an average completion percentage of 69.2 and an average QB efficiency of 148.47 and no interceptions. Franklin has been solid all season long and has the fifth best quarterback rating in the Big 12. Mizzou will definitely need a pass-first, run-second Franklin in order to be successful to close the season.
In recent years, Mizzou has been a pass-first, run-second kind of team and Josey came in this year with his All-Conference running game and changed that around for coach Gary Pinkel and his staff. Even with his injury and only rushing for 19 yards against Texas, Josey is still the leading rusher in the Big 12 and ranked No. 9 in the nation amongst running backs. His 1,168 rushing yards for 2011 ranks him at No. 5 all-time at Mizzou for a single-season rushing total. Remember, this is a guy that was third on the running back depth chart coming into the 2011 season. Josey was able to take pressure off of sophomore quarterback Franklin. Now the pressure is back on Franklin as the Tigers are going to need the pass-first quarterback he has been recently.
With needing to win out in order to make an eighth-straight bowl under Pinkel, Josey’s injury definitely hurts. Yet again, the two games left are against a beaten-up Texas Tech at home and a Kansas team that is winless in conference play. The Tigers are in good position with a tested team (the Tigers have played five ranked opponents-four on the road), having a strength of schedule (according to the Sagarin poll-USA Today), and two games left to be played in the state of Missouri. Lawrence definitely feels it’s important for Mizzou to play in a bowl game.
“Everyone wants to play in a bowl game, sending the senior guys out on a high note, Lawrence said. “It’s really important for all the underclass guys to go out there, practice their hardest and play their roles in the game.”
And Pinkel agrees with Lawrence.
“The most important part is our goals that we have every year and one is to go to a bowl and win a bowl championship,” Pinkel said. “Where we are at now is dealing with the legacy of the program. What is this 2011 season going to pass on? You look at a winning season, you look at going to a bowl and having an opportunity to win a bowl game, those are things we talk to our team about.”
The Tigers might not have Henry Josey going forward, but they definitely have the right mindset.