COLUMBIA, Mo. — If we voted on the MVP of Missouri’s 2020 offense the results would turn into a landslide. No run-offs. No recalls. The ball was nowhere safer this season than in the hands of No. 34.
The 10-game body of work for Larry Rountree III was historic in some senses when it comes to pure volume. First, his 97.2 rushing yards per game marked the most for a Mizzou running back since Henry Josey in 2011 (116.8), making this arguably the best season for a Mizzou running back since the Tigers joined the Southeastern Conference. Remember, instead of playing eight SEC games and four nonconference contests, the Tigers played 10 SEC opponents, adding Alabama and LSU to the mix, in favor BYU, Louisiana, Eastern Michigan and Central Arkansas. (By the way, Louisiana and Eastern Michigan ranked No. 88 and 119 in FBS rushing defense this year, respectively.)
In a year when MU had to install a new offense — mostly over Zoom — and didn’t have a starting quarterback until the opening game, Rountree’s value could not have been overstated. He was coming off a disappointing 2019 but became the workhorse back the Tigers needed as they worked through a developing passing game.
Mizzou’s identity in 2020: When in doubt, feed Larry.
Rountree’s 20.9 carries per game ranked 10th across all of the FBS. His 209 carries ranked fifth. The only four players with more carries this year: Iowa State’s Breece Hall (12 games), Texas-San Antonio’s Sincer McCormick (11), Alabama’s Najee Harris (12) and Notre Dame’s Kyren Williams (12).
From the Mizzou perspective, only five running backs in school history have posted more carries over the course of one season. (And, most of those came in 11- or 12-game seasons, not 10.)
1. Devin West, 1998: 283 carries
2. Joe Moore, 1969: 260 carries
3. Brock Olivo, 1995: 232 carries
4. Darrell Wallace, 1985: 226 carries
5. Zack Abron, 2003: 219 carries
6. Wallace, 1986: 211 carries
Rountree also caught a career-best 15 passes for 100 yards. He had a career-best 25 10-yard runs and avoided a career-best 41 tackles, per Pro Football Focus.
Last year, in eight SEC games, Rountree averaged 3.8 yards per carry with four touchdowns. This year, in 10 SEC games, he boosted that average to 4.7 yards for carry with 14 touchdowns.
Then there was Tyler Badie, who had an interesting junior year in the new Drinkwitz offense. With Rountree as Mizzou’s primary running threat, Badie’s role wasn’t the same this season. He played 21.7 snaps per game, down from 30.8 last year. He was on the field for 7.2 running plays per game, down from 11.2 last year. His carries were nearly cut in half, from nine per game last year to 4.8 this year. A couple times this season Drinkwitz blamed himself for not calling enough designed plays for Badie. He had just two carries in the Florida game and was targeted just once in the passing game. He didn’t get any carries against Georgia and only one at Mississippi State.
While the bulk of Mizzou’s carries spilled into Rountree’s bucket this year, Badie remained one of the SEC’s most versatile running backs. Badie was Mizzou’s leading receiver in 2019 and still figured prominently in the passing game in 2020. He was targeted 39 times — 3.9 per game up from 3.5 last year — and caught 28 balls for 333 yards and two touchdowns, sharing the team lead.
He had fewer touches but Badie graded higher in every major category this season, per PFF. His lifted his receiving grade from 68.5 to a team-best 83.4 — thanks to just one drop all year.
He lifted his rushing grade from 72. To a team-high 80.7. And he lifted his overall offensive grade from 70.7 to 80.6 — second on the entire offense, only to right tackle Larry Borom.
Overall, Badie produced the SEC’s 10th-best overall offensive grade for running backs, higher than Rountree, Georgia’s Zamir White and Texas A&M’s Isaiah Spiller.
Mizzou got a small sampling of freshman Elijah Young, who ran for 78 yards on just 10 carries but impressed the folks at PFF with a season offensive score of 75.9 and rushing score of 76.8.
As for the future, while Rountree moves on, the Tigers return Badie, Young, senior Dawson Downing and Simi Bakare, who played exclusively on special teams. The team is expected to add at least two scholarship running backs, three-star prospects Taj Butts and B.J. Harris. Butts signed in December. Harris should be part of the February signing group.