Tigers look to get ground game going

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The last time Missouri fans saw Tony Temple, he was slicing through the Oregon State defense on his way to a career-high 193 yards in the Sun Bowl. Temple drew rave reviews all through fall camp. Which made his 17-carry, 33-yard thud of a debut against Illinois even more surprising.
"I think we all were (shocked)," said Tyler Luellen. "We didn't have a very good showing in the running game."
That would certainly be an understatement. Temple's 1.9 yards per carry average marked just the second time in the last 50 years a Mizzou back had gotten as many as 17 carries without averaging at least two yards per touch.
"There was a lot of breakdowns, lot of missed assignments," Temple said. "Got to be more tough out there, got to be more physical."
The fact that Temple still did get 17 carries--exactly on average with his per game totals from last season--was actually a positive that players were pointing to after the loss.
"We didn't shy away from it," Chase Daniel said. "Tony had 17 carries, that's a lot of carries, and I had 11."
"I'm glad they didn't give up, but as an offense, we can't reach our potential if we don't run the ball well," Temple said. "I've got to take it upon myself to make that happen. I'm going to work my butt off this week to make it happen."
The question, then, was exactly why the Tigers could not run the ball against Illinois. The Illini certainly deserve some credit, but Gary Pinkel laid the blame more at the feet of his own team.
"Give them credit, okay, they did a good job, I'm not saying that," the coach said. "You always give them credit, but we did not execute the detail that we need to. That's what we focus on, the things we need to do to make it better."
"Generally what happens is you get one particular play where the guard misses a block, another play where the tackle misses a block, another play where the running back takes the wrong steps, another play where the quarterback might cut the running back off on the exchange and you get a multitude of things."
There was no shortage of blame claiming for the Tigers. Everyone wanted to put the problems on his own shoulders.
"As the offensive line, we're going to take it on our shoulders," said Ryan Madison, who slipped from starter to second-team at left guard following the game. "It wasn't the running back's fault, it was all our problems."
"They're going to say that because they're the offensive linemen and they feel like it's all on them, but it's not," Daniel said. "It's on all the players. I don't think we played a good game."
"The best thing about our team, we've been saying it all year, we've got a lot of playmakers and if one can't do it, we can distribute the ball," Temple said. "We know what we can do. We're good enough , as long as we execute, it shouldn't be a problem."
Much of the focus, at least from fans, has been not on the one-time performance of the running game, but on Mizzou's scheme as a hole. The Tigers run a zone-read running game, which means that Temple has to identify the hole on each play. Running plays are not specifically designed to hit one certain gap. That can, at times, put a little more stress on the line.
"It's sometimes a little bit difficult," said center Adam Spieker. "That's why sometimes you have to hold on to your blocks a little bit longer because you don't know if he's going left or right or cutting it back."
However, the failures were not, according to the Tigers, a scheme-based problem.
"I don't think we finished blocks very well, didn't communicate well enough," Spieker said. "Finishing blocks will help out any running play."
Regardless of why the Tigers were unable to run the ball (as a team, they totaled 70 yards on the ground), one thing was clear to all: To be as good as they hope to be this year, the Tigers have got to get better on the ground.
"That's very fair to say," Temple said. "I'm ready to practice so I can get out there and run the ball. My offensive line, they took that to heart. They want to perform better, I want to perform better."
It may not get a lot easier. Ole Miss gave up just 124 yards on 35 carries to Memphis in its season opener. The Tigers and Rebels kick off at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
This is just a sample of the type of coverage you will get during throughout the 2007 football season. Click here to start your free trial