By Joe Vozzelli
Kendial Lawrence runs the ball down the sideline during the spring game on April 14, 2012.
Kendial Lawrence will carry most of the running load on Saturdays.
The 5-foot-9 inch senior will be Missouri’s starting running back this season and is really the only known commodity in the Missouri backfield. Lawrence has started five games at running back during his Missouri career. The other running backs on the Missouri depth chart haven’t made any starts at running back during their college careers.
Henry Josey, the Tigers’ only other back with starting experience, won’t play this season. He suffered a devastating knee injury last November against Texas when he tore all three of the major ligaments in his left knee — the ACL, MCL and patella tendon. Josey spent most of spring and fall camp on the sidelines or in non-contact drills.
While Josey wasn’t expected to be back this season, coach Gary Pinkel made it official during Monday’s media conference that Josey will sit out this season.
Adjusting to Southeastern Conference defenses will be part of Lawrence’s transition to the role of feature running back in the Missouri offense.
Lawrence, though, said he’s interested to see how Missouri’s spread offense stacks up against SEC defenses.
“You get a look at a different type of football (in the SEC). Coming out of the Big 12, most teams are spread,” Lawrence said. “We’re really excited because we do things a little different so we want to see how we do against these guys.”
Lawrence, however, will have to wait another week before an SEC opponent comes to Columbia. Missouri plays Southeastern Louisiana at 6 p.m. on Saturday before No. 6 Georgia plays at Faurot Field on Sept. 8.
Being the starting running back for Missouri’s home opener isn’t new to Lawrence. He was Missouri’s starting tailback for its season opener last year against Miami of Ohio. But he broke his fibula during that game and missed about a month of the season.
His injury ceded the starting role to Josey, who proceeded to have a breakout season. He ran for 1,168 yards and had nine rushing touchdowns.
Lawrence has shown glimpses of being a reliable option at running back. He ran for 106 yards in the Tigers’ 17-5 win over Texas, the game in which Josey went down with his knee injury.
Pinkel was impressed with Lawrence’s performance in fall and spring camp.
“Kendial has had a great summer,” Pinkel said. “He looks as good as he’s ever looked here.”
Lawrence said he put in a lot of effort this offseason knowing that he’d likely be Missouri’s feature back this season.
“Over the summer, I did all the little things I’ve never done before as far as doing extra reps in the weight room and extra work outs and extra running, he said. “I’ve also been watching a lot of film.”
Pinkel made it clear what type of running back fits with Missouri’s style of play.
“They have to be explosive and they have to be quick,” he said.
Lawrence has displayed some of those attributes in fall camp. During one seven-on-seven drills, quarterback James Franklin lined up with Lawrence to his right. Franklin took the snap and handed it off to Lawrence, who ran hard toward a small hole in middle of Missouri’s defensive line. Michael Sam and Matt Hoch extended their arms outward to make contact with Lawrence but both came up worth nothing but air — Lawrence was already through the hole. Pinkel blew his whistle after Lawrence gained 10 yards without being touched by a defender.
Franklin has noticed some important intangibles from Lawrence, as well.
“I’ve seen a lot of leadership and definitely a lot of playmaking, he said of Lawrence. “I think he’s done a good job of stepping up to the plate and being our No. 1 back.”