A fierce jungle cat lurks in Missouri’s backfield.
“The three-headed monster is what we like to call it,” sophomore center Evan Boehm said.
Running backs Russell Hansbrough, Henry Josey and Marcus Murphy have provided one of the most balanced rushing attacks in the nation. Missouri is one of 10 schools to have three rushers with at least 215 yards.
The trio has sent Missouri to the top of the Southeastern Conference in several statistical categories. The Tigers lead the conference in rushing touchdowns per game at 3.5, and yards per game at 262.3, more than 25 yards per game more than second-ranked Arkansas.
Hansbrough leads the group with 335 yards, but Josey and Murphy are not far behind with 238 and 224, respectively. They hold the advantage in rushing touchdowns, though; both are tied for seventh in the conference, with four rushing touchdowns apiece versus Hansbrough’s three.
The three running backs all have within nine carries of each other, and according to the coaching staff, the plan is to keep the parity.
First-year offensive coordinator Josh Henson said he is pleased with the setup and plans to stick with it, at least for now.
“I really see just whoever’s got the hot hand in the game at that point in time (when deciding who is going to get the ball),” Henson said. “You know, maybe as the season goes along, one guy proves himself a little more than the others and we give it to him, but really we like what we have going right now.”
The only ones who might not like the setup are the backs themselves. After all, a touchdown for one back is a touchdown taken away from another. But according to the team, no ill will persists in the group.
“We don’t have any jealousy towards anyone,” Josey said. “We’re brothers, pretty much. You could say we were all raised in the same household our whole lives, and now we’re just all playing together. So it’s just a great correlation from off the field to on the field.”
And anyone with a brother or sister knows about sibling rivalry. Josey said the three backs continually push each other.
“It’s the biggest competition ever going on around here,” Josey said. “We’re all going against each other every day, and that’s what’s helping us on the field.”
Despite having three different backs, Missouri’s style of play doesn’t change much when one is subbed in for another. All three list within one inch and five pounds of each other. Coach Gary Pinkel said the backs are more alike than they are different.
The biggest benefit appears to be the rest that comes with a shared workload.
“I look at all of the guys, and they all run the ball well, and I think that’s the good thing — that you’ve got fresh weapons coming into the game,” Henson said. “I think it lends to, maybe, extended health through the season.”
Keeping up the pace might prove difficult; no Missouri team in the Pinkel era has seen three Missouri running backs average 50 yards per game. But for now, at least, SEC defenses will need to respect, if not fear, the three-headed monster.