Missouri’s Hansbrough spurred by playing time as freshman

COLUMBIA — There were times last year when Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough said he wished he had redshirted.

He played in nine games, mostly on special teams, and had 139 rushing yards on 37 attempts as a freshman while he struggled to find significant playing time behind Kendial Lawrence.

But after rushing for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Missouri’s season-opening victory against Murray State on Saturday, there was no doubt in his mind playing last year was the right decision.

“I think it helped me because going into this season I had some confidence from last season,” Hansbrough said. “It opened my eyes really to see how the competition was in this league.”

Hansbrough, who was one of just three true freshmen to play for Missouri last season, scored the Tigers’ first touchdown of the game Saturday and added a 51-yard touchdown run later in the first quarter.

That was a big step forward from last season.

“There were games where I was like, ‘Yeah, I wish I kind of redshirted last year,’ but then again there were games where like, ‘I’m glad I didn’t redshirt,’ because I was also out there having fun too.”

The coaching staff had an inkling Hansbrough could be more productive this season. Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel mentioned during the preseason how much of a different player Hansbrough was and said he would be a guy to watch this season.

Pinkel drew a comparison to former all-Big 12 linebacker Sean Weatherspoon, who played special teams during his freshman year and very little linebacker until his sophomore season.

“Even though (Hansbrough) didn’t get a lot of reps last year, just a few reps here or there, I think it helped a lot,” Pinkel said. “The experience of being out in the arena and playing, it’s something every player has to go through.”

He added: “I think you saw glimpses of a guy that is really a good player and has a chance to be a good player.”

Hansbrough’s performance shows signs of a possible one-two punch in the backfield. Henry Josey, playing in his first game since a severe knee injury in November of 2011, rushed for 115 yards on 13 carries, including a 68-yard touchdown run.

Josey was certainly the story Saturday, and he received a game ball from the team following his performance. It was the first time in his career Pinkel awarded a game ball to a player.

His 68-yard touchdown run was maybe the most emotional moment of the night as he hugged members of the medical staff following the touchdown.

“I wasn’t worried about getting caught, I was just trying to get into the end zone,” Josey said.

The touchdown capped off a big day for Missouri’s running backs. Saturday was the first time Missouri had two running backs go for more than 100 yards in a game since DeVaughn Black and Zain Gilmore did so against Western Michigan in 1999.

“I just wish we could do that every game,” Pinkel said.

The increased production from Hansbrough, along with Josey, produces an interesting dynamic in the backfield. Throw in Marcus Murphy, who had seven carries for 56 yards, and Missouri’s backfield is crowded with talent.

“I look at it as if all three of us are starters,” Hansbrough said. “Whoever’s in there, we’re cheering them, so it’s not like a competition where we’re not friends or anything. We want to see everyone succeed.”

Notes: Pinkel said receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who caught four passes for 83 yards Saturday, is fine after suffering a bruise on his hand. ... The Tigers continue the season at 2:30 p.m. Saturday against Gary Pinkel’s old team, Toledo (ESPNU-TV). Pinkel was the Rockets’ head coach from 1991-2000.

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