COLUMBIA — A few weeks after Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz said he should have given the Tigers' feature back Larry Rountree III more carries after losses to Alabama and Tennessee, Rountree was given a full workload Saturday against Kentucky, gaining 3.4 yards per carry on 37 rushes against a defense tilted to stop the pass.
Rountree also had 18 carries for 119 yards against LSU, after starting the season with 14 carries for 67 yards against Alabama and 18 carries for 84 yards against Tennessee.
"I'm fine. I could play tomorrow," Rountree said after the game when asked if he could feel the workload.
The senior back is tied for 27th nationally and is fourth in the Southeastern Conference in rush yards per game, and his 87 total carries is tied for 17th nationally and is third in the conference. As a sophomore, Rountree ran for 1,216 yards, fourth in the SEC, and had 11 rushing touchdowns.
Tuesday, Drinkwitz added a name to the list of guys he wants to get the ball to more when asked about Rountree's season.
"Knowing Larry has the ability to rush for that many yards obviously is a great thing for us offensively, we're always going to be predicated on running football so that's a huge plus," he said. "But I do think that Tyler Badie is an incredible aspect what Larry's been able to do because he does come in and provide a different type of runner, which keeps the defense off-balance and he also creates openings in the pass game.
"I think that 1-2 punch has really been the difference for us the last two games that I maybe didn't utilize well enough in the first two games, that's given us some more effectiveness offensively. And we've got to continue to find ways to give Tyler some of those carries. I love the fact that Larry carried it 37 times, but we need to get Tyler a few more touches because, boy, he can make some really good runs, too."
Badie's best game was against LSU, when he got five carries for 39 yards and three receptions for 28 yards, including both rushing and receiving scores of 20-plus yards. He also scored a 54-yard TD on a wheel route against Alabama, but his scrimmage production has been remarkably consistent: 65 total yards against the Tide (11 rushing); 63 total yards against the Volunteers (19 rushing); 67 total yards against LSU and 67 total yards against Kentucky (52 rushing).
Badie ran for 437 yards and caught 12 passes for 130 yards as a freshman in 2018, and ran for 257 yards the next year while hauling in 32 passes for 356 yards, though he's never eclipsed 100 yards in a game in either category. He's also entering his third year as a consistent kickoff return man for Missouri.
"Larry's the first punch, and the second punch you don't see coming, that's Badie," defensive lineman Tre Williams said Tuesday. "It's like lightning and thunder. It's a thunderstorm, baby, that's what it is."
In late September, Drinkwitz said he would prefer the Southeastern Conference implement league-wide policies for reporting coronavirus figures so everyone is working with the same information.
Speaking on the conference's weekly teleconference, he called the process "kind of a free-for-all" and has disclosed the Tigers' positive tests and contact tracing-required isolation when applicable.
Florida head coach Dan Mullen is the opposite, and has been reticent to talk about COVID numbers or non-season-ending injuries, for fear the general public will conflate or confuse the two.
Missouri (2-2) travels to Gainesville to face the No. 10 Gators (2-1) at 6:30 p.m. Saturday on the SEC Network alternate channel. The game was rescheduled because of positive coronavirus tests within the Florida football program reduced the roster of scholarship players below the SEC minimum of 53.
"I'm sure we'll have 53 guys ready to play," was about as much information as Mullen would volunteer Monday.
Drinkwitz said Tuesday his program currently sits at 64 scholarship players and had 66 players available for Kentucky. It's a full 25-man signing class below the NCAA's 81-scholarship limit imposed on Missouri for the 2020 season because of previous academic misconduct penalties and 31 below the normal 85-man limit.
The Tigers had nobody sitting out due to coronavirus isolation protocols as of Tuesday, though the program went through one of its weekly tests that morning and will know those results today. Drinkwitz said all of Missouri's reduced roster numbers were attributable to opt-outs, transfers and season-ending injuries.
Drinkwitz also declined to give an injury update, citing Mullen's reluctance to release information about the availability of his players for Saturday's game. The Gators have had six new positive test results among football players since last week, 31 since the outbreak following the Texas A&M game and 37 for the month of October.
"Yeah, I watched the press conference yesterday where there wasn't much reporting done, so I'll just keep mine, I'll let y'all figure that out on Saturday, too," Drinkwitz said, adding he is preparing as if Florida will have everyone available for the game.
The Tigers had a few injuries along the offensive line against Kentucky, including left guard Xavier Delgado, who left in the first half and did not return, as well as tackles Zeke Powell and Larry Borom. All three were listed as starters on Tuesday's depth chart.
Delgado's backup, freshman Dylan Spencer, played well when called upon for more than half of the game, and Bobby Lawrence (LT) and Javon Foster (RT) also did well, albeit in far shorter relief efforts.
Drinkwitz credited new offensive line coach Marcus Johnson, who was formerly at Mississippi State, for figuring out the team's 10 best O-linemen getting the group ready to play. Johnson played at Mississippi and was drafted in the second round of the 2005 draft by Minnesota, started his coaching career at Duke as a strength and conditioning assistant in 2011.
"Marcus has a toughness to him, he has a discipline to him, he has a mentality to him that shows up in the way he coaches his position, the way he coaches, the way he carries himself. He has a standard of performance for everybody in the room and, and he holds them accountable to that standard," Drinkwitz said.