When Henry Josey suffered a debilitating leg injury in 2011 against the Texas Longhorns, a collective hush fell over the town of Columbia, Missouri. Josey, a sophomore at the time, was one of the most likable members of the Missouri Tigers football team, and his catastrophic injury was the precursor of a sudden, downward spiral.
As history tells us, Mizzou underwent a hefty amount of growing pains during its first go-around in the Southeastern Conference. The injury bug hit them hard, they had lost close games in excruciating fashion, the head coach wound up on the hot seat, the quarterback came under fire for not playing hurt, and the fanbase simply wanted the year to be over. And at the eventual record of 5-7, it did, sputtering the Tigers near the cellar of the East Division.
The Tigers needed to bounce back in a big way in the 2013 season. To do that, they needed to take the recipe that led to their disasters, and churn it into success. And one of the missing ingredients that led to their plunge the year before was Henry Josey. The native of The Lone Star State was rehabbing his way back onto the gridiron, and looking to provide any type of spark to the Tigers ground game. In 2012, Missouri averaged just 3.7 yards per carry, which was tied with the South Carolina Gamecocks for dead last in the conference.
Expectations were low for both Mizzou -- and for Josey -- in 2013. And boy, were those expectations shattered.
The Tigers responded to their disappointing first year with a sophomore surge. In a campaign in which they went 12-2, won the SEC East, won the Cotton Bowl and had the conference's Defensive Player of the Year harassing opposing quarterbacks, Henry Josey provided a marvelous comeback to prominence of his own. On 174 carries, Josey rushed for an astonishing 1,166 yards and found the end zone 16 times. His yards per carry was a staggering 6.7, as the Texas product cut through defenses like a hot knife through butter. And Mizzou's yards per carry as a team leapt up to 5.7, amounting for second in the SEC and ninth in the country.
Josey's grand finale in black and gold provided a storybook ending to a sensational career. But, as Mizzou enters its third year in the SEC, they have to lean on not one running back, but a few inside their stable. And that begins with the likes of Russell Hansbrough and Marcus Murphy.
Murphy burst onto the scene as a return man in the 2012 season. He collected four return touchdowns, including a 98-yard kick return, and three trips to pay dirt after fielding punts. 2013 saw him being used more on the ground, as the Desoto, Texas tailback amassed 601 yards on just 92 carries, and hit the end zone 10 times (9 rush, 1 rec). That would prove to be good for 6.5 yards per carry, and Murphy, much like his fellow Texan, sliced and diced his way on the field nearly every time he had the pigskin in his hands.
Hansbrough, meanwhile, looks to be the top choice to be the starting tailback in 2014 after looking mighty impressive whilst spelling Josey. You might remember Russell Hansbrough's first step into familiarity from when Alabama defensive end LaMichael Fanning hit him with a German Suplex that would make "Olympic Hero" Kurt Angle jealous. It's true, it's true. After shaking off those cobwebs, Hansbrough galloped for 685 yards on 114 carries, a 6.0 yards per carry, and picked up four rushing touchdowns along the way.
So what should we expect from this duo in 2014? It's never quite easy to fill the cleats of a player like Henry Josey, but there's no doubt that the duo of Hansbrough and Murphy, alongside youngsters Morgan Steward, Miles Drummond and junior tailback Tyler Hunt, Missouri's stable of running backs could provide similar results from 2013 if all goes well. Additionally, with three of the Tigers' top receiving targets gone, the ground game could be what the Mizzou offense relies on the most throughout the course of the season. So with more attempts, the backfield could be just as lethal.
Though the fan favorite in Josey may be gone, rest assured Mizzou fans, the Tigers backfield is in good hands.