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Missouri Tigers Football: Russell Hansbrough Is Essential

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The Tigers cannot lose their starting running back.

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Unless you are a Missouri fan, you probably didn't watch any of the Tigers' game against Southeast Missouri State on Saturday. You likely didn't even bother to read about anything that happened upon seeing the 34-3 final score.

As it turns out, this game exposed a truth about the team's SEC East three-peat campaign: it can't survive without Russell Hansbrough.

The senior running back went over 1,000 yards last year, and he started off 2015 with a bang. He ripped off a 20-yard run on his first carry of the game, but he went down awkwardly after going out of bounds. He would come back for one more carry, but that would be it for the day. The team called it an ankle sprain, but that's all that's come out officially by time of posting.

Without Hansbrough in, the run game was ugly. I mean, really ugly. Here is what the pre-garbage time run stats for Mizzou looked like for everyone but Hansbrough. The game hit garbage time late in the third quarter with a punt return TD, so every MU rush in the fourth quarter is not included below. Also, no sacks are included in these figures.

Player Carries YPC Success Rate
Ish Witter 12 2.1 16.7%
Tyler Hunt 4 5.0 25.0%
Maty Mauk 3 3.3 33.3%
Morgan Steward 1 2.0 0.0%
Totals 20 2.9 20.0%

That is hideous.

Now, center Evan Boehm also sprained his ankle early on, but the coaches allowed him to gut it out on the field through the first half. He did not see the field in the second half as Mizzou shuffled some guys around in order to have ten healthy ankles on the line and to let Boehm rest.

In the first half—again, not including Hansbrough—the Tigers rushed for 14 yards on ten carries (1.4 YPC) with a success rate of 0%. That's right: Hansbrough's 20-yard run was the only one of 12 carries that qualified as a success. In the third quarter, those numbers rose to 43 yards on 10 carries (4.3 YPC) with a success rate of 40%. I will also point out that six of the carries came no further upfield than Mizzou's own 12 yard line (success rate: one of six, or 16.7%), which means the SEMO defense would have been keying on the run on those downs.

But let's not lose the forest for the trees: this was against Southeast Missouri State. It's an FCS team that lost to Charlie Weis and Kansas last year. Without Hansbrough on the field, Missouri's run game was just terrible. You can take the excuses I made for it for what you will, but the point remains that the Tigers' run game needed excuses to explain a poor performance against Southeast Missouri State. The non-Hansbrough guys managed just two runs of 10+ yards while being stuffed for a loss five times.

The good news is that Hansbrough expects to go this coming weekend on the road against Arkansas State, and that's a game Mizzou should be able to win without him should the coaches not want to take any chances. The Tigers then get another should-win game with UConn at home before starting the SEC schedule at Kentucky on September 26. There is time to get both Hansbrough and Boehm a lot healthier between now and then.

But they really, really need to get Hansbrough back to full strength if last weekend was any indication.

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m. ET