Notebook: Rountree to step up in Crockett’s absence

October 24, 2017 GMT

Dorian Clark knew he was in trouble as soon as he stepped into the path of Larry Rountree III.

The Idaho defensive back tried to set his feet on the 20-yard line as Rountree plowed toward him. But, in the final seconds before the collision, Clark realized his impending doom and ducked his head, almost in a bow to concede defeat.

Rountree slammed Clark to the turf, causing the defender to lose his helmet in the process. Clark was forced to watch Rountree run for another 41 yards before finally being wrestled to the ground.

Rountree’s physicality was on full display throughout Missouri’s 68-21 win Saturday over the Vandals. Splitting time in the backfield with senior Ish Witter, the freshman from Raleigh, North Carolina, rushed for a season-high 97 yards on 12 carries and also impressed offensive coordinator Josh Heupel when he didn’t have the ball in his hands.

“He did some really positive things last week,” Heupel said of Rountree during a Monday news conference. “(He) ran hard, ran physical, competed extremely hard snap to whistle. Handled everything pretty well including protections, which is something you are always thinking about with a young running back.”

Rountree can expect a similar role this week, as the Tigers will be without sophomore Damarea Crockett. On Monday, coach Barry Odom said Crockett, who sat out of the Homecoming win, got his injured right shoulder scoped over the weekend and is ruled out of Saturday’s game at Connecticut. Odom was hopeful the sophomore can return before the end of the season but said the team will prepare like he won’t be available.

Depth chart changes

With Crockett out for the foreseeable future, Ish Witter will take over as the starting tailback. Rountree moved up to the second-string position, while walk-on Dawson Downing will serve as the team’s third-string running back.

Redshirt freshman Albert Okwuegbunam overtook senior Jason Reese as Missouri’s No. 1 tight end against Connecticut after his three-touchdown performance against Idaho.

Kicker Tucker McCann is also back as a starter after being suspended during Saturday’s game for a violation of team rules.

Tight ends continue to produce

When Missouri’s tight ends catch the ball, good things seem to happen for the Tigers.

On Saturday, the position group was responsible for five catches, three of which resulted in touchdowns, and 119 receiving yards. Okwuegbunam had four of the five catches, and junior Kendall Blanton added a 62-yard reception that set up a touchdown in the second quarter.

The week before, Okwuegbunam and Reese each hauled in touchdowns against No. 3 Georgia.

Okwuegbunam, who has accounted for four of the five touchdowns over the past two weeks, has been the main contributor, but Heupel pointed out an area of his game that needs improvement.

“I thought Albert did a really good job in the pass-catching game,” Heupel said. “Obviously had some huge plays down the middle of the football field. I think he can be better than what he was in the run game. That’s the challenge for him this week.”

DE Williams grows up

For the first half of the season, redshirt freshman Tre Williams was found on the bench each time Missouri’s defense trotted onto the field.

Despite Williams’ 6-foot-5, 250-pound physical presence, which is in line with a prototypical SEC defensive end, Odom said the mentality it takes was not there. It took Williams until Week 7 against Idaho to make a true impact — four total tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack.

“He’s done a nice job in the last three weeks of growing up a little bit,” Odom said. “He’s got a long ways to go, it’s a new week.”

Williams, a Rock Bridge alum, is listed as a second-string defensive end, along with Nate Anderson.

Okwuegbunam, Lock win awards

With Missouri’s offensive outburst Saturday — the most points it’s scored against an FBS opponent since Sept. 13. 2008 — it is no surprise that two Tigers were given weekly awards following the performance.

Quarterback Drew Lock was named one of the eight Manning Award Stars of the Week. Lock threw for six touchdowns and 467 yards in the victory.

Okwuegbunam was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Week, joining Auburn defensive lineman Nick Coe, the conference announced Monday.

Florida game slated for 11 a.m. start

Missouri will have to wake up early for another morning kickoff Nov. 4 when it takes on Florida in Columbia.

The game will kick off at 11 a.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPN2. It is Missouri’s third morning game of the season.

Supervising editors are Brooks Holton and Ron Davis: sports@columbiamissourian.com, 882-5730.