Shawn Campbell, FootballStL
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Despite a 2-0 start for the Tigers, coach Gary Pinkel knows his team has been far from perfect to start the 2015 season.
With a single warmup left before the Tigers begin SEC play, Pinkel has a rather large list of concerns heading forward, mainly the lack of depth at running back behind injured starter Russell Hansbrough.
With Hansbrough injured, and production behind him at a minimal through two games, Pinkel noted how difficult preparation can become during the week.
“You can’t get seven guys ready. You can’t do that. Three is what you really work to get ready with a fourth player in the hunt if you need that,” Pinkel said. “We don’t want a player playing in one game and then not playing the rest of the year so his year is gone, so we have to kind of watch how we work that out.”
Hansbrough, who was injured in an opening week victory over SEMO, has been ruled out for Saturday’s game.
With a week off for Hansbrough, the Tigers will look to sophomore Ish Witter and a collection of players behind him, perhaps including Morgan Steward, who hasn’t played in the last two seasons for Mizzou, to lead the way against the Huskies.
Steward injured his hip before his sophomore season began and is only now beginning to completely heal. He could give the Tigers a punch that they’re lacking with Witter, who’s averaging just 3.2 yards per carry this season.
Despite progressing, Pinkel still believes Steward has a long way to go before getting back to 100 percent.
“Here’s a guy that ran a 4.3, was 205 pounds, fastest guy on our football team a year and a half ago, went through a really difficult surgery. We’re going to stay very, very positive and hopefully we can get him back,” Pinkel said. “It’s just unfortunate that we’ve had so many problems at a position, but we’ve got to find answers and overcome them. Another player’s got to step up a little bit.”
Mix the lack of production from the backfield with the early struggles of both Maty Mauk and the young Tiger receivers and you can understand why Mizzou barely squeaked out a win against Arkansas State a week ago.
Although the Tigers have struggled catching the ball through two games, Pinkel maintains the importance it is to stay confident in his young players.
“It’s getting old, it’s frustrating to go through, but as long as we’re getting great focus and great effort, we’re going to stay very, very positive with our players,” said Pinkel. “I think people improve more with positive reinforcement than getting frustrated.”
Saturday’s test with UCONN, who’s yet to play a team with a win, should give Mizzou an opportunity for a final tune up and Pinkel a chance to sort out the depth and talent throughout an offense struggling with injuries and inconsistency.
With a victory, the Tigers would enter their conference opener at Kentucky with a 3-0 record and looking to capture a third straight SEC East championship.