Tigers' last back prepping for big challenge

Missouri had to be frustrated, if not paranoid.

When the season began, the Tigers could go four players down their running back depth chart before seeing any significant dropoff.

Then, reserve Marcus Murphy needed surgery on his shoulder in August.

And starter Kendial Lawrence broke his fibula.

The Tigers still had two backs, Henry Josey and De'Vion Moore, until the opening drive of a road loss against Arizona State. Before the game even took its shape, Moore was seated on the bench with a bag of ice taped around his sprained ankle.

"I was just hoping those guys got back up, because I knew we needed them this year," he said.

Lawrence and Moore will return at some point, but the Tigers travel to No. 1 Oklahoma on Saturday, where no team has won since 2005.

Suddenly, there is only Josey.

He finished the Arizona State game with 145 yards of offense on just 11 touches.

His career high for carries (14) came in last year's win over Oklahoma, but Josey equaled that in just a half against Western Illinois last week, rushing for 263 yards and three touchdowns before taking a seat for the second half.

"It was obviously a great effort. He’s got great speed. He’s a player that accelerates well and vs. Western Illinois got tired out a little bit, too. It was a great accomplishment," said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. "He's certainly a player that’s gotten a lot better than he was a year ago and a sophomore that’s got a great future."

Said Josey: "It was an unexplainable night for me. My offensive line and wide receivers, they were blocking and were just amazing that night. Holes were opening up everywhere and I was just getting to them from all angles and hitting them as hard as I could."

Against Arizona State, freshman Greg White, who had never played in a college game, traveled but didn't play because Pinkel didn't feel comfortable putting him on the field in a tight game. Instead Pinkel put in 250-pound walk-on fullback Jared Culver, who played late against the Sun Devils and who carried the ball 11 times for 86 yards and a score in a 69-0 win over Western Illinois. White carried 10 times for 36 yards against Western Illinois.

Josey said seeing Culver and White succeed against Western Illinois was one of his favorite parts of his career night.

This week could be different. During practice, Josey was given a clear directive.

"Stay healthy," he said. "That’s the big thing. They didn’t want me going down or having any kind of injury that would stop me from playing well. My team needs me and that was the big thing coming from them, is I’ve just got to make sure I stayed up."

Pinkel knows that a win over Oklahoma would probably have to feature his 190-pound, relatively inexperienced back to carry the ball more than 14 times. Maybe even twice that, if last week's first half is any indication.

"Our personnel is remarkably different. We all know that. We have injuries at that position right now," Pinkel said. "He’ll carry more of a load than he normally would."

On the field, that's the case, but his more experienced position mates have been in his ear helping him adjust and learn from mistakes they made as young backs.

Josey woke up Sunday morning feeling the effects of his big night. Lots of yards and lots of hits.

Here's guessing Oklahoma's physical defense will have him even more sore this Sunday. But with an upset win, the sophomore won't mind.