No. 22 Missouri might lean on Mauk's running vs. UConn
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) An assortment of running backs could be featured in the first matchup between No. 22 Missouri and UConn.
The Tigers' Russell Hansbrough will not be one of them.
Hansbrough is nursing a right ankle injury sustained in the season-opening victory against Southeast Missouri State, and was ruled out for Saturday's game early in the practice week. A 1,000-yard rusher last year, the senior has 38 yards on seven carries and is being saved for the SEC schedule that starts next week at Kentucky.
Sophomore Ish Witter will start in place of the injured Hansbrough. Backups Tyler Hunt and Morgan Steward also are banged up and may not see action.
''It's just unfortunate that we've had so many problems at a position, but we've got to find answers and overcome them,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ''Another player's got to step up a little bit.''
Quarterback Maty Mauk could be that player.
''We're going to have to run him a little more,'' Pinkel said. ''That's something that he's good at. We have to take advantage of his athleticism.''
Mauk is Missouri's leading rusher through two games with 83 yards on 16 carries, and doesn't mind tucking the ball when needed.
''Whatever they're going to call, I'm going to do,'' Mauk said. ''A lot of people kind of underestimate my legs. I feel like I'm just as fast as anybody else out there on the field.''
UConn quarterback Bryant Shirreffs can run, too.
Shirreffs is a transfer from North Carolina State, where he played mostly running back in 2013. He's 2-0 as a starting quarterback, and is 31 of 49 passing for 472 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He has also gained 64 yards rushing on 22 carries.
UConn (2-0) has already matched its win total from last season and the 2-0 start is the school's best since 2008. The Huskies were 2-10 last year.
''There is a realistic energy change,'' coach Bob Diaco said. ''Whether it is perceived or real, it's still great.''
Two third of the Huskies' plays have been runs. Running backs Arkeel Newsome and Ron Johnson have accounted for four of the Huskies' five touchdowns.
''They do so many different things in so many different sets, it presents a lot of problems,'' Pinkel said. ''Tackling is going to be very important, and being physical is going to be very important.''
Here's some things to watch when the Tigers face the Huskies:
DOMINANT DEFENSE: Missouri is ranked sixth nationally in total defense, allowing only 209 yards per game. The Tigers lead the nation with 25 tackles for loss, six of them by end Charles Harris. Georgia's Jordan Jenkins (6 1/2) is the only player in the nation with more. Harris also has two sacks and a forced fumble. Linebacker Michael Scherer has 13 tackles, including 3 1/2 for loss.
HUSKIE HOPEFULS: UConn's last victory over a ranked opponent was on the road, 23-20 in overtime at No. 20 Louisville Sept. 24, 2012. UConn is 2-2 against current SEC teams, the last victory over Vanderbilt on Oct. 2, 2010. Missouri was a 21 1/2-point favorite.
''Doesn't matter who they are or whether one is ranked and one is not ranked, everybody always expects to win,'' linebacker Matt Walsh said.
BROTHERS' BRILLIANCE: Missouri linebacker Kentrell Brothers leads the nation with 32 tackles, 16 in each game. Brothers was named SEC defensive player of the week after also getting two interceptions at Arkansas State.
TIGHT END TANDEM: UConn often goes with two tight ends in the intermediate pass game to bolster its strong rush attack. Alec Bloom has four catches for 58 yards and Tommy Myers has three catches for 97 yards and the only touchdown not scored by a running back.
AP College Football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org
AP Sports Writer Pat Eaton-Robb contributed to this report.