No. 25 Missouri hoping RB Hansbrough can make difference
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) The Missouri defense is doing its job. It sure could use some more points to work with.
The 25th-ranked Tigers (3-0) are second in the nation in tackles for loss with 34, and fourth in the nation in total defense, allowing 217 yards per game. Kentrell Brothers leads the nation with 42 tackles and Charles Harris is tied for the lead with eight tackles for loss.
There are no highlight bullet points for the other side of the ball. Perhaps the return of running back Russell Hansbrough will make a big difference.
The offense is coming off its lowest scoring total since 1978, beating UConn 9-6 last week after entering as three-touchdown favorites. Quarterback Maty Mauk heard the boos, and he's avoiding Twitter and other social media.
''I just want to focus on us,'' Mauk said. ''They kind of got mad and did the booing thing. We've got to give them something to cheer about.''
''I hope we get upset about it,'' offensive coordinator Josh Henson added. ''We need to play better. We need to have a sense of urgency to get it done.''
The Tigers open Southeastern Conference play Saturday at Kentucky (2-1).
Missouri is averaging less than 5 yards per play and is ranked 118th nationally in that category. The Tigers average slightly more than 3 yards per rush, ranked 122nd, and one-fifth of their carries have been for no gain or for a loss.
Missouri is averaging 107 yards rushing per game, worst in the SEC.
''We need to run the ball better,'' coach Gary Pinkel said. ''That's football 101. We'll continue to work hard.''
Ish Witter has been the primary ball carrier in Hansbrough's absence, rushing 41 times for 131 yards. Mauk is second with 96 yards on 25 carries and the school's lone rushing touchdown.
Henson believes Hansbrough will have an instant impact for Missouri.
''Obviously Russell's got a unique talent,'' Henson said. ''Getting him back will be a boost.''
Hansbrough said not playing against UConn was difficult but necessary.
''Just taking off that past week was a big deal,'' Hansbrough said. ''It helped my ankle a lot just staying off of it. I'm feeling a lot better.''
In the SEC, only South Carolina (1-2) has scored fewer points per game than Missouri. The Gamecocks average 19.7 points, while the Tigers average 23.3. Missouri has just six trips inside the 20, fewest in the conference.
Hansbrough is probable this week after getting rested last week to rehab a sprained ankle. A 1,000-yard rusher last year, he's been limited to seven carries for 38 yards.
''That's going to be a big help for us,'' Mauk said. ''He's going to be a huge help.''
Mauk said he also realizes there's much he can improve upon. He wants to work on getting the ball out faster.
''Whatever it is, just know my progressions, know my reads, and make sure I always have that escape route to find the running back or whoever that last guy is,'' Mauk said.
Mauk said he's not worried about some fans clamoring to see more of freshman Drew Lock. In fact, he's doing all he can to get Lock ready.
''It's not a distraction at all,'' Mauk said. ''He's one play away from being in there full-time, and whatever I have to do to help him progress is what I'm going to do.''