COLUMBIA, Mo. – Missouri running back Kendial Lawrence became a forgotten man last year when his injury opened the door for Henry Josey’s breakout campaign. He wasted little time reminding folks what he can do Saturday night.
Healthy and motivated for his senior season, Lawrence rushed for a career-best 121 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Tigers to a 62-10 rout of Southeastern Louisiana in their season opener at a rainy Memorial Stadium.
Lawrence broke off a career long 76-yard touchdown run as part of a 28-0 scoring barrage early in the first quarter before adding a one-yard score just 44 seconds into the third quarter.
With Josey taking a medical redshirt this year, Lawrence appears to be more than capable of holding down the fort as the marquee back in the Missouri offense. And he began to prove it Saturday night.
“I feel like I can be a weapon also,” Lawrence said “I’m not too worried about it. I know people may have forgotten and all that, but it just drives you to come back and work your hardest to get back out there and be exciting on the field.
“I’m really motivated times 100 because this is my last year and coming off the injury last season, I just want to have a great season.”
Lawrence reached the end zone just 7:25 into the game when he used a few nice blocks and raced down the right sideline untouched for a 76-yard score that put Mizzou up 21-0. It was the second touchdown run of at least 70 yards in his career, topping his previous high of 71 yards at Texas Tech in 2010.
He added a one-yard score less than a minute into the second half, giving him the first multi-touchdown game of his career. It was his third career 100-yard game and second in a row after rushing for 108 yards in Missouri’s Independence Bowl win over North Carolina to end last season.
“He’s been practicing like that,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “If you’ve been at our practices, that wouldn’t surprise you because that’s how he’s been playing and practicing. He didn’t have a zillion reps tonight, which is good. He stays fresh. But some big plays and speed.”
Lawrence opened 2011 as the starter but played in just one game before suffering a cracked fibula in practice that forced him to miss three games. And the injury opened the door for Josey, who broke out as one of the best running backs in the Big 12 and kept the starting spot when Lawrence returned.
But Josey went down with a season-ending knee injury with four games left, helping Lawrence finally retake his spot as the starting back. He finished strong, recording 371 yards rushing and three touchdowns in four games to end the year after Josey went down.
With Josey still rehabbing his knee, Lawrence was inserted as the starter from the first day of fall camp. And he’s looked every bit like the guy that opened last year at the top of the depth chart, earning praise from Pinkel as one of the most impressive players in fall camp leading into Saturday.
He continued his preseason success on the rainy and wet turf Saturday night, showing that he is more than capable of carrying the workload for the Tigers in his senior season.
“Kendial is one of the fastest players around,” said receiver T.J. Moe. “He’s quick. He’s running hard. He’s making a lot of yards after contact.
“He’s a lot better than he’s been the last couple years and he’s been good, don’t get me wrong, but he’s really improved himself and I think he’d tell you that. He’s worked really hard to get where he’s at and he’s earned it.”
Added quarterback James Franklin: “If he runs like he did tonight, we probably won’t pass the ball much. He did a great job coming out and making some guys miss. I think it really helps our passing game because then defenses worry about the run game and we can hit them over the top with the pass.”
The timing of his breakout couldn’t work any better for Mizzou. Lawrence will serve as the primary back this fall before graduating, and Josey will return from his redshirt next year with two years of eligibility remaining.
But this year is all about Lawrence, who entered the season with 1,207 career rushing yards at Mizzou and hopes to tack on several hundred more this fall.
With Josey out of the picture, Lawrence figures to take advantage of the spotlight and continue to make more of a name for himself as the season goes on.
“I guess you could say that but that’s not my whole deal, to step out of his shadow,” Lawrence said. “I’m trying to play my hardest every game and score points for the team.
“That game was really big because finishing last year off strong, I wanted to come out this year and start pretty good also.”
And he did just that, setting the stage for what could be a memorable senior season.