Appreciating Larry Rountree III: The man who carried Mizzou to victory over Kentucky
Larry Rountree III will be the first to tell you the 2019 season didn’t go the way he planned it.
I’ll be the second.
I was really high on Rountree, Mizzou’s standout running back, entering last season. Heck, I even wrote a glowing profile piece about him.
After rushing for 1,216 yards and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2018, big things were expected from Rountree in 2019. However, he (much like the entire Mizzou offense) struggled. His 2019 numbers looked like this — 186 carries, 829 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 9 touchdowns.
Those are far from “bad” numbers, but they weren’t what Rountree was hoping for in his junior season.
He’d never place blame on others for his struggles, but I absolutely will.
Mizzou’s offense was stagnant under OC Derek Dooley last year. It’s clear opposing defensive coordinators figured out his system after some decent 2018 performances. (It also helps that Dooley had Drew Lock to work with in 2018.)
Speaking of quarterbacks, last year’s starter, Kelly Bryant, dealt with nagging injuries all season, which definitely hurt his effectiveness. That, in turn, hurt Rountree’s effectiveness.
OK, that’s enough excuses. Rountree entered 2020 with a new coach (Eli Drinkwitz), a new QB (Shawn Robinson at first, now Connor Bazelak) and a new system. And, through 4 games, it’s safe to say this new offense agrees with him.
It’s not always pretty, but Rountree is exactly what Drinkwitz needs in a running back. With Rountree and fellow RB Tyler Badie, Drinkwitz has a tandem that he can use the way he used Darrynton Evans at Appalachian State last season (1,480 rushing yards, 18 rushing touchdowns, 198 receiving yards, 5 receiving touchdowns).
And use Rountree he did on Saturday against Kentucky. The Tigers snapped a 5-year losing streak against the Wildcats with a 20-10 victory. It wasn’t pretty. No, it wasn’t pretty at all.
Let’s see how many cliches I can fit into this next paragraph, shall we?
Saturday’s game was a slugfest — good, old-fashioned smash-mouth football. It was a bring-your-lunch-pail, strap-on-your-hardhat battle in the trenches. This was the kind of football your grandpa remembers. None of this no-defense stuff that has become the norm in college football. A real throwback. Three yards and a cloud of dust.
How’d I do? I counted 10 cliches in that last paragraph. That’s high-quality journalism, if I do say so myself.
This article is publishing on Tuesday, and I’m guessing Rountree is still feeling Saturday’s game. And that’s not surprising. He had 37 carries (do running backs even do that anymore?) for 126 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Yes, that was only good for 3.4 yards per carry, but against Kentucky’s strong defense, that’s not bad. Plus, it was exactly what the Tigers needed.
Why was Mizzou able to hold on for a much-needed victory? Well, you only need to look as far as the time of possession. The Tigers held the ball for 43:10 on Saturday, compared to a measly 16:50 for the Wildcats.
Rountree’s strong running kept that clock ticking. Mizzou’s offense was far from dynamic, but with the way Mizzou’s defense stifled the Kentucky offense, all the Tigers needed to do was keep the chains moving.
Enter Rountree. He only had 3 runs of 10-plus yards, 0 runs that went for 20 yards. This highlight only shows 4 of his 37 carries, but it gives you a good idea of how tough yards were to come by on Saturday:
He only got stronger as the game went on, too. I know the Tigers have 6 games left, but this run is going to be one of the iconic moments from Mizzou’s 2020 season:
Video of the Larry Rountree truck stick + bench reaction pic.twitter.com/kz9G4ao1tK
— Mark Kim (@MarkJKim_) October 24, 2020
Yeah, that run only gained 8 yards on a 2nd-and-9 late in the 4th quarter. But that sideline energy is a great sign for the Drinkwitz era. And it shows just how much the Mizzou players respect Rountree. That’s why he’s 1 of the team’s 3 captains this year.
The team needed him to carry the load and take the punishment from Kentucky’s defense. That defense is one of the best in the SEC. And Rountree toted the ball 37 times, taking those hits gladly.
After the game, Rountree had a couple of great quotes that personified exactly what he brings to the Mizzou offense. The first one involves Mizzou’s conditioning. He said he felt Kentucky’s defenders were getting worn out late in the game:
Larry Rountree III on Kentucky's defense: "They were getting tired. They couldn't function so they had to have guys fall down and act like they were hurt when they weren't really hurt. It shows we're more in shape than than them and we outplayed them."
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) October 25, 2020
Now that’s a running back quote if I’ve ever heard one. Yes, Kentucky’s defense was on the field for 43 minutes Saturday, but Rountree was also on the field for almost that whole time. And he just kept getting stronger as the game wore on.
He also passed the legendary Brock Olivo to become Mizzou’s No. 3 all-time leading rusher, and it’s in large part because of his mentality.
Nothing better encapsulates Rountree’s winning mentality better than this quote after Saturday’s game:
Larry Rountree after 37 carries: "I'm fine. I could play again tomorrow."
— Peter Baugh (@Peter_Baugh) October 25, 2020
Rountree will have to wait until Saturday to take the field again. But with the way Florida’s defense has struggled this year, Rountree could find a lot more running room than he did against Kentucky.
That’s a scary thought for Florida DC Todd Grantham.