By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
Quarterback Kellen Cox has accounted for 42 percent of Missouri Southern’s rushing yards in the first four games of the season.
The Lions are looking to get more of their weapons involved, starting this afternoon at Central Missouri.
“It is a process, and it is hard to be patient,” Lions coach Daryl Daye said. “We want it right now, everybody does. I want to put my finger on the fast-forward button and get it moving. But we are not there, and we just have to understand it is one step at a time and it is a process. Hopefully we will be able to continue to get better and our offensive package will grow and our defensive package as well and special teams.”
The Lions and Mules both went 3-1 during the first month of the season, but now the schedule becomes a whole lot tougher for the Lions.
Missouri Southern’s first four opponents have a combined 2-14 record, and one of those victories was Southwest Baptist’s 16-13 decision over the Lions last week. The Lions’ six conference opponents over the last seven weeks of the season are 20-4 entering today’s action.
Central Missouri has won three straight since a season-opening 38-26 loss at undefeated Missouri Western. The Mules’ first four opponents are 13-3, and all three of those losses — one each by Northwest Missouri, Lindenwood and Truman State — were administered by the Mules.
Mules quarterback Colter Smith has completed 100 of 152 passes for 1,082 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions. Ronrei Lloyd has 21 receptions for 278 yards and two scores, and running back LaVance Taylor has gained 376 yards on 66 rushes and 156 yards on 14 catches.
Missouri Southern leads the MIAA in rushing defense (67.5 yards per game) and total defense (284.5). The Lions are seventh in pass efficiency defense (117.39 rating) and have been a victim of the big play.
“We have to do a better job of not giving up the big play,” Daye said. “Central Missouri’s quarterback will take what you give him underneath … a long handoff is what we call it. And if you get a little undisciplined, he will go over the top of you. They have an excellent running game as well, and they have a big, physical offensive line.”
Cox, who played receiver in his first three years with the Lions, is second in the conference rushing race with 446 yards, an average of 5.4 yards per carry. He’s gained at least 100 yards in the last three games, joining running backs Wentric Williams in 2004 and Cornell Gedward in 2010 as the only Lions with three straight 100-yard games during the last 13 seasons.
Cox had 30 of the Lions’ 50 rushes against SBU, and the Lions obviously want more option in their triple option.
“Southwest Baptist did a good job the other night taking some things away, and it took us a little bit to establish the fullback,” Daye said. “We made some good plays and got some drives going, but it seemed every time we would get something going, we would put ourselves behind the chains (with a penalty). We do not want our offense to be first-and-15 … we want it second-and-5.”
The Lions had seven penalties last week, the same number they had against Northeastern State two weeks ago in their home opener.
“We have about half of our package in, and we are feeling as an offensive staff that we can expand a little more,” Daye said. “You want to always try to get the ball to your best players, and each week as we get better, we can expand what we can do.”
The Lions certainly want to find ways to get the ball to Landon Zerkel, who has nine catches for 105 yards.
“We’re trying,” Daye said. “There were a couple of times when (SBU defenders) knocked it down, and they double-covered him some. He is an outstanding player, and we have to find ways to get the ball to him more. That catch he made on the sideline (a leaping 20-yard gain) was as top notch of a catch as you will see a receiver make.”