COLUMBIA, Mo. -- In Missouri's season-opening loss to Bowling Green, Tiger running backs Zack Abron and Zain Gilmore combined for 28 yards on 17 carries. Afterward, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel pledged to make his running game a priority.
It seems to have come to life.
Last weekend in the Tigers' 35-16 loss to Texas, Abron and Gilmore rushed 17 times for 128 yards, 109 coming from Abron in marking the fourth straight game the Tigers had a 100-yard rusher. Pinkel credits the team's practice habits for making the running game a success.
"It's my theory that you play how you practice, and we practice at a very high level," Pinkel said as the Tigers now prep for Saturday's game at Colorado. "Those backs have been working very hard competing with each other for playing time. They've been competing and getting better through practice."
Abron, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound sophomore, rushed for 100 yards against Kansas and 147 against Iowa State. He also was Missouri's first 100-yard rusher of the season, carrying 22 times for 106 yards against Southwest Texas State on Sept. 8 in Columbia.
"He's a very powerful runner," Pinkel said. "He gets to the line of scrimmage fast and he breaks a lot of tackles. His work ethic is extremely good. He's become a lot better player because of how he works."
Gilmore, a senior, broke 100 yards in Missouri's game at Oklahoma State, rushing 22 times for 107 yards. Freshman Tyrone Roberson carried 13 times for 74 yards against Southwest Texas State, but hasn't been a major part of the Missouri ground game.
The Tigers' team numbers also are up. After gaining just 76 yards against Bowling Green, the Tigers improved to 229 yards against Iowa State and 231 against Kansas.
Last weekend, a stingy Texas running defense held Missouri to 147 team yards.
"The offensive line has really looked improved as the season has progressed," Pinkel said. "They're learning what we like and how to work together. We're pretty deep at that position, which is why we feel very lucky."
Abron, who dropped 20 pounds over the summer to become a slimmer, quicker back, said Pinkel has brought excitement to the running game as Missouri's first-year coach.
"He lets us know that we can really control a game, as long as we work hard and practice hard," Abron said. "We like to work hard for him."
The fight for the starting role between Abron and Gilmore has been raging all season. Pinkel said he and his assistants on Thursday evenings plan the amount of time each will play.
He said the competition for the position has helped both running backs.
"I think on a good football team you have to plan well," Pinkel said. "They both practice at a very high level and I think the competition is good for the both of them, and for our running game."