ST. LOUIS — Line 'em up when they're all healthy and Missouri's trio of speedy Texas tailbacks would make for quite the race.
While waiting for All-Big 12 Henry Josey to recover from a pair of knee operations that will sideline him all this season, the Tigers are counting on fellow burners Kendial Lawrence and Marcus Murphy. Both had big games in the opening 62-10 rout against lower division Southeastern Louisiana, but the degree of difficulty will be ramped up significantly when Missouri makes its Southeastern Conference debut against No. 7 Georgia on Saturday night.
Lawrence has run a 4.31 40, fastest on the team. Murphy and Josey were on opposing 4x100-meter relay teams in high school. Together, they've added a necessary speed dimension that should ease the transition to the new conference.
"I can turn it on," Lawrence said. "It's just a matter of knowing what speed to use at any given time."
Murphy said some days he's the fastest man, some days it's Josey and "Kendial's in there sometimes."
"I think Murphy probably plays as fast as any guy we have with the football in his hands," offensive coordinator Dave Yost said. "You see Kendial have that same type of deal where he can go.
"Henry played so fast all the time."
Of course, it's about more than the stopwatch. Quarterback James Franklin doesn't have a particularly impressive 40 time but is plenty elusive with the ball in his hands, running for 15 touchdowns last year and finishing as the second-leading rusher with 981 yards and a 4.5-yard average.
"It's also about functional speed," coach Gary Pinkel said. "If you run 4.5, you ain't playing 4.5, that's the other side of it, and being able to start and stop."
Murphy, a sophomore who missed last season with a shoulder injury, set a school record with two touchdown returns in the opener. He needed just a small crease to bust loose on jaunts of 70 and 72 yards, and also set a school record with 180 punt return yards on five attempts.
"Kind of the cliche is, 'He's quick as a hiccup,'" Yost said. "He can put his foot on the ground and change direction and make guys miss that are 3 and 4 yards away from him. We've seen this since he's gotten here."
On Monday, Murphy became the school's first SEC honoree when was named conference special teams player of the week.
"Once I catch the ball I have pretty good vision," Murphy said. "I just try to set up the blocks any way I can and just run off them and try to get to the end zone.
"I try to make them miss any way I can."
Lawrence, a senior, was the starter entering fall camp last year but missed three early games with a cracked fibula. As Lawrence rehabbed, Josey became a star with 1,168 yards and an 8.1-yard average with nine touchdowns.
Lawrence got the job back after Josey was hurt and stepped up with a pair of 100-yard efforts the last four games. He had a career-best 121 yards on 10 carries in the opener, and was particularly impressive turning the corner and speeding past a defender that had the angle on a career-best 76-yard scoring run.
He realizes that effort won't mean much if there's no follow-up against Georgia, fifth in the nation in total defense in 2011. Southeastern Louisiana has won just eight games on the road since bringing back football in 2003.
The Bulldogs yielded 206 yards rushing with a 4.4-yard average in their opening victory over Buffalo, but they played without several starters. Safety Bacarri Rambo, linebacker Alec Ogletree and cornerback Sanders Commings were suspended.
"This game being the first SEC game, it's kind of like the first game all over again," Lawrence said. "You're really excited and pumped. But you always want to go out there and do your best."
Murphy was the primary kick return man his freshman year at Missouri. He averaged 8.2 yards in limited duty at backup tailback.
Before getting hurt himself, Josey helped keep Murphy's spirits high last fall.
"Henry, he cheered me up every day," Murphy said. "I think it gave me a little motivation, I have a little bit more hunger in me."
Despite Murphy's success returning punts in the opener, Pinkel said Missouri will stick with wide receiver T.J. Moe on kickoff returns.
A fourth Texas speedster, freshman Russell Hansbrough, also could be in the mix. Hansbrough, who ran for 18 touchdowns as a high school senior, had 19 yards on four carries in the opener.
All of them are relative lightweights, with Lawrence listed at 5-foot-9 and 195 pounds and Murphy and Hansbrough 5-9 and 185. So Missouri won't be asking them to run over anyone.
"They can do some pretty cool things with the ball," Franklin said. "That definitely gives me a lot more comfort ... knowing that they're going to get a certain amount of yards or they can get a big play every now and then."