COLUMBIA, Mo. – It's a sense of humor often accompanied by a sly smile that teammates seem to love about Missouri running back Russell Hansbrough.
"He's just the guy who sits in the corner and says something once every blue moon, but it's funny as all get-out," receiver Bud Sasser said.
His performance on the field has been no laughing matter. Last Saturday at Texas A&M, Hansbrough was all business as he ran 20 times for 199 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-27 win. After growing up in Arlington, Texas, the junior saved the best performance of his career for his homecoming.
There to see it were his parents, Doug and Janice Hansbrough.
"It was great, because my mom, she came out really smiling and happy for me," Hansbrough said with a grin of his own. "My dad, too. Normally he doesn't show any emotion - he showed a lot after the game."
Hansbrough's efforts highlighted a 587-yard output by the 19th-ranked Tigers, including 335 on the ground. Missouri (8-2, 5-1 SEC) entered the game averaging 330.1 yards - 13th in the SEC - including just 250.2 against five conference opponents.
In response, coach Gary Pinkel and offensive coordinator Josh Henson decided to slow the tempo of the offense and simplify the playbook, opting to run more to use up time.
It finally clicked against Texas A&M, which allows an SEC-worst 445.2 yards per game. Missouri's offensive line bullied the Aggies, and Hansbrough took advantage for touchdown runs of 49 and 45 yards.
"I knew the offense was going to break through at some point," linebacker Michael Scherer said. "It was only a matter of time. It's cool to see, because a lot of people were down on them earlier in the year. I just hope they keep it rolling."
Hansbrough ran just 19 yards on 15 carries against Kentucky on Nov. 1 before a week off, and said his latest performance provided a boost of confidence. At 5-foot-9, 190 pounds, he admits to not trusting his speed at times as he runs through gaps in the offensive line.
"I thought he really had a purpose with how he was running the football," Henson said. "He carried the pile a few times - he's a tough little guy. I was just really excited to see him respond and be aggressive in his running style."
Both Hansbrough and senior Marcus Murphy, who ran 20 times for 88 yards last week, showed no ill effects from their workload. The goal is to keep each below 25 carries, Henson said, and substitute freshman Ish Witter in as necessary.
For his part, Hansbrough feels "100 percent" after experiencing nagging knee, shoulder and toe injuries through his career. Now with 790 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on the season, he claims to not look at his statistics so he can stay "level-headed," an approach taught to him by Murphy and former teammate Henry Josey.
The Tigers will need to emulate that approach if they want to capture a second consecutive SEC East championship. To do so, they must win at Tennessee (5-5, 2-4), which blew out Kentucky 50-16 last week behind quarterback Joshua Dobbs, and at home against Arkansas.
"All of them know what's going on," Pinkel said. "You've got to keep yourself focused. There are opportunities out there, but there is no margin for error."