Briarcrest high school head coach Brian Stewart doesn’t know who first started calling Tyler Badie “Showtime.” The Missouri running back has had the nickname since at least his junior year of high school, when he moved to Memphis and joined the Briarcrest team. Stewart and his staff still use the monicker; the last two weekends, his phone has blown up as Badie’s former coaches marvel at “Showtime doing his thing.”
Watch Badie play and it’s no mystery why the nickname stuck. As Missouri’s feature back the past two weeks, Badie has proven that when the stage is at its biggest, he’s at his best.
“I think it’s something he always had,” Stewart said of Badie’s ability to perform on game day. “It was just Showtime Badie, baby. Because when those lights come on, it’s showtime.”
One of the most popular talking points surrounding Missouri during the offseason was how the Tigers would replace Larry Rountree III at tailback. Badie had played a regular role in the backfield each of the past three seasons, and he figured to take over as the lead back. But only once had he carried the ball more than 13 times in a game. Given his size — he’s listed at 5-foot-8, 194 pounds — few around the program expected him to take on a Rountree-esque workload. Rountree averaged more than 22 touches per game last season.
At least through two games, Badie hasn’t just shouldered Rountree’s workload. He’s hardly ever come off the field. Badie has played 133 of 153 snaps so far this season, including 72 of 79 at Kentucky. He’s caught or ran the ball a whopping 52 times. Only three running backs in the country have touched it more.
Even more impressive: Despite the drastic increase in volume, Badie has still been just as explosive as in years past, if not more so. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per carry — nearly two yards better than his previous best season average — and 7.5 yards per touch. Add it all up and his 392 scrimmage yards leads the nation.
“He’s a hell of a football player,” Eli Drinkwitz said after Missouri’s loss at Kentucky. “I mean, the dude is playing his butt off. He doesn’t get many breaks. He’s a factor in both the run game and the pass game and has to run a lot of routes, a lot of yardage. He’s a really good football player, and we need him to continue to be in order for our offense to have any chance of success.”
Badie has stepped into Rountree’s workhorse role (or “bell horse,” as Badie described himself after Missouri’s win over Central Michigan) without trying to be Rountree. He’s shown an ability to run between the tackles, sure. And he’s Missouri’s clear choice as a short-yardage running back, getting most of the team’s snaps in the red zone. But he’s continued to showcase the skills that make him a dynamic change-of-pace weapon — namely his ability to be a big-play threat and receiver out of the backfield.
Thirteen times through two weeks, Badie has gained 10 or more yards, the most of any player in the country. All three of his touchdowns have come from at least 10 yards out. And he’s not only Missouri’s leading rusher, but Connor Bazelak’s favorite passing target, as well. Badie leads the Tigers with both 16 targets and 13 receptions.
When Kentucky took away the deep ball last week, Bazelak continually dumped the ball down to Badie, who made defenders miss and helped keep drives alive. He finished the game with 10 catches for 88 yards, both of which led the team. The 10 receptions made him the first Missouri player (not first running back, first pass-catcher, period) to amass double-digit catches in a game since 2018. At some point in the next couple weeks, Badie will become the first Tiger player ever to achieve 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in his career, as he needs just 53 more yards through the air to do so.
“Just having Tyler is awesome,” Bazelak said. “He’s going to catch the ball and make people miss, and makes me look good.”
Badie wasn’t made available for interviews this week. But Stewart isn’t surprised at what he’s seen out of his former player. Badie had a similar breakout season as a senior in high school. Much like at Missouri, he had to wait his turn at running back, serving as a secondary option behind an established starter during his junior year. Stewart quickly realized that Badie, with his combination of speed and agility, possessed a big-play ability he simply couldn’t find elsewhere on the roster, so he let him carry the load as a senior.
Badie didn’t disappoint. In 2017, he touched the ball 209 times across 10 games. He racked up 1,492 total yards and 17 touchdowns.
“You just gotta say, look, the more this guy touches it, the better our team is going to be,” Stewart said. “So as many times as he can touch the football, there’s more opportunities for that electricity, and for him to make a big play, for him to score a touchdown.”
Stewart believes the notion that Badie couldn’t hold up to a full season as a feature back in the SEC is unfair, especially since Badie hasn’t yet had an opportunity to prove otherwise. So far during his four-year Missouri career, Badie has only missed one game due to injury.
Stewart called Badie “one of the toughest players I have ever coached.” He tells a story about one game during Badie’s senior season, when Badie took a big hit to the ribs late in the first half. During the break, Stewart asked Badie his pain level on a scale of one to 10. Badie responded “zero,” and played the whole second half.
“I’ve got no worries about Tyler Badie’s ability to stay healthy,” Stewart said. “And he’s also mature enough to understand, what do I have to do to take care of my body each and every day so that I can go out there and perform on the weekends?”
Badie might receive a lighter workload this weekend as Missouri hosts FCS foe Southeast Missouri. But for the most part, it sounds like Drinkwitz is content to keep feeding him a steady diet of touches.
Drinkwitz acknowledged that the coaching staff would like to sprinkle in some more snaps for Elijah Young and other members of the running back room, and that may have been the plan against Central Michigan and Kentucky. But when the lights have come on and the game has started, “Showtime” has performed too well to be taken off the field. Until that changes, expect Missouri to keep riding its “bell horse.”
“Ultimately, we would like to find some other people who can share the load in the backfield,” Drinkwitz said. “But on the road against an SEC opponent, you’ve got to ride your horses. Coach (Bobby) Petrino used to say this at Arkansas: ‘FTS. Feed the studs.’ That’s what you’ve got to do. So we’re trying to be 1-0. Whoever gives us the best chance on that play to execute at a high level is who’s going to get it right now. Tyler’s playing at a very high level, so we’re going to ride that horse.”