Columbia — Justin Britt saw his buddy Elvis Fisher lying on the ground Saturday night, and his mind raced. First with thoughts about his teammate's well-being – an MCL issue, coach Gary Pinkel would later say – then about what that would mean for him.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
“What are you supposed to think when something like that happens?” Britt said. “I’m going to left tackle, that’s what I thought. It’s in the heat of the moment, you just have to roll with it.”
The injury to Fisher – a sixth-year senior who missed all of last season with a knee injury and did not return Saturday – was a significant blow on what turned out to be a rough night for Missouri’s offensive line, which struggled to create running lanes and allowed a fast and physical Georgia front to generate pressure in a 41-20 Missouri loss.
But game aside, it is clear that Fisher – who known for his affable personality – was in the thoughts of his teammates and coaches.
“Elvis is probably one of my best friends here,” Britt said. “I love him, and he’ll be back. I don’t know if he’ll be back for his seventh year, but he’ll be back, and we’ll be happy to have him back. We’ll see what the doctors say about it and move on from there.”
Pinkel said Fisher was lost with “MCL concerns,” which he added “is not good.” He gave no timeline for how long Fisher could be out, but Pinkel should reveal more on Monday during his weekly press conference.
Regardless, the injury forced Britt to shift from right tackle to left tackle, while center Mitch Morse moved out to right tackle. Brad McNulty took Morse’s place at center while left guard Evan Boehm and right guard Max Copeland remained in their positions.
“We had a plan to put Mitch back out and move a redshirt freshman to center, and so we became real young and inexperienced on the offensive line, quick,” Pinkel said. “But what we will do is line up, work to get better and battle. We don’t have excuses for anything – you’ve got to overcome those things.”
Britt said he did his best to step up and fill Fisher’s shoes. Britt started at left tackle all of last season, and it is worth noting that the offense did have its moments – especially passing the ball – against the seventh-ranked Bulldogs on Saturday. The Tigers led 17-9 at one point in the third quarter, largely due to their passing game.
“I felt like I had to be more vocal because Elvis wasn’t with us,” Britt said. “It was kind of just me. Max is very vocal too and says the craziest things. I felt like I tried to step up and lead those guys down the right path. It’s just, things happen.”
Most of the bad things Missouri had happen Saturday were caused by star Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones, who had a crucial interception and sack in the second half to put things out of reach.
“You can’t change your whole offense – obviously he’s a great player and we saw him (play) like that against everybody,” Pinkel said of Jones, who finished last season with 13.5 sacks. “And so you try to adjust the calls you make, you try to get yourself in position where you get rid of the football, run the football...but give him credit – he’s a great football player.”
Britt was beat by Jones on the aforementioned sack and fumble, which set up Georgia’s final score, a 6-yard touchdown run by Ken Malcolme that put the game out of reach.
“He made a good play, I made a bad step,” Britt said. “He’s a good player. I’ve faced bigger guys, but he’s probably one of the quickest I ever played. That’s why he led the SEC in sacks last year – he’s got that speed. It’s awful I had to give one up right at the time and things (went) the way they did, but I’ve got to work on my footwork. Everybody’s got to get better.”
Especially in the running game. Against a stout front that allowed an average of 72 rushing yards per SEC contest last season, the Tigers managed 102 yards on 39 attempts Saturday, and average of only 2.6 yards per carry. Twenty-three of those yards came on a meaningless run, the final play of regulation.
“They played good defense and we struggled a little bit,” Pinkel said. “We had two offensive linemen who played the entire game at the positions they practiced at. We’re going to have to work through that, but I think you give them credit – they’re a really good defensive football team.”
It’s certainly worth nothing that before Fisher went down, the Tigers were also missing two projected starters in left guard Travis Ruth, who might return before the end of the season, and right guard Jack Meiners, who sprained his knee during preseason camp but was given an outside chance to play Saturday (he didn’t).
The depth at the position also took a hit this preseason when redshirt freshman Taylor Chappell – who was projected to be the top backup at offensive tackle – was lost for the season with a knee injury while No. 2 guard Mark Hill had to quit football due to blood clots.
Not that Britt or his teammates are willing to make excuses. The Tigers play Arizona State on Saturday, and they have five days to improve.
“That’s just the way it happens – sometimes it doesn’t go your way,” Britt said. “It’s unfortunate Mizzou had to handle it going into the big year (in the SEC), but we’ve got young guys stepping up and making people blink twice like Brad and Evan and Max and Mitch…I think we’re a good o-line, and we have to show it this next week.”
A few additional notes from Saturday’s game:
*Pinkel seemed a tad agitated when asked about the new helmet rule requiring a player to leave for a play if his helmet comes off. Quarterback James Franklin was forced to leave the game a couple of times because his helmet slid off.
“I don’t remember a helmet ever coming off a quarterback since I’ve ever (been here),” Pinkel said. “I had no idea what happened there, so I have to look at it. It was that unusual.”
Wide receiver T.J. Moe admitted losing Franklin for a few plays was frustrating, though he hinted it isn’t always the player’s fault.
“It’s a rule though,” Moe said. “You’ve just got to make sure you keep that thing on. I know guys are tugging and pulling on it especially at the bottom of the pile there. He’s got to do a better job of keeping that thing on.”
*Franklin took responsibility for his second-half interception to Jones, which helped turn a 7-point deficit into a 14-point deficit.
“That took away a lot of momentum,” Franklin said. “That last throw to No. 29, I just didn’t see him. That’s something I’ve got to be more aware of. We were doing good until that...kind of turned things around.”
*A somewhat surprising development was the lack of opportunities for five-star freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who finished with only one catch for five yards. Still, Moe was quick to remind everybody that Green-Beckham has a bright future at MU.
“He’s just a great kid – he’s going to be something really special here,” Moe said. “We didn’t get the ball to him a lot tonight, but he’s going to make a lot of plays in his career, score a lot of touchdowns.”
*The Tigers did plenty of talking in the days and months leading up to the game, and while they came out on the losing end, several players reiterated their belief they can hang in the Southeastern Conference.
“The people in Missouri aren’t the ones saying we can’t compete – it’s everybody outside,” Moe said. “And certainly, we were out on the field competing. They are a really good team, a top-ten team, but I don’t think they were killing us. We were in the game ‘til the very end.”
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.