Columbia — Long before the biggest game of his college career on Saturday, Corbin Berkstresser made sure he sought out his family.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Two hours before he led Missouri to a 24-20 win over Arizona State, Berkstresser – who was participating in Tiger Walk with the rest of his teammates – hugged his father, Greg, said “hi” to his mother, Kim, and greeted the rest of his family.
“It’s kind of a little superstitious thing I do,” said Berkstresser, a graduate of Lee’s Summit High.
While it’s doubtful this superstition had anything to do with his good fortune on Saturday, there’s no doubt his first-ever start as a Tiger went pretty darn well, all things considered. He battled with accuracy at times, completing 21-of-41 passes for 198 yards in a conservative scheme, but played well enough to deliver a critical win that kept Missouri from losing its second straight game.
“I thought he did a lot of good things,” said Missouri coach Gary Pinkel. “It was a tough environment, we watched what we did with him.”
But at the end of the day, Berkstresser ran many of the same plays that junior starter James Franklin – who sat out the game with an inflamed bursa in his shoulder – has mastered.
"The plays were no different,” said Arizona State coach Todd Graham. “I thought he played well and the coaches did a good job. They ran the ball well and avoided making mistakes with a new quarterback. He seemed very comfortable even with all the pressure we put on.”
Berkstresser even flashed some running ability, despite accumulating 25 yards on 18 carries. He scored on a hard-charging, 6-yard touchdown run in the first half, and absorbed a number of hard hits – both in the pocket and on running plays – that endeared him to his teammates.
“He's such a tough kid,” said senior receiver T.J. Moe. “He reminds me of Blaine (Gabbert), in that aspect. Blaine was just tough as nails, and Corbin is the same way…I think he did a really good job of sitting in the pocket, taking some hits and picking himself up. Usually when you're that tough physically, you're pretty tough mentally and that's great – everybody can ride behind a guy like that."
Moe also raved about Berkstresser’s passing ability, noting that his arm strength is better than most quarterbacks’ he’s played with.
To his credit, Berkstresser said he felt bad for Franklin, who served as his big brother last year and helped him on the sideline during Saturday’s game. But for one game, at least, this was his moment, and Berkstresser – a three-star prospect who committed to Missouri before his junior year of high school – was intent on soaking it all in, especially when he ran in as Missouri’s starting quarterback after the opening kickoff.
"It's exhilarating,” Berkstresser said. “It's the kind of thing you think about when you sign your letter of intent. Playing in front of a full crowd like that, in front of Mizzou Nation, it was awesome. It was great to get a win for this team, and everybody that works hard for this program.”
Though Berkstresser, ever the perfectionist, rated his performance a “5” on a scale of 1-to-10, he grinned broadly when asked if he thought he made his family proud.
“I hope so,” Berkstresser said.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.