Columbia — In the aftermath of Missouri's crushing 19-15 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, Corbin Berkstresser stood tall amidst a swarm of reporters in the Memorial Stadium media room. Though disappointed in his performance against the Commodores, the quarterback's voice did not waver, and he took on the questions, every one of them, until there were no more.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
Berkstresser, a redshirt freshman from Lee’s Summit, better get used to this duty, because it looks like he could be the starting quarterback for a while. Junior James Franklin suffered another injury on Saturday, this time to his left knee, and Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he is not expected to play next Saturday, when the Tigers host No. 1 Alabama.
But while the specter of that game looms large – if you thought Vandy was tough, wait until you see ‘Bama – Berkstresser had no interest in looking ahead. Defeat hung in the air, and it was partly his fault. He was often wild against the Commodores, completing 9 of 30 passes for 189 yards, and he also had a fumble.
“It’s a difficult position to be in, he’s a young player,” Pinkel said. “Throwing a redshirt freshman out there is tough. He did some good things.”
Still, it was a far cry from Berkstresser’s somewhat promising performance in his only other appearance of the season, MU’s 24-20 win over Arizona State. In that game, he completed 21 of 41 passes and also helped MU convert 10 of 22 third downs.
But while Berkstresser again showed toughness on Saturday – he absorbed some massive shots, much like he did against the Sun Devils – there’s no doubt he has plenty of room for improvement. He admitted afterward that he had more nerves than he did against the Sun Devils, possibly because he was thrown into the fire in this game.
“Kind of getting thrown in there is a little different than starting,” said Berkstresser, who took most of the first-team snaps in the weeks leading up the ASU game.
Berkstresser also had several balls batted down, something Pinkel attributes to the O-line not aggressively attacking D-linemen when they got their hands in the air. He also said Berkstresser must do a better job of finding throwing lines.
“I definitely need to get my arm up a little higher,” Berkstresser said.
Even Berkstresser’s best moment – an 85-yard touchdown pass to Bud Sasser, MU’s longest scoring pass since 1976 – seems to be a fortunate break. Receiver Gahn McGaffie was also in the vicinity of the throw, and Sasser said he wasn’t sure who the pass was intended for.
"It really is one of those plays where you see the quarterback aiming for a different target and the pass just went over No. 2 and he ended up hitting No. 1,” said Vanderbilt safety Javon Marshall.
Pinkel said he gave no consideration to inserting true freshman Maty Mauk, who had a prolific prep career in Ohio but appeared to be headed toward a redshirt year. However, Pinkel indicated the staff will at least entertain the notion this week.
“We’ll talk about that (Sunday), see where we’re at there,” Pinkel said.
Regardless of what happens there, Berkstresser knows there’s work to be done. Especially if he wants a respectable showing against a strong Alabama team coming off a bye week.
“I’ll prepare like I’m the starter,” Berkstresser said.
Richardson causes a ruckus?
At least one player was ticked off following the loss. During Pinkel’s postgame session with the media, an unidentified player could be heard ranting and raving from the locker room.
Media members seemed to agree that it sounded like star defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who is definitely fiery enough – and has the cache with his teammate, because of his remarkable play – to pull off such a display despite being a junior.
When asked if the unidentified mystery man was Richardson, sophomore defensive end Kony Ealy – who also had a sack on Saturday – offered a defiant “no.”
Sasser was also asked who the mystery man was.
“I’m not going to talk about that, man – that’s just emotions being high,” Sasser said. “It’s not arguing or anything, it’s just guys trying to get us going, trying to keep us together. We’re a team here.”
Sasser later emphasized that the rant was coming from a good place, and that the message was a simple one.
“Get going, get going,” Sasser said. “That’s basically what came across, get going. We know we have a good team, we know we can go out there and do great things, we just have to get it together for four straight quarters.”
It’s hard to imagine MU’s injury situation getting much worse than this. Both Franklin and center Mitch Morse are expected to miss a few weeks with MCL strains, while dynamic punt returner Marcus Murphy had to leave the game with a dislocated ring finger. Senior middle linebacker Will Ebner also missed the game with a hamstring injury.
The position most affected by this ridiculous rash of injuries is the offensive line. All five of MU’s projected starters going into the season – Elvis Fisher, Travis Ruth, Morse, Jack Meiners and Justin Britt – have suffered some injury since the summer, while guard Mark Hill and tackle Taylor Chappell – two top backups – have both been lost for the season.
The injury situation on the O-line is so bad that Fisher – who missed the previous three games with a MCL strain – had to gut his way through the game for the best of the team.
“Elvis was out there struggling,” Pinkel said. “You saw Elvis limping around. He’s just playing because he’s tough…with all the injuries we had, he didn’t want to go out so hat’s off to him for wanting to help his football team.”
It doesn’t help that Morse is also the next best tackle after Fisher, Britt and Meiners, who has also been dealing with a MCL strain and rotated at right guard with former walk-on Max Copeland.
To me, the fact some well-known backups - like tackles Anthony Gatti and Chris Freeman and guard Nick Demien - haven’t been able to get some playing time with these injuries definitely says something about how ready the staff feels they are to contribute.
• MU receiver Bud Sasser finished with a rare statline; one catch for 101 yards. Eighty-five came on his touchdown catch in the second half, and 16 more came on his fumble recovery of Marcus Lucas.
• Vandy and Missouri each finished with 17 first downs, which was pretty surprising considering MU’s offensive struggles after Franklin got hurt.
• Missouri’s defense held Vanderbilt to 89 rushing yards on 43 carries – that’s an average of 2.1 yards per carry, which is obviously pretty good.
• Missouri has now forced a takeaway in 24 straight games, thanks to Kip Edwards’ third-quarter interception.
• Missouri’s 15-play, 88-yard scoring drive in the third quarter was the Tigers’ longest of the season.
• Redshirt freshman Andrew Baggett has taken a lot of heat this season for his uneven performances, but the Lee’s Summit North grad deserves credit for nailing all three of his attempts on Saturday. Baggett is now 7-for-11 on the season.
• Senior running back Kendial Lawrence turned in another strong performance, setting a career-high with 21 carries for 92 yards. He notched a previous career-high with 19 carries a week ago against Central Florida.
To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/TerezPaylor.