COLUMBIA — Mitch Morse stood on the sideline, the one place he never thought he’d be this season, and let the anger wash over him.
By TEREZ A. PAYLOR
The Kansas City Star
It was Oct. 13, late in the fourth quarter of Missouri’s 42-10 loss to No. 1 Alabama. Morse, the Tigers’ starting center, was sitting out because of a sprained knee and could only watch as Alabama defensive lineman LaMichael Fanning took down freshman running back Russell Hansbrough with what could be described as a pro wrestling move.
“Part of me wanted to run out there and take a couple swings,” Morse said with a laugh.
Offensive linemen are protective by nature, so when someone messes with a teammate, they often take it personal.
So it should also come as no surprise that, on the next two plays, center Brad McNulty and left guard Evan Boehm drove Fanning to the ground, then watched as right guard Max Copeland pancaked Fanning and appeared to rip his helmet off.
Just like that, Morse’s anger turned to happiness. To him, it was proof the Tigers, although 3-4 overall and 0-4 in the Southeastern Conference, aren’t even close to losing their fighting spirit.
“Like any team should, if you cheap-shot our guys, we’re not going to take that lightly,” Morse said. “But I feel like we should … say look what we can do when we get ticked off. If we take that mentality and we go every play with that, we’re going to be just fine.”
He’s not the only one who feels this way. The line has had some difficulty with injuries and pass blocking but hasn’t given up.
“I think what happened on the field was (what) any good team would have (done),” co-offensive line coach Josh Henson said. “Are we going after guys to try to hurt guys? We’re not. But we’re also trying to protect our guys. They did everything legal inside of the whistle, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
Perhaps that’s why Morse went out of his way to encourage his dejected O-line brethren after the game.
“The guys were bummed out, but I went to talk to them and say ‘That’s what you do guys, that’s how you take care of other guys on the team, especially a freshman,’” Morse said. “Now he knows we’ve got his back and he can make those aggressive runs, and when he gets hit, we’re going to run over there and pick him up.”
The good news for Morse is that he will get a chance to do that himself Saturday when MU plays host to Kentucky at 11 a.m. He is listed as the starting center in the most recent depth chart.
“I think our biggest problem this year has been we’re not executing consistently enough,” Henson said. “I know that sounds like coach-speak or a cliché, but I don’t know how else to describe it … you watch the film, and it’s not the same guy (making mistakes) every time, it’s kind of like everybody is taking their turn. When you do that, it’s like you’re playing against yourself and the other team.”
While the Tigers are facing a must-win game if they want to keep their bowl hopes alive, Morse said there isn’t any panic, at least not yet — adding that last year’s team started 4-5 and won its last four games.
“Sometimes our guys are going to get it hit,” Morse said, “but we’re we going to run over there and tell our guys ‘Hey, we’ll pick you up, you just keep making those hard plays and we’ll block the (heck) out of them the next play.’”