No. 24 Missouri doesn’t expect South Dakota State to be a pushover Saturday when the 2014 season kicks off at 2:30 p.m. at Memorial Stadium.
“They have a lot of great players that could play on any college football team,” sophomore linebacker Michael Scherer said. “They come in ranked very high in their division and made it deep in the playoffs last year. We’re going to play a very good football team.”
The Jackrabbits, who are ranked No. 10 in the Football Championship Subdivision, reached the second round of the FCS playoffs last season.
“We’re going to come into this game like it’s anybody else,” sophomore quarterback Maty Mauk said. “We’re not taking them light. We’re going to come out ready to go.”
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Senior running back Zach Zenner leads the South Dakota State attack. He is only the second player in FCS history to rush for more than 2,000 yards in two different seasons.
Zenner totaled 2,044 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012 and rushed for 2,015 yards and 23 touchdowns last season, including a 202-yard performance against Nebraska.
The Jackrabbits also boast a steady hand at quarterback in senior Austin Sumner, but Missouri — unbeaten in 13 games against FCS opponents — is less worried about its opponent than it is finding a level of consistency that was absent during fall-camp scrimmages, especially on offense.
“We’re not good enough to overlook anybody, No. 1,” Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said. “No. 2 is, you find out about your team. Is this a team that’s going to focus on ourselves? It’s about how we play, not who we play. I don’t care who’s on schedule, it’s not about how they play or who we’re playing, it’s about how we play. … If you’re that kind of team, I think a lot of good things can happen.”
Temperatures are expecting to settle in the upper 80s with a 40-percent chance of rain Saturday, but Pinkel said he won’t opt for Missouri’s white uniforms to ward off the mid-afternoon sun.
“We’re mentally tougher than that,” Pinkel said with a laugh.
South Dakota State at No. 24 Missouri
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Memorial Stadium in Columbia
TV/RADIO: ESPNU; KMBZ (980 AM, 98.1 FM)
STILL STREAKING: Missouri owns the nation’s longest streak with at least one turnover forced at 44 consecutive games. It’s been nearly four years — Oct. 30, 2010 at Nebraska — since the Tigers failed to record a turnover. Arizona State owns the second-longest active streak at 29 games.
MULTI-TALENTED MURPHY: Senior Marcus Murphy spent half of camp working at slot receiver and the other half at his primary position during his first three seasons, tailback. It will be interesting to see how Missouri’s staff splits his time in a game while also balancing his punt-return duties.
TIGHT-END PRODUCTION: Missouri didn’t use the tight ends much in the passing game last season, completing a pass to a tight end in only four games. Sophomore Sean Culkin’s 6-yard catch against Murray State in the 2013 opener represents the only passing-game production among the returning tight ends, but will that change with a revamped offense?