Missouri had three wide receivers catch at least five passes in the same game Saturday at Toledo for the first time since a victory at Indiana in the third game of the 2013 season, a span of 13 games.
For a position group dogged by questions throughout the offseason and training camp, it was an encouraging performance.
Senior Bud Sasser had a career day with five catches for 121 yards, including a 25-yard tightrope run down the home sideline for a touchdown.
Fellow senior Jimmie Hunt snagged six passes for 71 yards and two touchdowns, while Darius White, a senior transfer from Texas who had two scores in the season-opening win against South Dakota State, finished with five receptions, 69 yards and another touchdown.
“I think it was a big game for the receivers,” said senior Marcus Murphy, who caught three passes for 41 yards and touchdown of his own. “I was looking at Bud’s stats. He had over 100 yards. Darius, he had his touchdown. Jimmie caught two touchdowns. It just shows that we have a lot of playmakers on the field. We spread the ball out and we’re going to continue to do what we did last year — air it out and make plays on the run.”
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel was happy to see it, but also said it wasn’t unexpected. He also wants to see the Tigers build more depth at the position.
That could mean increased reps for junior Wesley Leftwich and freshmen J’Mon Moore, Lawrence Lee and Nate Brown.
“We have to play some of the younger receivers,” Pinkel said. “We have to get them on the field. Playing those guys (Hunt, Sasser and White) 70 plays a game, it gets tough. They need a rest with the type of offense we have. … They’re talented young kids, and we’re going to have to get them in a little bit.”
On to your questions:
“Are all the questions about Mauk and WRs from camp/last week finally answered after yesterday? There were still a couple drops, but overall this offense sure seems to be clicking.
“What are your thoughts on the UCF matchup? I know Penn State was able to throw all over them in the opener.”
— Dan Miller, via email
I don’t know that all the questions are ever answered in any sport — unless it’s who is the best pitcher in baseball right now — and I know Missouri isn’t satisfied. It was a good week, to be sure, but it was still just one week. The Tigers were OK against South Dakota State, but I wouldn’t say they were dominant through the air. Even after the Toledo game, Darius White said “there’s still more we can do.” I think questions about Missouri’s wide receivers are no longer a front-burner issue.
The defense struggled against the pass versus South Dakota State and wasn’t great against the run at Toledo. There are some assignment issues and tackling issues, stuff that’s correctable. Until it’s corrected, however, those mistakes become the concern du jour entering Saturday’s game with Central Florida.
The Knight have an experienced receiving corps, but a young quarterback who’s never faced the kind of pass rush he’ll see when Craig Kuligowski’s crew is unleashed shortly after 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium. Central Florida’s run game was terrible against Pen State. While William Stanback’s return ought to help a bit, he’s coming off a foot injury, which is usually problematic for a running back. In other words, he can only help so much.
If those defensive lapses mentioned earlier are cleared up (or at least substantially improved), the Knights might have a tough time scoring points. That is seldom the case for an offense with quarterback Maty Mauk at the helm. South Carolina managed to keep Mauk and Missouri in check last season, but he’s thrown for at least three touchdowns in every start since that double-overtime loss. Look for another big day from Mauk and the offense despite George O’Leary’s defensive prowess historically.
“The main thing for us is that we just had a great week of practice,” Mauk said of the performance against Toledo. “We came out and kind of had a little fire in us. We wanted to get better and coach Pinkel pushed us really hard last week. We’re going to do the same thing this week, so each week we’re going to get better.”
Certainly, this is another reason to expect a big game from the offense. Central Florida is likely to have trouble sustaining drives with a relatively young, inexperienced offensive line. Missouri will send out one of the best defensive lines the Knights will see all season, led by dominating defensive ends Markus Golden and Shane Ray.
I’ll be more interested in the interior of the defensive line this week. Moving closer to SEC play, you’d like to see senior Lucas Vincent and Matt Hoch begin dominating more as well along with sophomores Harold Brantley and Josh Augusta. If Missouri can generate push in the middle, eat up blocks to free up the ends and blitzers and also clog running lanes to force opponents to try and run laterally, Missouri has the makings out a stout defense.
Chris, I’m going to go ahead and take full credit, because I’m hoping someone will believe that and hook me up with a slice of that SEC Network money. Daddy gots bills.