Missouri fans can be happy with what took place against Furman on Saturday afternoon.
But, then again, Missouri's 52-12 blowout win came against an inferior, albeit talented, FCS opponent that was in town for a paycheck first and foremost.
Therefore, here's a somewhat brief look at what stood out:
Each supremely talented, the Smiths are but a microcosm of what the Tigers' pubescent defensive unit is all about: inexperienced youth meets undeniable talent.
And as impressive as Jacquies and Aldon Smith have been thus far, the great news is that their talent is just beginning to be tapped.
Once again, the two lightning-quick ends were all over the field Saturday.
When they weren't frustrating the Furman running game, the Smiths were wreaking havoc on the passing game, often forcing senior quarterback Jordan Sorrells to leave the comfort of the pocket and rush throws.
But the crescendo of the youngsters' disruption came in the second quarter on Saturday.
When Jacquies Smith sniffed out Furman's telegraphed screen pass, intercepted the ball and sprinted 43 yards, he gave Missouri its first defensive score of the season and essentially put the game away before halftime.
The Smiths are still adjusting to the college game—Jacquies is a true sophomore, while Aldon is a redshirt freshman—but their confidence grows each week.
And the Tigers will undoubtedly need both to continue their development as conference play approaches and the defense encounters more athletic and talented offenses and headier quarterbacks.
For now, though, Missouri defensive coordinator Dave Steckel will certainly take what his two star pupils have given him through three games. Their individual stats are as follows:
- Jacquies Smith: 10 tackles (1.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, 1 interception, 1 touchdown
- Aldon Smith: 13 tackles (4 for loss), 2 sacks, 2 pass breakups
Besides the obvious of nearly guaranteeing a win, other factors that play into scheduling an FCS opponent include the chance to give invaluable experience to players who wouldn't otherwise see the field.
And by the end of the third quarter on Saturday, head coach Gary Pinkel was rolling out his second, third, and fourth lines.
If nothing else, mop-up time versus Furman gave us a glimpse as to how far Missouri's program has progressed under Pinkel's watch.
Not so long ago, the Tigers were lucky to have any talented players at all. Those who occupied reserve roles did so for the sole reason of taking space.
Nowadays, players residing on the depth chart's second and third slots do so either because they're too inexperienced or the person(s) in front of them is equally as talented.
In short, Pinkel has managed to stockpile talent in Columbia and it showed on Saturday. With the game well in hand, wholesale changes were made all over the field, including the entire offensive and defensive lines and at running back.
Here are a few names to look out for in the near to not-so-distant future:
- Will Ebner: Not really a backup by definition, Ebner hasn't started yet this season, but he has played in all three games and saw a ton of action against Furman when first-string middle linebacker Luke Lambert could no longer test a gimpy ankle. The 6'1", 230-pound sophomore from Friendswood, Texas, is a heat-seeking missile and is arguably the team's most devastating tackler outside of Sean Weatherspoon. In limited duty, Ebner is second on the team with 20 tackles, including 12 solo, and is sure to see his role increased within the defense, in addition to his head-hunting duties on special teams.
- Gilbert Moye: Due to the dense crowd that resides in the Missouri backfield, Moye has been the odd man out thus far. A converted safety, Moye saw significant action against Furman, carrying the ball six times for 36 yards. At 6'2", 220 pounds, Moye has size that is unmatched by any of MU's other three running backs, but his sluggish performance in preseason camp, coupled with the solid play of true freshman Kendial Lawrence, has led to duties as the No. 4 running back. However, with his performance over the weekend, which included a touchdown nullified by a penalty, don't be too surprised if the redshirt sophomore sees more carries against Nevada, especially if No. 2 back De'Vion Moore (ankle) is unable to go and/or the game gets out of hand.
- Marcus Malbrough: A perfect example of Missouri's fruitful recruiting efforts in recent years, Malbrough has prototypical size for a defensive end, but he may have to wait his turn for a while because of the tremendous depth at the position. Similar to the Smiths in stature, the 6'5", 255-pound redshirt freshman from Beaumont, Texas, is currently listed as the backup to Jacquies Smith, but because Steckel likes to rotate his ends so much, Malbrough is only a call away from seeing significant game action.
- The young pups on the offensive line: As the clock ticked down on Missouri's win against Furman, the names responsible for protecting backup quarterback Jimmy Costello were unfamiliar at best: Jack Meiners, Justin Britt, Jayson Palmgren, J.T. Beasley, and Travis Ruth. These are the names that comprise the Tigers' No. 2 offensive line, but starter-like talent abounds with this group, especially with Meiners and Britt, two true freshmen that have wowed Pinkel since arriving on campus. It's not often that offensive linemen get a shot to play during their first season—especially under Pinkel, who just last season played his first true freshman offensive lineman (Dan Hoch)—but Pinkel acknowledged that Meiners (6'6", 305 pounds) and Britt (6'5", 295 pounds) are the byproducts of improved strength and conditioning programs in high schools around the country, which prepare players sooner, even for the most demanding positions.
Blaine Gabbert has excelled in his first three career starts
It's becoming common- place to associate Gabbert with every Missouri win.
Considering the manner in which the sophomore has guided this team through good and bad, how can I not?
I won't harp much on what Gabbert did on Saturday.
After all, the guy worked the equivalent of a half day and spent most of the time lounging back in the pocket.
Instead, I'll pass on some interesting numbers dug up by Tiger guru and Columbia Daily Tribune beat writer Dave Matter.
Here's how Gabbert compares with his two predecessors, Brad Smith and Chase Daniel, through the first three starts of his career:
Brad Smith (2-1 vs. Illinois, Ball State, and Bowling Green):
57 of 103 passing (55.3 percent), 662 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 117.0 rating; 39 carries for 257 yards and 2 TDs
Chase Daniel (3-0 vs. Murray State, Mississippi, and New Mexico)
72 of 108 passing (66.7 percent), 762 yards, 7 TDs, 1 INT, 145.5 rating; 33 carries for 87 yards and 2 TDs
Gabbert (3-0 vs. Illinois, Bowling Green, and Furman)
62 of 91 passing (68.1 percent), 747 yards, 8 TDs, 0 INT, 166.1 rating; 22 carries for 95 yards and 2 TDs
Some Other Notes
Matter has some insight on Pinkel's weekly Monday morning teleconference with Big 12 media, including a possible reason for tight end Andrew Jones' demotion on the depth chart, which I spoke of in a recent article.
Also, Fox Sports Net will replay the Missouri-Furman game in condensed form beginning on Tuesday at 1:00 pm CT. It will air again on Thursday evening at 7:00 pm.
And, in case for some reason you forgot, this Friday's game against Nevada will be televised nationally on ESPN at 8:00 pm CT.
Make sure to come back in the next few days as I hope to converse with Reno Gazette-Journal writer Dan Hinxman for this week's Enemy Intel feature.
Photos: Parker Eshelman/Columbia Daily Tribune
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