Tigers take new look into Murray St. opener
Friday, September 1, 2006
Chase Daniel will debut as the starting quarterback Saturday against the Racers.
For the first time since 2001, someone other than Brad Smith is starting at quarterback for Missouri when the Tigers open Saturday at home against Murray State.
Not that Smith's replacement, Chase Daniel, is worried about it, even if Smith was something of a one-man passing and running show, establishing 69 school, Big 12 or NCAA records. Daniel, a highly regarded sophomore, is OK with the comparisons.
"I really don't mind it," Daniel said. "Anyone being compared to Brad Smith would love it. I love him, but bring it on."
Coach Gary Pinkel made it a point to get Daniel into most games last season, usually for only a series or two. He certainly took advantage of his one big opportunity.
With Smith hurt and unusually ineffective in the Tigers' homecoming game Oct. 15 against Iowa State, Daniel led late 75- and 87-yard scoring drives in a 27-24 overtime win.
Murray State's new coach, 38-year-old Matt Griffin, is impressed with Daniel.
"They lost a great quarterback, but they fill in with another one," Griffin said. "Chase Daniel has as strong an arm as I've seen on tape in a lot of years."
Missouri is coming off an up-and-down 7-5 season punctuated with a 38-31 upset of South Carolina in the Independence Bowl. The Tigers return eight starters on offense, seven on defense.
On paper, Murray State, of Murray, Ky., seems overmatched. The Racers are a Division I-AA team, and weren't a very good one last season, finishing 2-9 and surrendering 31 points per game. They're also young -- Griffin plans to start four sophomores and four freshmen.
"The best player plays," Griffin said. "That's where the gray hairs pop in for me. I'm confident in those guys, our coaches are confident in those guys, and really, those spots have been earned."
Junior Ryne Salyer beat out redshirt freshman Zach Bernard for the starting quarterback job. Salyer completed 97 of 194 passes (50 percent) for 1,062 yards last season, when he started five games.
Murray State's biggest offensive threat is senior tailback Chad Cook, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry in leading the team with 664 rushing yards in 2005. Also returning are two of the Racers' top receivers, senior Jonathan Eiland and sophomore Rod Harper. Both had 23 catches.
Missouri's rushing game has to make up for the loss of Smith's 1,301 yards from a year ago. Junior tailbacks Tony Temple and Marcus Woods are expected to get the bulk of the carries. Temple, who ran for 437 yards (5.4 yards per carry) will get the start. Woods ran for 435 yards (4.7 yards per carry).
The Tigers have two highly-regarded tight ends in junior Martin Rucker and sophomore Chase Coffman. They combined for 94 catches in 2005 -- 47 each, and they nearly evenly split the combined 1,070 receiving yards. Returning wide receiver Brad Ekwerekwu, a senior, had 32 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns.
"They've got two tailbacks that are very talented," Griffin said. "They have two huge tight ends that they can use as blockers and as pass threats. They have a lot of skill in a lot of different areas that can hurt you."
Griffin said the Racers' best matchup pits their receivers against Missouri's inexperienced secondary. But he was concerned Missouri's pass rush would offset any advantage.
That pass rush is led by senior defensive end Brian Smith, who led the Tigers with nine sacks in 2005. His 24 career sacks are already a team record. Senior defensive end Xzavie Jackson is benched for academic reasons on the opening game and sophomore Stryker Sulak will start at the other end position.
Both teams are anxious to get started.
"Our football team, like every football team around the country and in the Big 12, is tired of hitting each other," Pinkel said. "It's time to go out and find out where you're at."
* Pinkel is 102-67-3 overall, and a win Saturday would even his Missouri record at 30-30.
* The Tigers are 71-39-5 all-time in season-openers and have won their last four.
* Murray State and Missouri have never played each other.
* Like Murray State, Missouri has some freshmen expected to get plenty of playing time. Rather than redshirt them, Pinkel plans to play receivers Jared Perry and Danario Alexander, cornerback Del Howard and linebacker Sean Weatherspoon.
Sept. 2 -- MURRAY STATE, 6 p.m.
Sept. 9 -- MISSISSIPPI, 11:30 a.m.
Sept 16 -- at New Mexico, 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 -- OHIO, 1 p.m.
Sept. 30 -- COLORADO, TBA
Oct. 7 -- at Texas Tech, TBA
Oct. 14 -- at Texas A&M, TBA
Oct. 21 -- KANSAS STATE, TBA
Oct. 28 -- OKLAHOMA, TBA
Nov. 4 -- at Nebraska, TBA
Nov. 18 -- at Iowa State, TBA
Nov. 25 -- KANSAS, 11 a.m.