Tigers try to avoid Ball State surprise

Saturday, September 6, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- After beating Illinois in the season opener, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel isn't looking too far ahead.

Sure, the Tigers' schedule over the next four weeks could lend itself to a 5-0 start in anticipation of a home game against Nebraska Oct. 11. Then again, the Tigers need only look back one season to see the perils of overconfidence.

A 2-0 start in 2002 ended with a thump when Missouri lost 51-28 to Bowling Green. Heading into today's game against Ball State in Muncie, Ind., Pinkel is determined to have his team prepared.

"We have to respect every team, because Ball State could win," Pinkel said. "That's my job to get that done."

Missouri dominated the Cardinals last year in Columbia, 41-6. The Tigers scored 27 points in the third quarter.

But first-year coach Brady Hoke already has Ball State off to its best start since 1995 with a season-opening 31-7 win over Indiana State. The win was the first opening-game victory for Ball State in eight years.

The Tigers used a bend-but-don't-break philosophy in the 22-15 win over Illinois last Saturday. Illinois gained 422 total yards but scored just one touchdown.

"They were getting some plays on us here and there, but there were a lot of positive things," defensive lineman Russ Bell said. "We stuck together and we ended up keeping them out of the end zone, and that's what counts."

The Tigers look to improve on an offensive showing that managed 224 total yards and produced just one long drive. But it came at the right time -- a 79-yard fourth-quarter drive that overcame a 15-14 deficit.

Last season, quarterback Brad Smith, now a sophomore, ran for 105 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown scramble, against Ball State, and completed 14 of 27 passes for 176 yards.

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