Missouri chases first 3-0 start in 22 years

Saturday, September 13, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- The last time Missouri started a season 3-0, MTV was making its debut, the arcade world's "Pac Man fever" was sweeping the nation and Iran finally freed American hostages it kept captive for 444 days.

Now after 22 years, the Tigers (2-0) look to keep the young season rolling unblemished after three games when Div. I-AA Eastern Illinois comes to town today in Missouri's home opener.

"As we're building this program, not having won three games since 1981 is a remarkable statement," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. Still, "I'm part of the problem because a year ago we had won two (games) and went to Bowling Green and got beat."

Pinkel hopes Missouri maturity rules the day, regardless of the opponent.

"When you look at this game, it goes back to not caring whether it's home or away or 12 people or 400,000 people. It's all about preparation, and mature guys respect who they play," he said. "They don't care about who they play or where they play, they prepare the same each and every week to play every week. Now that's the mature player."

All told, he said, "I think we have a cross-section of players who are mature, and we have more that are maturing. That's my job to get that done, and until it is I don't sleep."

Eastern Illinois will have to contend with Missouri sophomore quarterback Brad Smith, cleared to play and expected to start today after being sidelined with a mild concussion minutes before halftime in the Tigers' victory last weekend at Ball State.

Before being held out of the second half, Smith went 11-of-17 for 112 yards and had 117 yards on 13 carries, accounting for one touchdown.

Smith looks to put up numbers this season that eclipse those of a year before, when he threw for 2,333 yards and ran for 1,029 more as just a freshman.

Regardless, Missouri's defense -- ranked 107th nationally last season -- has been a work in progress.

With five new starters, the Tigers allowed 411 yards in their season-opening victory over Illinois, then cut that number to 244 against Ball State.

To safety Nino Williams II, improvements must come in three areas.

"Vision, breaking speed to the football and takeaways," the latter having been completely absent against Ball State, he said. "I think one thing that we have to do is thrive on takeaways this week so we can set our offense up with good field position and let them do what they've been doing well."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: