Tigers, Huskers Square Off For Big 12 North Lead On Saturday

MUTIGERS.COM Brad Smith and the Tigers square off with Nebraska this Saturday.
Brad Smith and the Tigers square off with Nebraska this Saturday.

Oct. 28, 2004

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Missouri Tigers (4-3/2-2) at Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-3/2-2)
October 30, 2004 - Memorial Stadium - Lincoln, Neb.

KICKOFF: 11:00 a.m. (central time).
STADIUM: Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium (68,349 - FieldTurf surface). Opened in 1926. MU is 227-158-20 there alltime, including 3-1 in 2004.
RADIO: Tiger Network (Mike Kelly, play-by-play/John Kadlec, color). Carried on over 50 stations statewide, and on the Internet at www.mutigers.com.
TV: FSN. Joel Meyers will call the action, with Dave Lapham offering booth analysis and Jim Knox reporting from the sidelines. Bob Steinfeld is the fearless producer.
RANKINGS (AP/ESPN-USA): MU - RV (31st)/RV (35th); NU - None.
SERIES: NU leads, 61-33-3, and has won 13 straight over MU in Lincoln.
Mizzou: Gary Pinkel (Kent, '75), 21-22 at MU (4th year) and 94-59-3 overall (14th year). Pinkel is 1-2 versus Nebraska and 0-0 versus Bill Callahan.
Nebraska: Bill Callahan (Illinois Benedictine '78), 4-3 at NU (1st year) and overall. Callahan is coaching his 1st game against Mizzou and Gary Pinkel.

The Missouri Tigers (4-3 overall, 2-2 in Big 12 Conference play) head to Lincoln, Neb., where they'll take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (4-3, 2-2) in a game that carries huge significance in the Big 12 North race. Mizzou and Nebraska enter the game tied for the North Division lead, at 2-2, holding a one-game lead over all other division foes. The game, set for an 11 a.m. (central) kickoff, will be televised nationally on FSN.

Mizzou is looking to bounce back from a pair of tough defeats to ranked South Division foes. The Tigers are coming off a 20-17 loss to then-#22 Oklahoma State, last Saturday in Columbia. Prior to that, Mizzou went toe-to-toe at then-#9 Texas, before falling in the end, 28-20.

Nebraska is also entering the game fresh off a loss, as the Huskers fell by a 45-21 count last Saturday at Kansas State. Prior to that, however, NU had won three of its previous four games.

Just because Mizzou and Nebraska are both coming off of losses last week, don't let that lead you into believing that Saturday's game between the two schools doesn't have meaning. In fact, it's just the opposite, because the winner of Saturday's battle in Lincoln will leave the field in the driver's seat for the Big 12 North Division title chase.

Mizzou and Nebraska enter the game tied atop the North standings, at 2-2. The winner will have a one game lead over the loser, with three games left to play. That one game lead will essentially be two games, because if the teams end the season tied, the first tie-breaker is head-to-head competition, meaning that Saturday's loser will have to finish one game ahead of the winner to earn the North's bid for the Big 12 Championship Game on Dec. 4th in Kansas City, Mo.

At the halfway point in the conference season, every single team in the North is still mathematically in the race, as well, as Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State are all just one game back of MU and NU, at 1-3.

What does all of this mean? Hard to say, but we can say this - Mizzou and Nebraska are the only two teams in the North that currently control their destiny in the division race.

Despite dropping its last two games, the Missouri Tigers still control their fate in the Big 12 Conference North Division race, as mentioned above.

While there are a lot of games left to be played, seeing MU atop the rankings at any time is a big deal for Tiger fans, because it has been rather uncommon.

In fact, when MU stood alone in 1st place in the North at 2-0 prior to its game at Texas, it marked the first time that Mizzou was in sole possession of first place in Big 12 play since the inception of the league in 1996.

You have to go back to the 1998 season to find when MU gave its best run at the division lead. That year, Mizzou got out to a 3-0 start in conference play, before finishing 5-3 and in a 2nd-place tie, behind Kansas State, who won going away with a perfect 8-0 mark.

Mizzou is looking to make history, as the Tigers are out to claim their first conference title since the 1969 team won the old Big Eight Conference.

Mizzou enters the Nebraska game looking to rebound from consecutive losses to ranked South Division foes. Both games were ones that Mizzou easily could have won, only to end up falling to then-#22 Oklahoma State last week (20-17 in Columbia) preceded by a hardfought loss at then-#9 Texas (28-20 in Austin).

Against Oklahoma State, Mizzou jumped out to a seemingly commanding 17-0 lead late in the 1st half, but the Cowboys drove 80 yards in 8 plays in just 50 seconds to score a TD with just 4 seconds left in the 1st half to break Mizzou's momentum, and make it a 17-7 game at halftime.

The Cowboys, who had just 32 yards of total offense (18 yards rushing/14 yards passing) prior to their late 1st half drive, then rode the momentum gained into a dominating 2nd-half performance. OSU outgained Mizzou in the 2nd half by a 276-to-87 margin in total offense, gaining 7.3 yards per play, compared to 3.1 for the Tigers. OSU scored 13 in the 2nd half for the win while MU was shutout.

The week before, at Texas, Mizzou fell behind 14-0 in the 1st quarter, but came back to forge a 14-14 tie late in the 2nd quarter, and appeared poised to take the lead into the lockerroom at half after a Tiger interception set MU up in Texas territory. But, on a 4th-down play from the Texas 27-yardline, the Longhorns got an interception of their own, and returned it 65 yards deep into MU territory. Texas punched it in shortly thereafter, and held a 21-14 halftime lead. Mizzou later trailed 28-14, but got back within 8 points, and had one last drive to tie the game, but its last drive stalled near midfield before Texas ran out the clock.

Missouri and Nebraska will meet for the 98th time when they do battle Saturday in Lincoln. Nebraska owns a 61-33-3 lead in the overall series, and had won 24 straight over the Tigers, before MU's historic 41-24 win over the 10th-ranked Huskers last season in Columbia.

That win marked MU's first in the series since 1978, when the Tigers pulled off a 35-31 upset win in Lincoln over the then #2-ranked Huskers.

Since that game, Nebraska had rolled to to 24 consecutive wins over the Tigers, until last year's outcome. Mizzou will be looking to break a 13-game losing skid to Nebraska in Lincoln, with MU's last win there coming in the aforementioned 1978 game.

Prior to the 24-game Nebraska winning streak, the series had been a very competitive one, as it stood just 37-32-3 in Nebraska's favor after MU's win in Lincoln in 1978.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Mizzou was a constant thorn in the side of the Cornhuskers, as the Tigers won exactly half of the games waged between the two schools from 1960-1979. Mizzou was 6-4 in games played in Lincoln during that stretch, and won 3 in a row there at one point, taking consecutive games at Nebraska's Memorial Stadium in 1974 (W, 21-10), 1976 (W, 34-24) and 1978 (W, 35-31).

Mizzou will be looking for consecutive wins over Nebraska since 1973-74, when the Tigers won 13-12 in Columbia in 1973, and followed with a 21-10 win in Lincoln the following year.

Brad Smith tied a school record with four touchdowns and Missouri scored twice on trick plays as the Tigers ended a 24-game losing streak against No. 10 Nebraska with a 41-24 victory in front of a sellout crowd in Columbia, Mo.

Nebraska committed five turnovers in losing to Missouri for the first time since 1978, and for the first time at MU's Faurot Field since 1973. Among the school's first sellout crowd in four seasons were several members of MU's last team to beat the Huskers, including coach Warren Powers.

Missouri trailed 24-14 after three quarters of play before blitzing Nebraska 27-0 in the final 15 minutes to seize the win. Nebraska entered the game with the nation's top-ranked defense and was coming off its first shutout in three seasons.

Smith was 13-for-27 passing for 180 yards and his first two interceptions of the year, making up for those errors with 123 yards on the ground in 18 rushes, plus a 47-yard touchdown reception off a double passback from wide receiver Darius Outlaw.

A 39-yard run by Smith on the first play of the fourth quarter cut the gap to three, at 24-21. The Tigers then took a 28-24 lead on a fake field goal when holder Santino Riccio, the backup quarterback, hit tight end Victor Sesay for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 11:21 left.

Smith ran one yard on a naked bootleg to make it 34-24 with 5:53 left and an interception and 34-yard return by defensive end Zach Ville set up a 9-yard Smith run with 5:11 to go.

Nebraska's Mark LeFlore turned a swing pass from quarterback Jamaal Lord into a 55-yard touchdown play for the game's first score, midway through the 1st period. Lord later ran it in from 35 yards out on the option as Nebraska, which trailed 14-10 at the half, made it 24-14 in the final minute of the third quarter.

The win also marked MU's first win over a top-10 opponent since 1981, breaking a string of 45 straight losses to top-10 foes for the school.

Mizzou played a 4th quarter like very few that have ever been seen last year against Nebraska, as the Tigers blitzed the Huskers for 27 points in the period to turn a 24-14 deficit entering the final period into a 41-24 win.

The Tigers held a 14-10 halftime lead, but Nebraska scored on a pair of TD runs in the 3rd quarter to take a seemingly commanding 24-14 lead over MU heading into the 4th quarter. It didn't look good for MU faithful, as the Huskers' defense had allowed only 7 points all season long in the second half and had shut out the Tigers in the 3rd quarter.

But the Tigers caught fire and took over the game on both sides of the ball, as MU scored TDs on its first 4 possessions in the 4th quarter, and held Nebraska to negative 48 yards of total offense in the final period to pull away for the win.


Mizzou fell to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in Big 12 Conference play Saturday, with a 20-17 home loss to 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State. Here are a few various and sundry notes concerning the game:

  • It was a tale of two different ballgames, as the Tigers jumped out to a commanding 17-0 lead late in the 1st half, thanks to dominant play on both sides of the ball. But OSU got a momentum-changing TD drive just before halftime that made it 17-7 going into the lockerroom, and the Cowboys dominated play in the 2nd half. OSU outgained Mizzou in the 2nd half by a 276-to-87 margin in total offense, gaining 7.3 yards per play, compared to 3.1 for the Tigers.

  • Mizzou dominated all aspects of the game, in bulding its' 17-0 lead. When the Tigers scored their TD to go up 17-0 with just 54 seconds left in the 2nd quarter, the stats were decidedly in MU's favor. At that point, MU had huge advantages in the following categories: 1st downs (12-to-1); Total Offense (177-to-42); Rushing Yards (112-to-18); Passing Yards (65-to-14); and Time of Possession (21:14-to-7:52). But the Cowboys awoke and quickly drove 80 yards in 8 plays and got a 12-yard TD pass from Donovan Woods to D'Juan Woods with 4 seconds left to make it 17-7 at half.

  • Mizzou won the battle of turnovers against the Cowboys, who were ranked 2nd nationally in turnover margin coming into the game. The Tigers gained 2 OSU miscues (1 fumble recovery, 1 interception), while giving away 1 of their own (interception). No points were scored by either team off the turnovers. It marked the 2nd straight week that MU has lost, despite winning the turnover battle (3-to-2 margin in 28-20 loss at Texas on Oct. 16th).

  • Mizzou was a salty 9-of-12 on 3rd-down conversions in the first half, but could manage only 2-of-7 in the 2nd half. Conversely, OSU was just 1-of-5 on 3rd downs in the 1st half, but converted 6-of-10 after intermission.

  • Senior linebacker Henry Sweat recorded his first career interception to end Oklahoma State's opening possession. He returned the ball nine yards to the MU 25-yard line. The interception by Sweat marked the fifth time in seven games and fourth consecutive game this season that the Missouri defense has gotten a takeaway on its opponents' opening possession. (Sept. 9 vs Troy State-interception; Oct.2 vs. Colorado-interception; Oct. 9 vs Baylor, interception; Oct. 16 vs. Texas, fumble).

  • Missouri closed out the first quarter of action with a four-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Brad Smith to redshirt freshman tight end Martin (T.) Rucker. The touchdown was Rucker's fourth of the season.

  • In OSU's first possession of the second quarter, Missouri junior defensive lineman C.J. Mosley forced his second fumble of the season with junior defensive back Marcus King jumping on the ball for the MU recovery at the OSU 33-yard line.

  • Sophomore defensive lineman Xzavie Jackson recorded two sacks in the second quarter for a total of 16 yards lost. They were the first sacks of Jackson's career.

  • Junior quarterback Brad Smith threw his 39th career touchdown pass, a three-yard toss to junior receiver Sean Coffey in the second quarter to give Missouri a 17-0 lead. The touchdown pass tied Smith with former Tiger great Jeff Handy for most Missouri career passing touchdowns. Smith entered the 2004 season fifth on the chart with 26 touchdowns.

  • Totaling 58 rushing yards against Oklahoma State, junior quarterback Brad Smith moved to 10th on the NCAA all-time rushing list for signal callers (2,845), passing former Big 12 foe Ell Roberson of Kansas State (2,818). Smith's longest rush of the game came in the third quarter for 16 yards.

  • Missouri's 20-17 loss was the Tigers' first loss to Oklahoma State since the formation of the Big 12 Conference in 1996, and stopped a nine-game home winning streak that began Sept. 13, 2003, against Eastern Illinois (37-0).

    It's been quite awhile since Mizzou was known as a strong defensive team. But right now, you'd have to say that while MU's offense has done okay through 7 games this year, MU's primary identity right now lies with its defense.

    The stats bear us out with that claim, as Mizzou sits atop Big 12 Conference standings in total defense entering the Nebraska game, despite its consecutive defeats, allowing an average of 283.43 yards per game thus far. That ranks Mizzou 15th in the country to this point.

    Additionally, Mizzou's defense ranks in the NCAA top-15 in three other major statistical categories, including: passing defense (3rd - 146.14 ypg); pass efficiency defense (15th - 101.63 rating); and scoring defense (18th - 15.86 ppg).

    After grabbing 1 interception versus Oklahoma State last time out, Mizzou's defense now has a total of 13 INTs already in 7 games this season, a total which is 2nd-highest currently in the NCAA, and has already surpassed last year's 13-game total of 9 INTs gained.

    The Tigers have intercepted at least 1 pass in every game thus far, and snatched 3 each in games at Troy and versus Colorado.

    Cornerback Shirdonya Mitchell leads the way with 4 interceptions, which ties him for 1st currently in the Big 12, and 6th in the NCAA.

    Mitchell had picks in 3 straight games, against Colorado, Baylor and Texas. He's got an interception now in 4 of MU's 7 games, entering the Nebraska contest.

    Previously, Mitchell intercepted a Baylor pass on the game's opening possession. That marked the 3rd time this season that MU has made an interception on its opponent's initial drive of the game. Mitchell did the deed in game #2 when he picked off a pass at Troy, while fellow CB Marcus King picked off Colorado in its opening drive in game #4.

    Junior S Jason Simpson had arguably the biggest play of the game when he picked off his first career pass late in the 2nd quarter and returned it 46 yards down to the Baylor 9-yardline. His INT set up MU's 1st TD of the game as Mizzou took a 13-3 lead into halftime, and never looked back.

    The MU single season record for INTs as a team is 28, set in 1941, and for individuals is 7, set in 1968 by former All-American Roger Wehrli.

    Mizzou's defense has been an opportunistic one all season, as the 19 turnovers created is tied for most in the Big 12 (with Kansas) entering Saturday's game, and has helped MU climb to 7th nationally in turnover margin, at +1.43 per game.

    The Tiger defense has been stellar in getting the ball back early in the game, as it has now forced a turnover on its opponents' opening possession of the game four straight weeks, and five times overall in seven games.

    Here's a look back at the takeaways:

  • Oct. 23 vs. Oklahoma State - Senior linebacker Henry Sweat recorded his first career interception to end Oklahoma State's opening possession. OSU had taken the ball over on MU's 31 yardline after the Cowboys intercepted Mizzou on its opening drive of the game...

  • Oct. 16 at Texas - Texas drove 70 yards on 10 plays on its opening possession of the game, but a Cedric Benson fumble was pounced on by MU's junior DT C.J. Mosley to snuff out the drive...

  • Oct. 9 at Baylor - Baylor took the opening kickoff, and gained just 5 yards in two plays, before senior CB Shirdonya Mitchell intercepted a deflected pass over the middle and returned it to the Baylor 29 yardline...

  • Oct. 2 vs. Colorado - Junior CB Marcus King made a diving interception of CU's Joel Klatt at the Colorado 49 yardline to snuff out the Buffs' opening possession...

  • Sept. 9 at Troy - Senior CB Shirdonya Mitchell got the game off to a rousing start for the Tiger defense, as he intercepted a Troy pass on the Trojans' very first play from scrimmage. Mitchell returned it 26 yards to the Troy 39 yardline, and that led to an MU TD to put the Tigers ahead 14-0...

    While the Tiger defense didn't get turnovers in initial drives in games #1 and #3 against Arkansas State and Ball State, they didn't exactly do poorly, either. Arkansas State went 3-and-out (gaining 7 yards), while Ball State managed two first downs and 33 yards before having to punt the ball away.

    Here are Mizzou's primary candidates for individual honors. Here's a brief assessment of Tiger players that we would very much like to be considered as honors candidates...

  • QB Brad Smith - Ranks 3rd in Big 12 in total offense...

  • DT C.J. Mosley - 4th in Big 12 in TFLs, 5th in sacks for MU's much improved defense...

  • DT Atiyyah Ellison - Combines w/Mosley to give MU one of Big 12's best tackle combinations...

  • DB Shirdonya Mitchell - Leads Big 12 (6th in NCAA) with 4 interceptions...

  • LB James Kinney - The leader of MU's much improved defense...

  • WR Sean Coffey - 3rd in Big 12 w/6 receiving TDs...

  • G Tony Palmer - MU's top offensive lineman on solid offensive squad...

  • S Jason Simpson - MU's leading tackler has been making big plays all season...

  • TE Martin Rucker - Freshman All-American candidate at TE, w/17 catches for 214 yds. and 4 TDs...

    After being dead even in the turnover margin category through MU's first two games (5 takeaways, 5 turnovers), Mizzou has decidely shifted the very important stat in its favor. In its last 5 games, Mizzou has forced 14 turnovers (9 INTs, 5 fumbles) and committed only 4 of its own (a fumble lost against Colorado, 2 INTs at Texas and an INT vs. Oklahoma State).

    That recent advantage has tipped the scales heavily in MU's favor, as the Tigers now rank 3rd in the Big 12 Conference, and 7th nationally, with a turnover margin of +1.43 per game (19 takeaways / 9 giveaways in 7 games).

    That is a solid continuation of last year, when the Tigers ranked 10th nationally (3rd in the Big 12), with a turnover margin of +0.85 per game.

    Mizzou has led the nation in fewest turnovers in each of the last two seasons, committing 12 in 12 games in 2002 and 13 in 13 games in 2003.

    When Mizzou commits mistakes (turnovers, penalties, etc...), MU Head Coach Gary Pinkel often refers to that as "Missouri beating Missouri." Fortunately for the Tigers' 4th-year skipper, that hasn't happened often at all.

    In fact, NCAA stats show that in Pinkel's time at Mizzou (from 2001), MU has had the fewest turnovers in the nation.

    In the 43 games in the Pinkel regime, MU has committed just 50 turnovers. The next fewest during that same period is Minnesota, with 55 . The next best team in the Big 12 is Oklahoma, who rates 5th-best nationally, at 65 turnovers.

    In 13 games last season, Mizzou led the nation with just 13 turnovers lost, a year after MU led the nation with just 12 turnovers in 2002 - setting a school record in the process for fewest in a year.

    Mizzou had one turnover last time out against OSU - an interception on MU's opening drive. But the Tiger defense saved the day, as it got the ball right back three plays later on an interception of its own.

    The week before, in a 28-20 loss at Texas in which it gave up 2 interceptions - and those proved costly as Texas converted them into 14 points.

    Prior to that, MU had turned the ball over just once in 3 games (a fumble against Colorado), and was mistake free in wins over Ball State and at Baylor. The Tigers uncharacteristically had 5 giveaways in its first 2 games (2 vs. Arkansas State and 3 at Troy).

    Under Pinkel, Mizzou has committed zero turnovers in 15 of 43 ballgames. Here's the breakdown by year:

    2004 - (2) - Ball State, at Baylor

    2003 - (7) - Illinois, at Ball State, Middle Tennessee, at Kansas, Texas Tech, Texas A&M, Iowa State

    2002 - (4) - Ball State, at Nebraska, at Texas Tech, Kansas

    2001 - (2) - Nebraska, at Oklahoma State

    Junior QB Brad Smith threw for 2 TD passes in Saturday's game against Oklahoma State, and those throws gave him 39 career TD passes, which tied him for 1st place on the MU career TD passes list, with former standout Jeff Handy (1991-94). His next TD pass will give him first place all to himself in the category.

    Prior to that, Smith threw for 185 yards on 20-of-34 passing at Texas, with 1 TD and 2 interceptions. By comparison, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Jason White of Oklahoma, completed 14-of-27 passes for just 113 yards and zero TDs with 2 INTs, against the same Texas defense the week before, in OU's 12-0 win over Texas on Oct. 9th.

    His 185 yards passing at Texas was enough to move him past former MU star Phil Bradley for 2nd place on the Mizzou career passing yardage list. Smith now has 5,601 career passing yards, while Bradley amassed 5,352 yards passing for Mizzou from 1977-80. The career record is still a little ways off - 6,959 yards by Jeff Handy from 1991-94.

    Prior to Texas, Smith led a balanced offensive attack in MU's 30-10 win over Baylor. He passed for a modest 151 yards (a season-low output), on 13-of-27 passing, but he connected for 3 TDs in the air, a total which tied his single-game career best mark.

    Brad Smith, already the MU career leader in total offense, has a career total offense number of 8,446 yards in 32 career games. He continues, with every yard, to shatter the previous record of 6,640 set by Jeff Handy, from 1991-94.

    Smith has thrown for 13 TDs through 7 games in 2004, a total which already has surpassed his 2003 total of 11 TDs through the air. He threw for a personal-best 15 TDs as a redshirt freshman in 2002.

    Smith threw for over 200 yards in each of MU's 1st 3 games this season (233 vs. ASU; 224 at Troy; 213 vs. BSU) - after reaching that mark only twice in 13 games in 2003 (236 vs. Eastern Illinois; 278 at Colorado).

    He set a personal record with a single-game QB efficiency rating of 188.51 and tied his personal-best with 3 TDs in the opener versus Arkansas State, when he connected on 14-of-22 passes for 233 yards. He tied that TD mark again later at Baylor, with 3 more TD passes. His season QB rating of 122.49 thus far is up from his 2003 season rating of 114.11.

    He's been more successful at stretching the field thus far, as Smith has already thrown for 5 TDs of 20 yards or more this season (24, 60, 35, 43, 51), after having only 1 TD pass of at least that distance in 13 games in 2003 (48 yds. at Colorado).

    Brad Smith enters the Nebraska game with 2,845 rushing yards in his career, which is just 354 yards shy of breaking the MU career rushing record of 3,198 established just last season by TB Zack Abron.

    Every rushing yard he accumulates this year will also get him closer to the top of the NCAA rushing record for a quarterback. He's still got quite a bit to go to reach the record of 3,895 set by Antwaan Randle El of Indiana (1998-2001), but he is on pace to do it. Given his career average of 88.9 yards rushing per game, he needs about 12 more games to break the mark.

    With 58 net yard rushing last Saturday against Oklahoma State, Smith moved into the NCAA career top 10 for quarterback rushing yards. He moved past former Kansas State star Ell Roberson, who rushed for 2,818 yards at KSU from 2000-03.

    Smith's rushing total of 1,406 yards last season was the 4th-most ever in a season by a quarterback, behind only Beau Morgan of Air Force (1,494 in 1996), Stacey Robinson of Northern Illinois (1,443 in 1989) and Jamaal Lord of Nebraska (1,412 in 2002).

    Mizzou's passing game has leaned heavily on its talented pair of pass-catching tight ends, in senior Victor Sesay and redshirt freshman Martin Rucker.

    The duo has combined for 40 catches for 440 yards and 6 TDs in just 7 games thus far in the 2004 season.

    Sesay leads the squad in receptions (23) and is 2nd in receiving yards (226) through 7 games, and is coming off a 4-catch outing against #22 Oklahoma State. He caught a TD in each of MU's first 2 games this year (35 yards against Arkansas State and 10 yards at Troy). Sesay caught 4 passes in the opener versus Arkansas State for a career-high 80 yards, had 3 catches for 45 yards against Ball State, and had 4 grabs for 30 yards versus CU.

    Rucker, who earned the #1 spot on the depth chart this fall despite missing most of spring ball due to an injured shoulder, has showed many times why Tiger coaches are so high on his ability. He's coming off a nice game against Oklahoma State, when he caught a career-high 5 passes for 28 yards and 1 TD. Previously, against Baylor, Rucker had a career-best 2 TD catches (7 & 17 yds.), and he had 3 catches overall on the night for 34 yards. Rucker enters the Nebraska game ranked 2nd on the team in receiving TDs, with 4. Rucker, the younger brother of former Nebraska and current Carolina Panther standout defensive lineman Mike Rucker, made quite a splash in his first game as a Tiger, when he took a pass from Brad Smith on MU's opening drive of the season, and took it 24 yards for a TD on his first career catch. He followed by catching 3 passes for a career-best 44 yards in game No. 2 at Troy.

    With each tackle, senior linebacker James Kinney will inch closer and closer to the school career tackles record of 415 held by former Tiger standout (and current Iowa State assistant coach) DeMontie Cross (from 1994-96). Kinney enters Saturday's game needing only 30 stops to surpass the mark, and that certainly seems likely, given the fact that he's averaged over 11 tackles per game in his previous two seasons.

    Kinney, a pre-season candidate for both the Butkus and Lombardi awards this year, has developed nicely into a leader of a defense that made big strides last year. The Tiger defenders are taking even bigger steps in 2004, after becoming one of the Big 12's most improved units a year ago.

    Kinney, who had 147 tackles a year ago, has 386 career tackles entering the NU game, after getting 10 stops last time out against #22 Oklahoma State. Before that, he had 9 tackles at Baylor. He recovered 2 fumbles against the Bears, and led a defensive effort that limited BU to a season-low total offensive output of just 173 yards. Prior to that, Kinney had 10 stops against Colorado and blocked CU's only extra point try in the game, which loomed quite large in MU's 17-9 victory. That marked MU's first blocked kick of any kind in 2004.

    He had a season-high 14 stops at Troy, prior to a solid outing that saw him register 10 tackles in the opener vs. Arkansas State. His career total currently has him tied for 3rd on the MU career charts, with former linebacker Travis McDonald, who registered 386 stops for MU from 1991-94. Kinney needs 6 tackles Saturday to pass Jamonte Robinson for 2nd on the list (391 tackles from 1998-2001).

    Junior wideout Sean Coffey comes into Saturday's contest with Nebraska as Mizzou's top wide receiver, with totals of 22 catches for team-bests of 348 yards and 6 TDs. His 6 receiving TDs ranks as 3rd-best in the Big 12 Conference.

    Coffey has been held to season-low totals of 2 catches each of the last two weeks, but he's still been productive, as he caught a TD pass in games at #9 Texas and against #22 Oklahoma State. Against the Cowboys, Coffey caught a 3-yard scoring pass from Brad Smith with 54 seconds left in the 2nd quarter to put MU up, 17-0.

    Prior to that, at #9 Texas, Coffey was held to 2 catches for 27 yards, but he still was a big contributor, as he caught a 4-yard TD from Brad Smith in the 2nd quarter to get MU on the board, at 14-7.

    At Baylor, Coffey had 3 catches for 50 yards and 1 TD. His scoring grab was a nice 8-yarder in the back of the endzone early in the 4th quarter that effectively iced the game for Mizzou, as it gave the Tigers a 27-3 lead.

    Earlier, Coffey came up big in MU's win over Colorado, as he grabbed 2 passes for 58 yards. Not eye-popping totals, but one of his catches was a game-breaker, as he took an out pass from Brad Smith on 3rd-and-7 from the MU 49 yardline in the 3rd quarter, shed a tackle from the smaller cornerback, got a downfield block from TE Martin Rucker, and he raced and juked his way into the endzone for a 51-yard TD that put MU up 17-9.

    Coffey also had another long TD taken away from him due to an official's call. With MU clinging to a 10-9 lead late in the 1st half, Coffey got free on the left sideline and caught a perfectly thrown ball from Smith in stride, and took it in for what appeared to be a 59-yard TD. However, the official on the play ruled that Coffey pushed off and disallowed the TD. To avoid getting fined by the Big 12 Conference, let's just say that after watching television replays, that we'd better not comment further.

    Coffey got out of the gates strong to start the 2004 season, as he was Brad Smith's go-to guy in the season opener versus Arkansas State. Coffey grabbed 5 passes on the night for a career-high 113 yards, including a 60-yard TD catch-and-run from Smith in the 2nd quarter that put MU out to a 28-10 lead.

    Smith and Coffey were on the same page right away, as the pair of Ohio natives hooked up for two big completions on MU's first drive of the season. First, Smith hit Coffey for 19 yards on a crossing route over the middle on a 3rd-and-7 from the MU 38 yardline. Three plays later, Mizzou faced a similar 3rd-and-7 from the ASU 40, and Coffey got free on the sideline and made a nice catch and kept his feet in for a gain of 8 to keep the drive alive.

    Coffey was MU's 3rd-leading receiver in 2003, as he caught 27 passes for 341 yards and 1 TD. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he gives Smith quite a target to look for, and he looks to become the go-to receiver in the Tiger passing game.

    For a guy who moved from wide receiver because he had trouble consistently catching the ball, senior CB Shirdonya 'Pops' Mitchell (he and his wife just had a baby on Sunday - see below for details) is catching everything that's coming his way for the Tiger defense.

    Mitchell, who converted to CB in 2003, has been playing lights out for the Tiger secondary, and through 7 games, he leads the Big 12 Conference, and ranks 6th in the NCAA, with an average of 0.57 interceptions per game (4 INTs in 7 games).

    Mitchell is leading the way for a Tiger defense that, as previously noted, ranks 2nd in the nation with 13 interceptions. In 13 games in 2003, Mizzou had only 9 interceptions.

    Mitchell registered a pickoff in 3 straight games recently, with INTs against Colorado, at Baylor and at Texas. His INT vs. Colorado was possibly the defensive play of the year for Mizzou, as it came late in the 4th quarter, with MU clinging to a 17-9 lead over the Buffs. With CU threatening, and the ball on MU's 8-yardline, the Buffs threw a fade pass into the left corner of the endzone to WR Evan Judge. Judge appeared to get his hands on the ball first, but before he could completely collect the ball and come down with it, Mitchell grabbed the ball, and wrestled it away from Judge, and was credited with an interception by officials. That play saved the game for Mizzou, as the Tiger offense successfully proceeded to run out the clock and preserve the big win.

    On a personal note, Shirdonya and his wife of three years, Crystol, were blessed with the birth of their first child on Oct. 24th - when Shiriah Chali Mitchell came into the world at 9:20 a.m. She weighed 6 pounds, 8 ounces, and everyone is doing very well.

    Mizzou's "other" Smith, sophomore DE Brian Smith, is getting untracked lately, and after registering 5 QB sacks in MU's last 3 games, he enters Saturday's game at Nebraska as the Big 12 leader, with 6 sacks on the season in 7 games (0.86 p/g).

    Smith was held without a sack in MU's first two games, against Arkansas State and Troy State, and MU coaches decided to move him back to the position he played last year - the stud end position, where his only responsibility is to rush the quarterback.

    Since moving back to his old haunts, Smith has responded with all of his 6 sacks in MU's last 5 games. He began with 1 sack in game #3 against Ball State, and after going sackless against Colorado, he responded with a career-high 3 sacks at Baylor. One of his sacks against the Bears caused a fumble that was covered by teammate James Kinney, and led to MU points on offense.

    Smith had one sack at #9 Texas, and followed with another of OSU's Donovan Woods last Saturday. His sack against UT caused a fumble, but the Longhorns were able to recover.

    For the season, Smith has 14 tackles, including 7 TFLs (6 of which are his sacks), and has a team-high 2 forced fumbles and has added 4 QB hurries.

    Smith earned freshman All-American honors last year by several outlets, after he registered 8 sacks, a total which was best in the nation for all freshmen.

    That 8 sacks was tied for 3rd-best in MU single-season history, and his 13 career sacks entering the Oklahoma State game have him alone in 7th place on the MU career sacks chart. He sits one behind Lee Johnson, who had 14 from 1986-89. The MU career leader is Justin Smith, who registered 22.5 sacks from 1998-2000.

    Mizzou gave a valiant effort on Oct. 16th in Austin, Texas, but came up just shy of upsetting #9 Texas, as the Longhorns held on for a 28-20 win. The loss dropped MU to 4-2 overall and 2-1 in Big 12 Conference play. Here are some various notes culled from the game...

  • Mizzou outplayed Texas in many statistical aspects of Saturday's game, but Texas capitalized on MU's 2 turnovers to score 14 points, while MU could muster only 7 points off of 3 UT giveaways, which proved to be the difference in the game...

  • MU had held an advantage in the points off turnover category of 38-3 coming into the game, before UT won that battle, 14-7 on Saturday...

  • MU's defense, ranked 1st in the Big 12, and 8th nationally in total defense, held its own against Texas' offense, which was ranked 10th nationally coming in. MU held Texas to almost 200 yards shy of its per-game average coming in, as the Longhorns gained only 299 total yards on the day, well below their per-game average of 470.80 coming in...

  • MU's defense held Texas' strong ground game to 193 yards rushing, which was a season high for a Tiger opponent, but it was 120 yards fewer than Texas was averaging. UT entered the game as the nation's #2-ranked rushing offense, with a per-game average of 313.60 yards per game...

  • MU's pass defense held Texas to a paltry 8-of-20 passing for 106 yards, with no TDs and 2 INTs. Texas' longest pass play of the day was a 48-yarder on a reverse halfback passback to QB Vince Young. UT's quarterbacks combined to go 7-of-19 passing for 58 yards and 2 INTs against MU's pass defense...

  • Mizzou's offense outgained Texas by a 358-to-299 margin on the day, and MU's 20 points were the most scored against the Longhorns thus far in 2004 (tying Arkansas' output in Fayetteville)...

  • Mizzou also held a nice advantage in time of possession, as the Tigers held the ball for 34:26, compared to 25:34 for UT...

  • Mizzou's defense held Texas to just 3-of-12 on 3rd downs. In Big 12 games, MU's defense ranks 1st in the league, allowing opponents to convert on only 25.6% of their 3rd-down attempts (10-of-39). In all games, MU's defense ranks 2nd, with a season average of 25.9 percent allowed (21-of-81)...

  • Mizzou's defense recovered a fumble to snuff out Texas' opening drive, when junior DT C.J. Mosley fell on a Cedric Benson fumble. It marked the 4th time in 6 games this season that Mizzou's defense has gotten a takeaway on its opponents' opening possession. The previous three times were all interceptions (at Troy, vs. Colorado and at Baylor)...

  • QB Brad Smith completed 20-of-34 passes on the day, for 185 yards and 1 TD, with 2 interceptions. By comparison, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, Jason White of Oklahoma, completed 14-of-27 passes for just 113 yards and zero TDs with 2 INTs, against the same Texas defense the week before, in OU's 12-0 win over Texas...

    Mizzou rode its defense and a sharp red-zone passing attack to a solid 30-10 win at Baylor on Oct. 9th & 10th (the game didn't end until 12:13 a.m.). Mizzou's defense forced 4 Baylor turnovers, and limited the Bears to a season-low 173 yards of total offense. The Tigers got 3 passing TDs from QB Brad Smith as they pulled away from a tight game early to coast to the victory.

    Here are some various notes culled from the Baylor game:

  • Mizzou's defense recorded 5 sacks against Baylor, for a total of 26 yards, and held the Bears to only 2-of-15 on 3rd downs, and 0-of-2 on 4th down tries...

  • Oddly enough, Mizzou was held to a season-low offensive output of 327 total yards against Baylor. Mizzou held the ball for a season-best 36:38 (also a team-best in Gary Pinkel's 4-year tenure at MU), but averaged only 4.1 yards per play in 80 offensive snaps. The rushing attack was held in check, as MU averaged 3.4 yards per carry, going for a total of 176 net yards on 52 attempts. MU was held without a rushing TD for the first time this season...

  • QB Brad Smith had another efficient passing game, as he threw for 151 yards and 3 TDs, with no interceptions. His scoring strikes were 7-yards and 17-yards to freshman TE Martin Rucker, and 8-yards to junior WR Sean Coffey. Smith also added 42 yards rushing. His 3 TDs passing tied a career high...

  • Redshirt freshman TE Martin Rucker had 3 catches for 34 yards on Saturday/Sunday, with 2 of his receptions going for TDs. His scoring grabs included a 7-yarder late in the 2nd quarter that staked MU to a 13-3 halftime lead. His other scoring catch was a 17-yarder that capped the opening drive of the 3rd quarter, and pushed the lead to a comfortable 20-3 margin...

  • Sophomore rush end Brian Smith had a big night playing in his home state of Texas, as he recorded 3 sacks, forced a fumble and had 2 QB hurries against Baylor...


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