COLUMBIA — For the first time in seven years, the Missouri starting quarterback position will not be held down by record-setters Brad Smith or Chase Daniel.
Smith, known for his speed, broke a number of rushing records as a Tiger. Daniel took the program to new heights with his passing game.
In Saturday’s Black & Gold Game, quarterback Blaine Gabbert began his journey as the leader of the Tigers. While not officially named the starter, Gabbert took snaps with the starting unit and is listed first on the team's spring depth chart. The 6-foot-5 quarterback was a five-star recruit coming out of Parkway West High School.
Daniel, who helped coach on the sidelines at Saturday’s game, knows exactly how Gabbert feels coming into this season.
“I know the pressure that’s faced on him. My best advice to him is to just be himself,” Daniel said. “He’s gotta be Blaine Gabbert. He doesn’t have to be Brad Smith or Chase Daniel. He’s having a good spring so far.”
Playing some as a true freshman, Gabbert was able to watch Daniel prepare each week. That experience should pay huge dividends come this fall.
“Preparing mentally, that was the big thing,” Gabbert said. “How to handle yourself leading up to a game, studying game film, things like that.”
Gabbert struggled at times Saturday, completing 9 of 17 passes for 93 yards and one interception. The defense beat the offense 68-40. In contrast, the offense beat the defense last year 71-28. Despite the struggles, Gabbert said he felt comfortable.
“Although we didn’t win, I felt good. Reading defenses, I felt comfortable,” Gabbert said. “The defense has been working hard all spring. I mean today, they beasted us.”
Offensive coordinator Dave Yost was not thrilled with the way his offense performed Saturday, but realized that the spring is the time to learn.
“There are definitely things we can work on. I thought we were a little bit more inconsistent than we had been in practices, but I think there are things he (Gabbert) can learn from,” Yost said.
At times Saturday, Gabbert showed his arm strength, throwing a number of balls too deep for his receivers to catch up to. In particular, Yost wants Gabbert to work on a couple of things heading into the fall.
“Consistency,” Yost said. “The footwork is something he can work on. Sometimes his mind gets there before his feet.”
During the spring, it is hard to measure where a team will be in the fall. It is especially difficult for Gabbert, who is without two of his top receivers this spring, Jared Perry and Danario Alexander. Both are recovering from injuries and should be ready in the fall.
“The more playmakers we have, the better we are,” Gabbert said.
With Gabbert’s inexperience, the Tigers offense may have to rely more on its running game this season. Having a 1,000-yard rusher in Derrick Washington returning in the backfield helps.
“We’re going to look at who is our best 11 guys,” Yost said. “De’vion Moore and Derrick Washington are two guys that need to touch the football. Well, the best way to get them the football is to hand it to them.”
Yost said in previous years it would have been nice to run the football more, but in doing so, it would have taken away touches away from players such as Jeremy Maclin, Chase Coffman and Tommy Saunders.
“There’s only one football,” Yost said.
Last season, the expectations put on Daniel and the Tigers by many fans was outlandish. The lower expectations this year were put on display Saturday with the Tigers drawing only 13,122 fans. Last year, on a similar day of light rain and overcast skies, the Tigers drew 26,322 fans.
Yost said he really enjoys the spring game, because for many of the players, they have never played in front of thousands of fans.
“It puts pressure on them to prepare themselves for a game. You get some butterflies out of the way,” Yost said.