COLUMBIA — Whether it was because of injury or a game that was already in hand, in the Missouri football team's victory over Illinois on Saturday, there were plenty of Tigers reserve players that saw the field.
And that's just how Missouri coach Gary Pinkel likes it.
"If you prove that you can play, you're going to play," Pinkel said. "You don't have to be a starter."
No matter how much practice time players put in, Pinkel said there's no substitute for the conditions that were presented to his team against the Illini. And Pinkel thinks the experience each player off the Tigers' bench receives will serve them well down the road.
"You see some of our younger players, like Jerrell Jackson and (Wes) Kemp, who now look comfortable playing because of their experience a year ago," Pinkel said.
Jackson and Kemp, who each caught touchdown passes Saturday, both served in limited roles last season as true freshmen. This year, there are several other less experienced players who are getting an opportunity to contribute.
With concerns about Dan Hoch's conditioning following limited practice time after suffering a sprained knee, there was a lot of shuffling along the right side of the offensive line Saturday, and both sophomore guard Jayson Palmgren and freshman tackle Jack Meiners saw action as a result.
"He was out there against their No. 1 defense, and he didn't look out of place at all as a true freshman," Pinkel said of Meiners.
And with backup running back De'Vion Moore suffering a high ankle sprain in the win, true freshman Kendial Lawrence will become the latest rookie to get his chance with the first team offense.
"It's amazing," Pinkel said. "You never thought he'd be playing a whole lost, but he's gonna be right in the mix."
INJURY UPDATE: Moore is doubtful for Saturday's game against Bowling Green with that high ankle sprain. Junior safety Jarrell Harrison is also doubtful because of a dislocated elbow he suffered in the Tigers' last scrimmage.
RUNNING GAME QUESTIONS: Even with Moore healthy against the Illini there were times where the Tigers' running game stalled. Pinkel isn't certain whether or not Blaine Gabbert's inexperience left the Illinois coaching staff inclined to focus on stopping the run, but he knows that even with all the positives that came out of the win, the running game must improve.
"I felt some of our blocking wasn't as good as it needed to be, some of the footwork of our running backs. The attention to detail things," Pinkel said.
"That's the one area that we've got to do a better job."
LIMITING JUICE: After a career game against the Tigers last year, Missouri managed to contain Illinois senior quarterback Juice Williams on Saturday. But while Pinkel noted that the defense did blitz a bit less than it had last year, he doesn't think it was a schematic change that allowed his team's defense to shine. It was simply about preventing the Illini offense from sustaining drives. "The key is to not give up big plays," Pinkel said. "That's the fewest amount of big plays, in that game, that we've given up."
TAKING SHOTS: When asked what he saw from Blaine Gabbert on film that he didn't notice over the course of the game, Pinkel noted that he didn't realize just how often his quarterback was getting hit. Gabbert took off on several designed runs over the course of the game, and while Pinkel said he wants the team to use Gabbert's athleticism he also hopes that his quarterback knows when to be smart and avoid taking the big hit.
A SURPRISING HISTORY: The last matchup was nearly a decade ago, but since the turn of the century Bowling Green is 2-0 against Missouri, including a victory in Columbia in 2001. Pinkel has experience coaching in the Mid American Conference, of which Bowling Green is a member, from his time at Toledo. And with all the success the Falcons and the rest of the MAC has had against BCS teams in recent years, Pinkel thinks it's necessary for him and his coaching staff to inform his players just how dangerous of an opponent they'll be seeing on Saturday.