COLUMBIA — It didn't take long.
As soon as Gary Pinkel finished the opening remarks of his weekly appearance before the media, the biggest question floating around the Missouri football program resurfaced.
How healthy is Blaine Gabbert?
After suffering a sprained ankle in the first quarter of Missouri's loss to Nebraska almost two weeks ago, Gabbert struggled during the team's loss at Oklahoma State on Saturday night.
Gabbert sailed several passes over the heads of his receivers during the first half of the loss in Stillwater, and he completed only four of nine passes for 16 yards in the third quarter.
Pinkel said in deciding injury matters he asks the team's medical staff whether or not a player is cleared to play and then whether or not a player can cause further injury if that player chooses to play. In Gabbert's case there was no worry for further injury, and Pinkel said that his quarterback feels better this week than he did at the same point last week.
Eventually though, for Pinkel the final decision about whether Gabbert would play against the Cowboys and whether he would stay in came down to two major questions.
"Is he functional, and does he give us the best chance to win the football game?" Pinkel said.
Both before kickoff last week and over the course of the game the answers to those questions were, "Yes."
The hesitation in removing Gabbert from the offense was compounded by the fact that backup quarterback Jimmy Costello is a walk-on who is even more inexperienced than Pinkel's sophomore starter. Pinkel said that having to play a backup quarterback an extended amount of time and restrict the offense is something he hasn't had to do in his past few years at Missouri, and it's a situation he's happy to avoid.
He wasn't the only one.
For Gabbert the checklist of requirements for him to play was even shorter.
"He's a guy that says, 'As long as the medical staff says I can play, I'm playing,'" Pinkel said.
Pinkel said that the resolve Gabbert's shown to stay on the field has been "pretty courageous."
"He's going to grow from this, but it also says an awful lot about Blaine Gabbert," Pinkel said.
When Texas quarterback Colt McCoy steps onto Faurot Field on Saturday evening the Tigers will be facing an experienced superstar with four years of starting experience. But for Pinkel it seems so much longer.
"It seems like I've seen him in that uniform for 15 years," Pinkel said.
Pinkel said that dealing with McCoy means dealing with one of the most accurate passers in the country, as McCoy lead the Football Bowl Subdivision in competing 76.7 percent of his passes last season. But more than that, Missouri will be dealing with a quarterback who has seen just about every challenge there is in college football.
"He struggled a bit when he first started, and now he looks like a seasoned veteran out there," Pinkel said.
Healthy and turning heads
Receiver Danario Alexander's performance Saturday night was a bright spot on a dim evening for the Tigers, and Pinkel threw around some familiar, and lofty, names when talking about the senior wide receiver's performance against Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Pinkel mentioned Jeremy Maclin, when talking about Alexander's ability to turn a short play into a game-changing one; Chase Coffman, when talking about the range of passes Alexander manages to get his hands on; and Brad Smith, when talking about how effortless Alexander looks while he runs.
The comparison to Maclin was one that Pinkel made immediately following the loss and subsequently played down Monday.
"It's probably not fair to compare him to (Maclin), probably the greatest single player at any position in my 32 years of coaching college football," Pinkel said.
But the comparisons and all the talk about Alexander are still indicative that Alexander has been the centerpiece of Missouri's receiving corps and is finally touching on the potential that Pinkel saw so early in Alexander's career.
"He's a guy that I've said all along that if he'd have been healthy his entire career he'd be considered one of the top 10 receivers in the country," Pinkel said.