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COMMENT: Alexander's latest performance cause for Missouri football debate

Saturday, November 28, 2009 | 9:32 p.m. CST; updated 12:36 a.m. CST, Sunday, November 29, 2009

KANSAS CITY — Eye-rolls. Scoffs. Sarcastic "Sures" and "Yeah, OKs."

They all work when people are talking crazy. Danario Alexander? A better wide receiver than Jeremy Maclin? Yeah, OK.

We're talking about the same Jeremy Maclin, right? The All-American? That guy who plays for the Philadelphia Eagles now?

Yep. And the same guy who's no longer in sole possession of any single season Missouri receiving record.

Alexander's 15 catches for 233 yards and a touchdown in Missouri's 41-39 win over Kansas Saturday means that he has managed to break or tie each of the records Maclin set last season. And a debate that just a few weeks ago seemed ridiculous has moved into the realm of the possibility.

Kevin Rutland started on the skeptical side of things too.

If I told him before the season started that Danario would break even one of J-Mac's records, what would he have said?

"I wouldn't believe you," the junior cornerback said.

He wouldn't have had much reason to.

When the season began, Alexander's career totals included 78 catches for 997 yards and eight touchdowns. He was coming off his second knee surgery. We're talking about the same Jeremy Maclin, right?

But in the last four games Alexander has put together a record stretch. He's totaled at least 10 catches in each. Maclin did that twice all of last season. He's had at least 200 yards in three of the four, something Maclin never did.

Now, there are Maclin's return touchdowns, his rushing touchdowns, the receptions he lost to All-American tight end Chase Coffman. But it's worth a conversation now, isn't it?

"It is," Rutland said. "It really is."

It's as much a feeling as it is the numbers. Whenever Maclin touched the ball there was an anticipation among the crowd, an inherent confidence that he could take it the distance. As Alexander hauled in the reception that tied Maclin at 102, that feeling was apparent.

The 6'5'', 205-pound senior caught the pass over the middle, threw a Kansas defensive back to the turf and made any chasing Jayhawk a hapless spectator as he finished off the rest of the 68-yard touchdown.

It wasn't a surprise. Not anymore. It's the same kind of play he's been making the entire season. Much like Maclin, Alexander has been making a habit of simply out-running every member of the secondary after making a catch. He did it against Kansas State. He did it against Iowa State. He'll pull the ball in over the middle, turn upfield, and as he accelerates that lanky frame and the strides that go with it make it seem like he's not going anywhere in a hurry. Until he's standing in the end zone.

The speed of the two Tiger stars is comparable, but it's the way Alexander runs with the ball after contact that has played a big role in the dominance he's shown this year. The short swing passes to Alexander that are a key to Missouri's offense usually have him carrying the ball through a host of defenders, and it never takes just one to bring him down. When Alexander runs the ball, he no longer runs with the attitude of a slender wide receiver. Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads compared him to bruising NFL Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.

Close. Think more recent, Coach.

"Before the game you might see a lot of wide receivers watch YouTube clips of wide receivers," Rutland said. "He watches (Minnesota Vikings All-Pro running back) Adrian Peterson highlights before a game. He's looking to score. He's looking to punish whoever is front of him."

That punishing style, as well as every other part of Alexander's game, was on display soon after the Tigers came out for the third quarter at Arrowhead Stadium. After totaling just five catches for 30 yards in the first half, Alexander's third quarter included seven catches for 181 yards and a touchdown.

The Jayhawks didn't seem to learn after Alexander's 68-yard scoring reception. On the first play of Missouri's next drive he lined up on the left side of the offensive formation with just a single cornerback on his side of the field.

"I was licking my lips," Alexander said.

Sophomore quarterback Blaine Gabbert didn't have much to think about, simply lofting the ball into the hands of his target who had easily blown by his defender for a gain of 59 yards.

After hours of seven-on-seven drills this offseason Gabbert says he knew that Alexander was poised for this type of year. Not just good. Historic.

Sean Weatherspoon did too. He's been around Alexander for the last four years. He watched him beat out Maclin for a starting job in 2007 before breaking his wrist.

But still the most telling praise may come from Alexander's head coach, who has called Maclin the single greatest player at any position that he's coached over the course of his career.

"He's very comparable to a guy we had last year that plays for the Eagles," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said.

"I have no trouble putting him in the same sentence."

 


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