COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team's defense is bruised, battered and beat up, and no position has been hit harder than linebacker.
"We haven't had our linebackers the entire year," linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "It's hard, but we're dealing with it."
Kansas State Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 Big 12)
at No. 20 Missouri Tigers (7-2, 3-2 Big 12)
WHEN: 11:30 a.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium
RADIO: KTGER/1580 AM, KCMQ/96.7 FM
TV: Fox Sports Net
MU coach Gary Pinkel is 4-5 vs. Kansas State and 1-5 vs. KSU coach Bill Snyder, who is 14-4 against Missouri overall.
Only two Tiger linebackers have played every game this season, Gachkar and Zaviar Gooden.
Gachkar was expected to be a starter. A senior, Gachkar knows what it takes to play in the conference. The same cannot be said for Gooden. The sophomore from Pflugerville, Texas is learning on the fly, but you couldn't tell watching him on Saturday.
"I love watching Z," Gachkar said. "We saw him last year, before he started playing. Not many of people knew about him ... they didn't know he was going to come in and do good right away."
Entering 2010 spring practices, Gooden was expected to be a solid contributor. But with upperclassmen Gachkar, Lambert and Will Ebner also on the depth chart at linebacker, Gooden didn't need to be the model of consistency.
But he has been, and with all the injuries, Gooden's coaches and teammates can't say enough good things about him.
"We've had to really mix that up there, and move guys around, just because of our injuries. Zaviar does a really good job," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said at his Monday press conference.
After nine games, Gooden is tied for the team lead in interceptions and has the second most tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Not bad, considering he has only played linebacker for two years.
"Zaviar is only a sophomore, a guy who came in a as a safety, and we thought we'd move him to linebacker, and a guy who has tremendous potential and gets better each and every week," Pinkel said. "Zaviar has done a really good job, getting better and better, and who knows how good he's going to be."
Gooden played safety through Missouri's 2009 spring camp, moving to linebacker just before the start of the season. At the new position, Gooden saw playing time in all of Missouri's games in 2009, coming on strong late in conference play. In six of Missouri's final seven games in 2009, Gooden had three or more tackles.
Gooden admits that he still has things to learn about the linebacker position, but Gachkar says that he has a hard time finding weakness in Gooden's game.
"When he has a question, he'll come to us and ask, and we can help. But you can only help a full player learn so much," Gachkar said.
Gooden has looked every part a full player at linebacker in the 2010 season, but his two interceptions are a reminder of his days at safety.
"It's pretty hard to get picks (as a linebacker), especially Big 12, teams are great at passing," Gachkar said. "Z was in the right spot at the right time, two big times. The one against Texas Tech, we didn't end up winning, but it could have put us in a spot to win."
After a loss coaches always have "what if" scenarios running through their head, but Gooden's red zone interception was one that Pinkel couldn't shake.
"He runs low 4.4s, high 4.3s. That interception he had, he bobbled it just a tad. If he hadn't have bobbled it, it would have gone the distance," Pinkel said.
Gooden agrees that if not for the bobble he would have scored. But Gooden isn't dwelling on it. He's just looking to improve on what is an already stellar season.
"I believe I work hard, and coaches are teaching us great fundamentals," Gooden said. "I'm just practicing and practicing and practicing."