COLUMBIA — Let’s play a game called “Guess the Team.”
This particular team has lost every SEC football game it has played thus far this season, partially because of a struggling offense that has sputtered without its starting quarterback. The backup quarterback is a freshman, and he has struggled as the team has been blown out in multiple conference games. It hopes that an SEC victory this weekend can turn the tide on an otherwise disappointing season.
At Missouri's weekly media day Monday, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel asserted that he will not respond to recent losses by changing the team's routine.
In a speech that served as a highlight of his press conference, he explained that changing the offense or defense will not result in greater success. According to Pinkel, Missouri needs to execute better and if they do, the wins will come.
"We don’t come in and change things. Our bye week schedule is our bye week schedule. We don’t put in brand new offenses, brand new defenses. We don’t change the way we lift weights. We don’t change the way we practice. We’re very consistent. What we do works. We coach better. We play better. We’ll win more," he said, his voice getting louder as he continued to speak.
"That’s the way it works. The system doesn’t change. We do what we do here, OK? We’ve got to coach our players to do a better job, and when we do that, we’ll win more. And that’s been since day one when we got here, and that will never, ever change."
Sound familiar? No, the aforementioned team is not the 3-4 Missouri Tigers. It’s their Homecoming opponent on Saturday, 1-7 Kentucky.
The Wildcats have played a total of four quarterbacks this season. Two of them are true freshmen. Maxwell Smith, a sophomore, entered the season as the starter and played four games before tearing a ligament in his left ankle against South Carolina. Freshman Jalen Whitlow and senior Morgan Newton have also started, with freshman Patrick Towles playing in relief during a loss to Mississippi State.
The team’s quarterback situation is a mess, with a lack of continuity affecting Kentucky’s ability to develop consistency as an offense. Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, whose team has played almost three full games without starting quarterback James Franklin, knows how it feels.
"They’ve had a few problems too at quarterback, haven’t they?" Pinkel said wryly at Missouri’s weekly media day Monday. "You’re a different football team. I certainly understand what they’re going through. To say it’s difficult would be an understatement."
Missouri, of course, is trying to solve its problems at quarterback, too. Redshirt freshman Corbin Berkstresser is preparing to make his third start of the season. Franklin, who started every game of the 2011 season but has missed most of the past two games with a sprained Medial Collateral Ligament in his left knee, is listed as doubtful.
Berkstresser completed only 12 of 29 passes and threw two interceptions in Missouri’s 42-10 loss to Alabama on Oct. 13. And while he expects to improve as he takes more practice reps with the first-team offense, practice, he said, can never totally prepare you for the challenges of SEC play.
"You can be 100 percent in practice and everything, but there’s nothing like playing against SEC competition," Berkstresser said Monday. "So it’s always a surprise when you go out there."
Because of the bye week, though, all Missouri has been able to do is practice. And Berkstresser says that because he and Franklin are different people and different quarterbacks, the coaching staff approaches each one differently.
"James is a little different than I am. I grew up with yelling and everything. So if I miss something, I expect to get yelled at," he said. "(Offensive coordinator David Yost) has learned that over the past few years, so he yells at me now. I think that’s the way it should be."
Yost and Pinkel certainly hope that all the extra practice time – and all of the yelling – pays off Saturday against Kentucky. But Pinkel acknowledged that because he is still a young quarterback, Berkstresser can only do so much.
He put the emphasis on his offensive line and skill position players to raise their individual games, allowing Berkstresser to get comfortable and improve along with them.
"If you understand that you’ve got a young quarterback back there, then that’s when you pass the responsibility out to everybody else. You play better, and he’ll play better," Pinkel said. "And that’s pretty much what we’ve done."
Even if Berkstresser continues to struggle, though, at least Pinkel will know that his opponent on Saturday is going through similar concerns. The winning team might be the one that handles that adversity the best.
"Their players are in there competing and they’re doing some good things, and you play the hand you’re dealt," Pinkel said. "Unfortunately they were handed that, and we all know how tough that is on a team."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.