Looking ahead: Missouri football prepares for first away game at Toledo

Monday, September 1, 2014 | 7:32 p.m. CDT; updated 11:11 p.m. CDT, Monday, September 1, 2014

COLUMBIA — The Missouri football team met with the media Monday following its 38-18 season-opening victory against South Dakota State. Players and coaches were focused on the week ahead as they prepare to travel to Toledo for their first road trip of the season. 

Whether you're planning to make the trip to northwest Ohio or not, brush up on these talking points about the Tigers and Rockets: 

  • Morgan Steward will have to wait to make his season debut 

Missouri's biggest running back (Steward is listed at 210 pounds) didn't play Saturday because of a hip strain. He also won't play at Toledo.

"We're not sure when he's going to return," Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said, adding Steward will be evaluated week by week. 

When healthy, Steward will factor into the Tigers' rotation. His presence also allows Missouri more freedom in putting versatile playmaker Marcus Murphy in the slot receiver position.

But Steward's absence will mean more carries for starters Russell Hansbrough and Murphy. Hansbrough carried the ball 20 times against South Dakota State. Pinkel said that is a good target number for this week's game. 

  • Tigers' schedule still in transition 

There aren't many Southeastern Conference teams that would travel to a Mid-American Conference team such as Toledo. Well, Missouri also wasn't in the Southeastern Conference when this game was scheduled.

Pinkel said Monday that the program is trying to "dig our way out" of the scheduling chaos that resulted from its move from the Big 12 to the SEC.

During Missouri's final season in the Big 12, it played nine conference games. In the SEC, it plays eight. That meant having to field an extra nonconference opponent.

Even though the Tigers' affiliation with the Big 12 is history, Pinkel and his staff have plenty of history with Toledo.

  • The Toledo homecoming is not lost on Missouri's coaches 

Pinkel coached the Rockets from 1991-2000. Many of his Missouri assistants, including defensive coordinator Dave Steckel, receivers coach Brian Jones and defensive backs coach Cornell Ford, were on his staff during that time. 

Pinkel's three children went to high school in Toledo, and he said he has fond memories of playing in the Rockets' Glass Bowl. 

"I'll always be a Toledo Rocket," Pinkel said. "Not this week."

  • Pinkel established continuity at Toledo

When Pinkel arrived at Toledo, he was the third head coach in three years (Alabama head coach Nick Saban preceded Pinkel before moving to the NFL, where he was the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns). Pinkel, the winningest coach at both Missouri and Toledo, broke that trend. The Rockets have a coach now in Matt Campbell who seems as if he's doing the same. 

Campbell (18-9) is in his third season with the Rockets. Like Missouri, they run a spread offense but also like to run the ball from the shotgun. Toledo put up 54 points in its season opener against Division I-AA New Hampshire and is led at quarterback by Alabama transfer Phillip Ely. 

"They're a very well-coached, disciplined team," Pinkel said. "I'm very, very impressed with them."  

  • Sacks may be hard to come by 

Missouri prides itself on producing sack machines on the defensive line. Markus Golden, Shane Ray and the rest of Missouri's defensive linemen will be tested against Toledo's offense. The Rockets like to get rid of the ball quickly and return four of five starters on the offensive line. 

"I think it's a lot of experience, and the quarterback has a great, quick release," Steckel said.

Supervising editor is Mark Selig.

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