MUNCIE, Ind. –- Brad Smith had one of the best halves of his career Saturday. It’s too bad for him he doesn’t remember it.
Smith, Missouri’s “Heisman Trophy Candidate quarterback” according to Ball State’s public address announcer, suffered a mild concussion late in the second quarter of the Tigers’ 35-7 victory and did not play the rest of the game.
Afterward, he said he felt normal, other than having a slight headache and no recollection of the first half.
“I remember the second half,” Smith said. “We won the game.”
The Tigers (2-0) fell behind early when Cardinal safety David Gater blocked and recovered Brock Harvey’s punt and ran to the 4-yard line. The touchdown that followed, a 5-yard pass from quarterback Andy Roesch to tight end Mike Franklin, promised a suspenseful game for at least a while between the Tigers and the overmatched Cardinals (1-1).
Smith took care of the rest of the excitement.
Running for 117 yards and passing for 112 more, Smith shook off some early overthrown passes, and left the responsibility of moving the Tigers downfield up to no one but himself.
In the second quarter, other than a 6-yard carry by Damien Nash, Smith gained every inch of the Tigers’ 70-yard drive and broke three tackles on a 35-yard touchcown run that gave MU a 14-7 lead.
Nash scored MU’s first touchdown when he ran 4 yards to the right after Smith completed five passes, three of them for at least 9 yards.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said he was again unsurprised at the playmaking ability of his most crucial player.
“He can do that,” Pinkel said. “He can all of a sudden take it in his hands and take it to a different level. The reason he can do that is because he can hurt you throwing and running.”
After a three-and-out Ball State drive, the Tigers started on their 43. Tight end J.D. McCoy caught a 21-yard reception to bring the ball to the Cardinals’ 36, and then Smith flew 16 yards down the left sideline, where Erik Keys tackled him out of bounds.
The play was Pinkel’s best guess as to when Smith’s concussion occurred.
“He kept the ball, and wasn’t supposed to keep the ball,” Pinkel said. “He missed Zack (Abron) on the handoff.”
Smith ran for 6 more yards on the drive that put MU up two touchdowns at 21-7, finished off by Abron’s 1-yard run.
When Smith came off the field after the touchdown, he couldn’t remember who had scored, Pinkel said.
“He’s going to have to continue to try to take care of himself a little better,” he said. “He’s gonna have to pick his moments.”
Smith walked the sidelines in the second half and said he will play against Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
Sophomore Sonny Riccio replaced him and completed 7-of-12 passes, including a 14-yard touchdown pass to tight end Victor Sesay with 6:35 left in the third quarter.
Riccio’s first appearance in the second-string position pleased Smith.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Smith said. “I just supported him and told him what I saw. Any way I could help him. We prepare the same.”
MU’s defense looked improved from its first game. Ball State recorded only 13 first downs and the Tigers sacked Cardinal quarterbacks Roesch and Talmadge Hill four times.
Free safety Nino Williams II led the Tigers with nine tackles, and linebacker Brandon Barnes had seven despite also having a concussion.
Pinkel said he was pleased overall with the defense’s play, but said to have a punt blocked, the second in his career as a head coach, was abysmal.
“That’s an indictment against me as a head football coach,” Pinkel said. “That’s awful.”
MU players seemed slightly frazzled when talking about Smith’s frightening moment.
“I told Brad he needs to stop taking those hits, man,” junior wide receiver Thomson Omboga said. “When you’re on the sidelines just step out of bounds, man. It caught up to him today, he got a little dinged, but hopefully he’ll bounce back next week.”
Said senior center A.J. Ricker: “Scary.”