MUNCIE, Ind. — It was every Missouri fan’s biggest fear. What happens if Brad Smith gets hurt?
The questions aren’t fully answered, but the Tigers got a good idea of what they can do without No. 16 behind center on Saturday.
When Smith left the game minutes before halftime with a mild concussion, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel called on Santino “Sonny” Riccio to take over.
Riccio was solid, if unspectacular, in the Tigers’ 35-7 win against Ball State, but gained valuable experience that could pay off if Smith sustains a more serious injury later in the season.
Riccio, a redshirt sophomore, finished with 59 yards on 7-of-12 passing and connected with tight end Victor Sesay for his first career touchdown pass.
Riccio’s performance gives the Tigers some piece of mind about the quarterback position if Smith is ever hurt for a long period of time, Pinkel said.
“Sonny Riccio played well and that doesn’t surprise me,” Pinkel said. “He does the right thing in practice; he works hard; he’s talented. I think that’s a pretty good confidence boost for our football team to know that.
“A lot of people think if Brad gets hurt, ‘Oh no, what’s going to happen now?’ (Riccio) went out there and I thought he did a really good job and moved the ball well. I was very pleased with his efforts.”
Riccio played in three games last season against Ball State, Troy State and Kansas, but did not attempt a pass. He was admittedly nervous about stepping on the field and it showed in his first series.
He entered with 13:19 left in the third quarter and handed to tailback Damien Nash for no gain on first down. On second down he misfired on a receiver screen to Darius Outlaw and overthrew Nash on third down.
Riccio said he had a few butterflies in his stomach at halftime, but it didn’t take long to settle in.
“I am one play away and that happened today so I was prepared for it,” Riccio said. “I didn’t really get a lot of time to warm up, and (at) halftime I didn’t have time to throw in the locker room or anything. I was a little nervous, but after the first series I was ready to go.”
The Tigers put together a long drive on Riccio’s second series. After two penalties and four Zack Abron carries, Riccio made his first collegiate completion, hitting Abron on a screen to gain 7 yards.
With his nerves intact, Riccio then found a rhythm and picked apart the Cardinals’ defense. He connected on three of his next four attempts and added an 8-yard gain on the ground. He capped the drive with the 14-yard strike to Sesay to give Missouri a 28-7 lead.
Riccio led the Tigers on another scoring drive on their next possession, finding Thomson Omboga twice for 21 yards before Abron scored.
“He looked at me (at halftime) and I looked at him and I said ‘Sonny, it’s your time,’” Outlaw said. “I came back out from the locker room and he was throwing and I said ‘You ready?’ He said ‘Are you kidding me?’ and I said, ‘All right let’s go play ball.’
“Sonny is cool and calm in the huddle. He comes in and cracks a couple jokes and we just get it going.”