MUNCIE, Ind. – One play. One touchdown.
Missouri tailback Damien Nash wasn’t exactly taking baby steps in his return to football.
Nash quickly added “first touchdown” to his list of achievements in Missouri’s 35-7 win against Ball State on Saturday.
Nash, who made his Division I debut against Illinois on Aug. 30, caught his first glimpse of action against the Cardinals with 1:22 left in the first quarter. On his first carry, Nash ran for a 4-yard touchdown and tied the game at 7. Nash’s touchdown capped an 80-yard Missouri drive.
Not only did it spark the Tigers’ offense, but it also ignited Nash’s confidence. He gained 68 yards on nine carries.
“I made (won) my first milestone,” Nash said. “So I just went with it, just stuck with it.”
With the Tigers ahead 21-7 in the third quarter, Nash made his longest carry – 42 yards – and moved the Tigers to the Cardinals’ 31.
A sophomore, Nash was sidelined in September 2000 when he tore his right anterior cruciate ligament. Despite his injury, Nash’s recovery hasn’t hampered his impact with the Tigers.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Nash’s speed will become more apparent with his growing confidence.
“It’s just going to take some time,” Pinkel said. “He hasn’t played football for 21/2 years, coming off major knee surgery. But you saw his quickness and his explosiveness, and he has great speed.”
After a losing a yard on his lone carry against Illinois, it was difficult for Nash to hide his disappointment. That discontent proved to be Nash’s best preparation against the Cardinals.
“It just made me hungrier,” Nash said. “So I came out here and maybe got a few more carries in and I showed what I can do a little bit.”
Pinkel doesn’t expect Nash’s contributions to the Tigers’ running game will be anything “little.” As Nash gains confidence and playing time, Pinkel said he will be an important element in the Tigers’ offense.
“He has remarkable big play potential,” Pinkel said. “He will really help our offense. Every game he’s going to get a little bit more and do a little bit more. He’s a little different type of runner than Zack Abron.”
SPOTLESS RECORDS: Not only did Missouri rewrite school record books with the win, but it did so flawlessly.
The win marked the first time since 1975 the Tigers have opened the season with consecutive road wins. In both wins, the Tigers played without turnovers. Missouri led the nation in fewest number of turnovers last season and were ranked 16th in the country in turnover margin (one per game).
ANTICIPATED ARRIVAL: Ball State also marked a spot in school history for Saturday’s game. When the Tigers arrived in Muncie, Ind., Missouri became the first team from a Bowl Champion Series conference to visit Ball State Stadium.
With 17,371 in attendance, the Cardinals opened the season with its second straight home game for the first time since 1985.