Sophomore quarterback Brad Smith doesn’t remember what happened in the first half of Missouri’s win against Ball State, but he might have learned an important lesson from it.
MU coach Gary Pinkel will not comment on injuries, but Smith is expected to play Saturday against Eastern Illinois in the Tigers’ home opener.
Smith’s competitive drive has made it hard for him to see when he should sacrifice a few yards to stay healthy, Pinkel said.
“He understands his responsibility to the team, but he also knows that he can make plays,” he said. “There’s a fine line there of when you pick your moments to make the play and also when you take the big hit.
“There’s a couple of times he got hit pretty good in that game. So, obviously we are going to talk to him and counsel him about it. We have to just really watch what we do.”
Smith was in the midst of one of the most dominating performances of his young career when he was hit near the Ball State goal line late in the second quarter.
When the second half started, Sonny Riccio led Missouri onto the field and questions about Smith’s health began. Pinkel said it was difficult to pinpoint the play where Smith was injured. Smith didn’t remember the precise hit or anything else from a half where he rolled up 229 yards of offense and a 35-yard touchdown run.
Helping Smith get a better understanding of when to slide and step out of harm’s way is one of the few changes Missouri might make this week. Smith said one situation where he refuses to slide is near the goal line.
“Last week I took a little harder hit than I wanted to,” Smith said. “I have to do some things to protect myself more.”
BACK TO THE TOP: Tony Palmer reclaimed his starting weakside guard position from Joe Gianino on Monday’s depth chart. Palmer started nine games in 2002 and was named the team’s Interior Lineman of the Year. Gianino took the job in preseason practice.
MOVING UP THE RANKS: The Tigers are No. 27 in this week’s Associated Press poll and No. 32 in the USA Today/ESPN coaches poll. MU received 67 votes in the AP poll and 42 in the coaches. The rankings don’t mean much to Pinkel; he only wants to win.
“I think it’s naïve and insignificant where we are right now,” Pinkel said. “Who cares? I just want to be 3-0. I don’t have enough time in the day to be thinking about those things.”
NEW, OLD FACE: Defensive end Rusty Groth started his career as an offensive lineman, but moved to defense in 2002. Groth played in two games before this season, getting two tackles, both for a loss. Groth, a senior who has twice been Academic All-Big 12 Conference, is bringing more to the team this year than strong academics, Pinkel said.
“Rusty Groth has been a real inspiration to a lot of players,” Pinkel said. “He could have left a year ago and said, ‘I don’t think I’m gonna get a lot of playing time.’ He is a solider of the program. He works hard and now he’s making plays. I’m really proud of him for doing that.”
Groth stopped Ball State running back Scott Blair for a 2-yard loss Saturday and has become a regular in the Tigers’ defensive line. Groth backs up Zach Ville.
POSTERIZED: Fans with paid admission will get a souvenir Smith poster Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Missouri will also have its traditional Tiger Walk two hours before the game.
The fans are invited to line up along the Providence Road pedestrian bridge to cheer for the players as they walk to Memorial Stadium before the game.