What was supposed to be a showdown between similar quarterbacks turned into a no contest.
Missouri quarterback Brad Smith held up his end of the bargain, but his counterpart, Texas A&M’s Reggie McNeal struggled before giving way to backup Dustin Long in Missouri’s 45-22 win Saturday at Memorial Stadium.
Smith didn’t pass much because he didn’t need to. He scored three touchdowns and racked up 136 of Missouri’s 362 rushing yards.
McNeal also had problems passing, completing 6-of-12 for 78 yards in the first half before leaving the game. He struggled running the ball, too, gaining 45 yards on 15 carries.
Missouri cornerback Michael Harden said McNeal is better than he looked Saturday, but the Tigers’ forced him to make mistakes.
“McNeal has the arm,” Harden said. “He might not have the accuracy. He wasn’t showing it today. We figured if we got after him, he was going to have happy feet and want to get out of there before he gets hit.”
McNeal was never a factor, and when he left at halftime, he and the rest of the Aggies felt squeamish. Texas A&M coach Dennis Franchione blamed McNeal’s poor performance on illness.
Long relieved McNeal to start the second half, having much more success. The Tigers defense has had problems with pocket passers such as Long, and it showed in the second half. He sparked the Aggies passing game, throwing for 252 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-29 passing.
“Dustin Long will just sit back there and wait for his receivers,” Harden said. “I think that’s why he was so effective. He was just sitting back in the pocket.”
Although Long gave the Aggies a potent passing game, they weren’t able to establish the run when he was in the game. Texas A&M rushed for 30 yards in the second half.
Smith, meanwhile, bounced back from some of the toughest adversity he has faced. Against Colorado, he lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions in the Tigers’ 21-16 loss.
“I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again,” Missouri tackle Rob Droege said. “He’s still Superman. When you’ve got a guy like that playing behind you, you just know something’s going to happen, something special. It makes it more fun.”
The hype going into the game centered on the similarities between Smith and McNeal; both are sophomores, both wear No. 16 and both have the ability to run as well as throw. By the end of the day, though, the numbers weren’t comparable. Smith clearly won the matchup.
“I think we’ve got the best quarterback in the nation,” Missouri center A.J. Ricker said. “I love to block and do anything for Brad. He scampered around there a little. It’s just fun; you never know what he’s going to do.”