Martin Rucker picked a great way to start his college career.
With 11:46 left in the first quarter Saturday, quarterback Brad Smith faked a handoff, rolled to his left and hit Rucker on the sideline inside the 10-yard line. Rucker, a tight end, carried his first college catch into the end zone for Missouri’s first touchdown.
Rucker didn’t catch another pass, but he said his first catch was a memorable one.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” Rucker said. “You always dream as a little kid. You make that catch then dive into the end zone. It was just a great feeling to hear the crowd go crazy.”
Rucker, who missed most of spring practice with a shoulder injury, entered the preseason low on the depth chart. Rucker, 6 feet 5, 240 pounds, excelled during fall practices, and when the Tigers released their first depth chart, Rucker had won the starting job.
“Even though I won the starting job, there was a lot of doubters out there that (thought) I couldn’t perform or whatever,” Rucker said. “But I was glad to get that first catch and that touchdown to prove to everybody that I’m here to play.”
Rucker has said he came to Missouri to become a NFL-caliber pass-catching tight end but needed to develop other aspects of his game. In his debut, he said he little things well.
“I think I did a lot better blocking,” he said. “I was a lot more physical than I thought. I moved guys and I thought I did what I needed to do.”
Rucker’s success and effort early on served as motivation for the rest of the offense. The Tigers finished with 506 total yards and 243 through the air.
“He was ready to play (Saturday),” wide receiver Sean Coffey said. “First game on the field, he could have been nervous, and other things could have happened. But he looked at hisself and decided he was going to make plays, and he did. He did a great job (Saturday).”
Rucker’s brother, Mike, a player at Nebraska from 1994-98, is a defensive end for the Carolina Panthers.
KING-SIZED PAIN:Cornerback Marcus King left the game in the second quarter with a strain in his back. The injury is not considered serious, but he did not return.
“It’s feeling better,” King said. “The doctors and trainers have helped me out with some muscle relaxers. It’s more of a muscle thing.”
King said he injured it during an Arkansas State punt. While trying to block an Indians player who was covering the punt, he felt his back pop.
King said he wants to practice Monday, when the Tigers begin preparing for their game against Troy on Thursday night, but the doctors will say if he can go.
POINT EXPLOSION:The Tigers scored 35 points in the first half, setting a record for points in a half under Pinkel.
Pinkel-coached teams scored 34 points in a half three times, and the school record for points in a half is 45, set Sept. 8, 1979 against San Diego State.
The Tigers’ 21 points in the first quarter set a team record for points in a first quarter under Pinkel.
The Tigers’ previous record for points in a first quarter was 17, set against Texas Tech last season. They scored 17 first-quarter points en route to a 62-31 victory Oct. 25.
The school record for points in a quarter is 31, which has been done twice. They scored 31 against Memphis State on Oct. 5, 1991 and against San Diego State on Sept. 5, 1979.
NATIONAL CHAMPS HONORED:At halftime, Missouri and athletic director Mike Alden honored the members of the 1954 baseball team, which won the College World Series. The team won the school’s first national title.
Included in the ceremony were pitcher Ed Cook, who won two games in the College World Series, and pitcher Norm Stewart, who also coached the men’s basketball team. Stewart also won a game in World Series.