Joe Gianino and the rest of Missouri’s offensive line haven’t stopped to admire their work.
Two days after the Tigers’ 52-20 victory against Arkansas State in which the line cleared the way to 263 yards rushing, Gianino said they need to focus on what will probably be a more formidable task.
“I think we did pretty well,” Gianino said. “We didn’t get too much pressure and all that, but we’re already looking forward to our next challenge and Troy. This could be a bigger challenge. I think we just have to accept it, then attack it.”
That bigger challenge will come from Troy’s defensive line, which sacked Marshall quarterback Stan Hill eight times Saturday. Demarcus Ware led the Trojans with three sacks and five tackles for a loss. He has been mentioned as a prospect for the NFL draft.
The Trojans defensive line attracted the attention of Tigers coach Gary Pinkel because of his familiarity with Marshall’s offensive abilities. Pinkel coached against the Thundering Herd while at Toledo and said any team that can stop Marshall’s typically potent offense has a strong defense.
After watching them play on tape, Pinkel called the Trojans’ defensive line “exceptional” and one of five best the Tigers (1-0) will face this year.
“To stifle (Marshall) in that way, I think, certainly says an awful lot for how good a defense they have and certainly defensive front,” Pinkel said.
The Trojans (1-0) traveled to Marshall and won 17-15.
Entering Thursday’s game, the No. 19 Tigers have a good foundation from which their offensive line can build. Arkansas State managed one sack of quarterback Brad Smith and had one other tackle for a loss. In addition, the newcomers to the line, redshirt freshmen Tyler Luellen and Adam Spieker, gained valuable experience.
“I was a little nervous that first series, but I settled down,” Luellen said. “As a unit, we all came together, and we all communicated. That was the big goal for our first game. Come in, communicate and get things done and try not to get Brad dirty.”
On that first series, the Tigers went 80 yards in 3:14 for a touchdown, and they ran the ball five times for 29 yards. Smith didn’t get too dirty either, finishing with 63 yards on six carries with a touchdown.
For the line to succeed, Pinkel has called on the experienced linemen to show the newcomers the way. For game one, Pinkel said their leadership was there.
“I think (Scott) Paffrath, Gianino and Tony Palmer helped those players in their preparation,” Pinkel said. “And what’s critically important, and I said this day one, we counseled those three players, ‘We’re going to have some issues with the young players. That’s part of maturing, but if you have your best years, play at a very high, consistent level, we’re going to be fine.’
“I’m very appreciative of their leadership. It’s certainly going to go up about ten notches this week.”
Immediately after Saturday’s game, Pinkel had praise for his young offensive linemen, especially Spieker. Because playing center requires more attention than blocking and snapping, Pinkel said Spieker handled his responsibilities, which include adjusting to defensive changes and snap cadence, well.
“That really is a lot of stress on a redshirt freshman center,” Pinkel said. “I mean, that’s a lot of stress. I know he was a little bit nervous going into this game because there’s a lot more than just playing another position where you don’t have those other issues and problems, but I think we did some goods things.”
Pinkel also said he thought Luellen played well at weakside tackle.
Despite receiving the praise, Spieker said he needs to produce a better effort.
“I have a lot of room for improvement, and this should be a bigger test,” Spieker said. “I mean, Troy State is a lot better of a team than Arkansas State.”