After losing his redshirt status last season, Brad Ekwerekwu entered his sophomore season with high expectations and a starting position.
But as the Arlington, Texas, native prepares to face No. 9 Texas (4-1, 1-1 Big 12 Conference), he has yet to live up to the preseason hype.
Missouri (4-1, 2-0) travels to Ekwerekwu’s home state for the second straight week to play Texas after defeating Baylor 30-10 on Saturday.
Last week, Ekwerekwu caught two passes for 17 yards, hardly eye-popping numbers. Still, Ekwerekwu said he doesn’t need to change anything to increase his production on the field. If he continues to work hard in practice, the numbers will come.
“I just gotta keep doing what I’ve been doing and with the opportunities that I get, I’ve got to make the best out of them,” Ekwerekwu said.
In the Tigers’ five games, Ekwerekwu has grabbed nine passes for 79 yards.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel is worried only about the offense’s efficiency, not his receivers’ numbers. After the Tigers’ opening-game win, Pinkel said the passing game was not meant to make people happy by spreading the ball around; whoever was open would get the football.
The nine catches ties Ekwerekwu for fifth-most on the team, and six Tigers have more yards than the 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore, including freshman William Franklin, Ekwerekwu’s backup. Franklin has 83 yards on three grabs.
While Franklin has been able to provide a deep threat in limited time, Ekwerekwu and quarterback Brad Smith have been unable to find a rhythm on deep routes.
Ekwerekwu said the two need to keep working in practice and the timing will improve.
“Every time it’s here or there, it’s too far or too short or something like that. That’s just stuff we can work on in practice,” Ekwerekwu said.
“It’s great that I get the opportunity to do that, make those deep plays. I just have to start coming down with those.”
A chance for a big play against Colorado was foiled by the Buffaloes’ defense. With 4:26 remaining in the first half, Smith delivered a high throw near the sideline and when Ekwerekwu went up to catch the football, the Buffalo defender shoved him out of bounds, creating an incompletion and costing the Tigers a first down.
“It got me hot,” Ekwerekwu said of the missed opportunity. “I was very frustrated, I guess just mad at myself. A lot of things could have been different on that play. When that type of thing happens, you have to flush it, so you can go out and make the next play.”
Ekwerekwu was unable to rebound from that play against Colorado, finishing with only one catch. Part of his frustration has been the search for his role within the offense. Junior Sean Coffey has evolved into the Tigers’ go-to, big play receiver and tight ends Victor Sesay, a senior, and Martin Rucker, a red shirt freshman, are key targets near the red zone, leaving Ekwerekwu and senior Thomson Omboga in the shadows. Ekwerekwu said the emergence of Coffey and the tight ends should lead to his shining later in the season.
“I feel like last year, I just kind of fit,” Ekwerekwu said. “I was trying to find my role, know my role in the offense and I continue to do that.
“Sean is playing the best I’ve seen since I’ve been here. And he continues to get better and that will definitely take some pressure off the other guys and it will be easier also. The defense will start keying on Sean on big play opportunities and that will open up the passing game and other opportunities.”