Brad Smith leveled for a sack.
Marcus Woods dropped for a loss.
Confusion on the offensive line is a recipe for disaster.
Missouri coach Gary Pinkel knows this all too well; that’s why he almost always plays his most experienced players on the line.
“Offensive line, along with quarterback, is one of the toughest positions to come in and pick up straight from high school,” Pinkel said.
It in his four years at Missouri, Pinkel said he hasn’t had a true freshman play on the offensive line.
Dain Wise could be the first.
The 6-foot-4, 285-pound Wise is listed at No. 2 on the depth chart for the Tigers’ season opener with Arkansas State, 11 a.m. Saturday in Kansas City.
Although most redshirting decisions were made in the past week, Pinkel said a decision as to whether Wise will see playing time is still up in the air.
“We’re not sure right now,” Pinkel said. “We might make a decision now or we might wait a few weeks.”
Pinkel said he thinks Wise is ready in the event of an injury or if the line needs a shake-up, but does not want to exhaust a year of his eligibility unless necessary.
“He’s physically capable, very strong and an excellent athlete,” Pinkel said. “He still has a lot to learn. The speed of things obviously is a lot different than it was when he was playing high school, but he’s done a good job of adjusting. We’re going to have to make a decision. I couldn’t be more pleased to have to make a decision though, to have a true freshman come in and play like that.”
Wise knows that the offensive line is critical in the team’s spread offense.
“With as much five-man protection as we run,” Wise said. “if you miss a block, it’s probably a sack.”
A native of Midwest City, Okla., Wise was team captain of 2004 Class 5A state champion Carl Albert High School. He was named all-state his senior season, delivering pancakes (when pass rushers are knocked to the ground) with the frequency of Denny’s on a Sunday morning.
His high school football accomplishments are impressive, but Pinkel said Wise’s best attribute is his intelligence.
“He’s very smart,” Pinkel said.
Wise takes the same approach to untangling the confusion of X’s and O’s on a football field as he does solving for a variable in an algebra equation, and has had success doing both.
“You have to study film on yourself and opposing defenses just like you study for a math exam,” he said.
He earned a 30 on his ACT, was named the Scholar-Athlete of the state for 2004 by the Daily Oklahoman and received scholarship offers from top academic schools such as Harvard and Air Force.
Pinkel said Wise is a complete student-athlete.
“We knew (how intelligent he was), but you have to ask the question ‘Does he have good football sense?’” Pinkel said. “A lot of guys have book smarts but might not be as keen out there on the field. Dain definitely has both. He’s picked up the run-blocking and passing-protecting schemes extremely quickly.”
Part of Wise’s football savvy and relentless work ethic comes from high school. Carl Albert won six state championships in eight years and runs a complex college-style offense.
“It helped me a lot,” Wise said. “In my high school we were in the zone scheme and that’s very similar to the run-blocking that we do here. It made it that much easier.”
Senior offensive lineman Tony Palmer, also a Midwest City native, hosted Wise on his recruiting visit last fall. Palmer said he and Wise developed a friendship. He has curiously tracked his progress ever since.
“This being his freshman year, he’s made great strides,” Palmer said. “It’s outstanding to see how quickly he’s picked up this offense. He’s intelligent. He know’s how to read things a lot quicker than normal guys.”
Wise credits Palmer with much of the success he has had in fall camp.
“He really helped me feel at home,” Wise said. “T.P. was one of the main reasons I came up here. It’s great to see a guy from my hometown playing my same position having so much success. It got me to think, ya know, ‘Why can’t I?’”
Wise said he’ll be happy if he takes the field for the first time Saturday or sometime further down the line.
“I’d be just as excited to play at Faurot Field as I would at Arrowhead Stadium,” he said. “My high school stadium was only 7,000 people so whether it be this year or next year, whenever I take the field for the first time, I’m sure it’ll be awesome.”