COLUMBIA — MU wide receiver Jeremy Maclin is as flashy and multipurpose as an iPhone. Defenders have as much trouble getting a hand on him as many have with the coveted Apple gadget.
“You see some of those cuts out there he makes, I don’t even see some NFL guys making them,” quarterback Chase Daniel said after Saturday’s game. “He’s the type of talent that we want (him) to have the ball as much as we can.”
Maclin has been the most surprising weapon in the Tigers’ offensive arsenal this season. His play is even more noteworthy since the redshirt freshman has recovered from a severe knee injury.
Maclin first demonstrated his moves against Illinois. Playing in his first game for the Tigers, he juked and sped past the Illini defense during a 66-yard punt return for a touchdown.
Maclin’s poise during his debut impressed coach Gary Pinkel.
“He looked like he’d been playing college football for the last three years,” he said. “I just knew at that time we had somebody really special.”
The versatile athlete is fourth in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging more than 227 yards per game. Maclin catches passes and returns punts and kickoffs. He is also the team’s third-leading rusher.
Maclin created a buzz the first summer he was at MU. His teammates couldn’t stop talking about him during voluntary workouts. The word spread to coaches, who were forbidden to attend the practices.
“I remember players coming to my office saying, ‘Well, you gotta see Jeremy Maclin,’” Pinkel said.
But soon Maclin was watching his teammates and coaches from the sideline. He exchanged his pads and helmet for crutches after severely injuring his knee in late July last year. He not only tore his ACL, but his knee also suffered significant structural damage.
Now, everyone’s eyes are back on Maclin. He’s gotten faster since comprehensive surgery and rehab. His 40-yard dash time has improved from 4.4 to 4.3.
Maclin showcased his talents on a variety of plays against Western Michigan Saturday , totaling 275 all-purpose yards and scoring two touchdowns. When he sidestepped and weaved through the Broncos’ coverage unit on a 23-yard punt return, he looked as effortless as Chicago Bears returner Devin Hester.
His performance exceeded expectations.
“I didn’t really expect almost 300 total all-purpose yards this game,” Daniel said. “I don’t think anyone did.”
Maclin has had more opportunities after wide receiver Danario Alexander dislocated his wrist against Illinois. Maclin was Alexander’s backup.
When Alexander returns, Pinkel and his staff will have to decide how to use both receivers. Pinkel said a starter can’t lose his starting role because of injury unless the coaches decide his replacement is playing better. With depth at receiver, Pinkel isn’t dreading the decision.
“This will be a fun one to try to figure out,” Pinkel said, “and I’m glad I got this problem.”
Pinkel said he hopes Alexander will return in time to play against Nebraska.
STARTING TIME NOT SET FOR NEBRASKA GAME: The Tigers know they will play Nebraska Oct. 6, but they still don’t know when the game will start. The Big 12 Conference will release the starting time Monday, said Chad Moller, director of media relations for the MU athletic department.
Even though he watched some of the USC-Nebraska game Saturday night, the Cornhuskers are far from Pinkel’s mind. When asked about his observations, he replied, “The only observation I have is we’re playing Illinois State (this week).”
SHUFFLE AT LEFT GUARD: Ryan Madison is listed at No. 2 at left guard on the depth chart after reclaiming the top spot last week and starting against Western Michigan. Madison started the opener against Illinois, but Monte Wyrick replaced him in the lineup against Ole Miss.
Pinkel said the two are both playing well, and the battle for the starting spot is competitive.
“It’s kind of fun to watch,” Pinkel said, “and it’s kind of the agreement we have with those guys.”