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October 25, 2006There is one stat that may define the Missouri offense as much as any other, and it isn't even a statistic having to do with an offensive player. Punter Adam Crossett would rank in the top four punters in the Big 12...if he had punted enough times to qualify.
The Tigers have not missed a beat in the first year of the post-Brad Smith era. In fact, they've gotten better. Mizzou is averaging 33.1 points and 419.5 yards a game this season, thanks in large part to sophomore quarterback Chase Daniel.
Daniel, who played in all but one game as a true freshman last season, has taken every meaningful snap but one from under center this season (he had a problem with his helmet and missed one play at Texas A&M). In just the eighth game of the season, he broke the single-season touchdown record at Missouri by throwing his 19th of the year. In fact, Daniel has thrown four or more touchdowns three different times this season. In the previous 115 years of Tiger football it had been done just six times total.
Daniel's primary threat in the passing game has been William Franklin. The junior wideout leads the team in receptions (38), yards (690) and touchdowns (6). Franklin has scored on four passes of 30 yards or more this season, including a 52-yarder against K-State last week. Second on the team in each category is sophomore tight end Chase Coffman, followed closely by junior Martin Rucker. It is that balance in the passing game that has enabled Daniel to enter the discussion for first-team all-Big 12 quarterback and possibly even offensive player of the year.
"We've got other players too, I can go to Brad Ekwerekwu, I can go to Jared Perry, I can go to Tommy Saunders, I can keep going on and guys that I can mention that are doing an outstanding job too," said Gary Pinkel. "You certainly look at those things and try to spread it as much as you can."
Five different receivers have at least 20 catches and six players have caught touchdown passes.
When the Tigers take to the ground, Daniel is also a threat. He may not be Brad Smith, but he is averaging 11 carries a game and has run for three touchdowns. If he hands off, the ball usually goes to Tony Temple, who has 125 carries and is the Big 12's third-leading rusher. Temple is averaging just about 15 carries per game and 5.3 yards per rush. Earl Goldsmith and Jimmy Jackson will spell the junior from Kansas City.
"I also think we're trying to keep him fresh," Pinkel said. "He got banged up the week before a little bit. Put Earl Goldsmith in there, Jimmy got in there a little bit, we want to keep him fresh too. I think that's important."
The one problem that has plagued the Tigers, especially in recent weeks, is turnovers. Three fumbles were the main reason for Missouri's only loss of the season, 25-19 at A&M. One miscue took seven points off the board and another led to an Aggie touchdown. Mizzou had just one turnover last week, but it was a Daniel fumble that K-State returned for a touchdown on the first play of the game.
When Mizzou has held on to the ball, it has been very difficult to contain. Some defenses have stopped the Tigers for a half, but no one has yet done it for an entire game.
"We want to have that belief and I think we do cause you can only make so many plays a game on defense," Daniel said. "When we come up against a good defense, we just keep grinding, keep grinding."
Oklahoma's Big 12-leading defense should provide the Tigers' stiffest test of the season.