Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Six-foot-4, 335-pound defensive tackle Josh Augusta is the biggest player on the Missouri football team. Saturday, he was also the most talked-about.
In the third quarter of Missouri’s game against Central Florida, Augusta camped under a ball thrown off the helment of an UCF offensive lineman and jumped up to grab an interception.
No Tiger interviewee could escape a question about the sophomore after the game. Both Markus Golden and Shane Ray referred to him as a “freak athlete,” and seemingly every Tiger had something to say.
Coach Gary Pinkel: “What a great play he made. I mean, the tallest guy on the field had to jump up and get up and he did. I don’t even know how he caught it. It just changed the whole momentum of the game.”
Receiver Bud Sasser: “I don’t think I’ve seen too many people with that size move the way he moves.”
Linebacker Clarence Green: “Well he’s already 6-4, so his wingspan — we were hoping, we were like, ‘Come on Josh, come on, come down with it.”
Augusta, who trended nationally on Twitter after the pick, is no novice to catching footballs. He played wide receiver at Peoria (Ill.) High School. His junior year he caught 25 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns.
Augusta said the first thing his teammates asked him after the interception was if it reminded him of his high school days. He said it did.
Judging by YouTube footage of his receiving performance, it doesn’t seem high-chool tacklers were very thrilled with the idea of wrapping up Augusta.
That said, the sophomore defensive tackle said he wouldn’t be asking for any time at receiver from Pinkel.
Linebacker Darvin Ruise is at least one member of the Tigers’ defense to lend a nickname to Augusta: “Big Bear.”
Ruise was asked in preseason camp if he had ever seen anyone that big who could move that fast.
“Yeah, my daddy,” he said with a laugh. “Naw, I’m just kidding. I haven’t been around a guy who’s explosive as Josh and to be the size he is — Big Bear can move, man, and when he put them paws on you, that’s the end.”
Augusta, who was also recruited by Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Michigan, also played basketball in high school.
“I don’t know if many people know, but he’s fast. He’s big,” Ray said. “You saw how he snatched the ball out the sky. I mean the kid is an athlete. It’s a huge play, and I gave him a big old hug after the game.”
One can only assume it was a bear hug.
THIRD TIME’S A CHARM: The Missouri offense began the year with a 3-for-11 performance (27.27 percent) on third downs against South Dakota State. Pinkel noted the struggles after the game.
“They were converting third downs and we were not,” he said. “And the combination of both are certainly difficult.”
The Tigers have certainly improved since. They went 9-for-17 on third down against Toledo, and Saturday, they converted their first six and finished 10-for-14 overall — good for 71.43 percent.
“That’s the best we’ve been against a good football team in a long time, so we’re making progress there,” Pinkel said.
He wasn’t kidding. Missouri hasn’t had that good of a third down-conversion ratio since its 2011 Independence Bowl victory over North Carolina. The Tigers also went 10-for-14 in that game while cruising to a 41-24 victory.
Last year, the Tigers averaged 43.81 percent overall on third-down conversions, and in 2012 Missouri only converted one-third of their third downs.
The last time Missouri had a third-down conversion percentage above 71 percent? Nov. 15, 2008, when Missouri went 8-for-10 against Iowa State on the road.
GREEN PROSPECT: Clarence Green started in place of Donavin Newsom at strong-side linebacker for Missouri against UCF. It was Green’s first start as a Tiger.
“It felt great,” he said. “It’s been four years since I started a game for football, so it’s just awesome to be able to go out there and compete with my teammates.”
Green had four tackles on the day. The junior out of Clute, Texas, is listed as an either/or starter on Missouri’s depth chart. He said the starting spot is determined by which player performs better in the week of practice leading up to the game.
“So this week I had a better practice, obviously,” he said. “We’re still rotating, though, five and five, and it just feels great to compete for that starting spot.”
Green’s first start was also the first game of the year in which Missouri trailed. He said the Tigers weren’t too worried about their three-point deficit in the second quarter.
“We don’t worry about the points on the scoreboard,” he said. “We’re just athletes. We’re competitors. We just love competing, so we kept our eyes at our coach, our signals and plays and just were working hard.”
INJURY REPORT: Russell Hansbrough was the first Tiger tailback to go down Saturday. After an 11-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter, Hansbrough “got dinged a little bit” according to coach Pinkel. Pinkel said associate athletic director Rex Sharp told him “it wasn’t bad, but there’s no sense in putting him back in.”
Marcus Murphy left later in the quarter after a run in the Knights’ red zone. He suffered a sprained ankle, which Pinkel called “mild.” Pinkel said if needed, Murphy probably could have returned to the game, but freshman Ish Witter took the remaining carries for the Tigers.
Matt Hoch did not start at left tackle because of a pectoral injury. Hoch had a similar injury earlier in the year, and Pinkel said he thought it was the same muscle. Hoch is expected to return soon.
“I think if we played (today), he could have played,” Pinkel said.
Laurence Lee sat the game out with a boot on his foot. Pinkel said he twisted his ankle in the final minutes of Wednesday’s practice.
“Hopefully we get him back, too,” Pinkel said, “because he’s been looking real good in practice.”