Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — While Maty Mauk’s suspension has gotten most of the attention as the Missouri football team prepares for its game Saturday against South Carolina, the starting quarterback is far from the only player the Tigers will be missing.
A season-high seven players were listed on Missouri’s injury report, including the nation’s leading tackler, Kentrell Brothers, who is listed as questionable.
Ruled out for Saturday’s game are starting tight end Sean Culkin (knee) and starting right tackle Nate Crawford (ankle). DeSean Blair will miss his third straight game after suffering a concussion in a car accident, and backup tailback Morgan Steward has been ruled out for the year with a hip injury.
“You’re going to have injuries,” head coach Gary Pinkel said. “The last couple years we hardly had any. The year before that we had a bunch. Bottom line, there’s no excuses. Guys have got to step it up, and go in and play, and we’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to get them playing at the highest level.”
Brothers is suffering from an ankle injury sustained in Missouri’s loss Saturday at Kentucky.
“It’s the year of ankles,” Pinkel said, referring to team captains Russell Hansbrough and Evan Boehm, who sprained their ankles on the Tigers’ season-opening drive. “I don’t know why.”
Should Brothers not be available, fellow linebacker Michael Scherer will be called upon to help fill the gap in production. Scherer and Brothers were the Southeastern Conference’s top returning tacklers at the beginning of the season.
“You lose a guy like that who’s making a lot of plays, and somebody else has got to step in and make those plays,” Scherer said. I think a lot of it falls on me to be more of a leader if he’s not out there. … I have to do what I can to pass my knowledge and preparation onto the guys who could possibly be stepping into that position.
“And then with that, I kind of know in my head that I’ve got to do a little more now. I’ve got to be a little better. I’ve got to make some plays, and I’ve got to do some stuff that I wouldn’t normally do, because he’s not out there.”
Even Scherer himself is playing with a hand injury, though Pinkel said Monday it’s “not of huge significance.”
Taylor Chappell moved over from left guard to fill Crawford’s spot at right tackle, a position where he started 10 games last season.
“Chappell did a great job there last year,” Boehm said. “I’m excited to see what Chappell does, and I think when he moved out there on Saturday, he did a good job. Yeah, he had to knock some dust off from playing guard and all that stuff, because it’s a different game on the edge than it is inside, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. I think he did a great job of stepping up into the role and being able to do what he did.”
With Chappell’s shift, Brad McNulty moves into the starting left guard position. McNulty started 10 games at the position last season, and has gotten starting time because of injuries throughout his career.
“You look at a kid (who) in four years hasn’t started the first game and ends the season as the starter — I don’t know if that’s ever happened anywhere with anybody, but it’s pretty special,” Boehm said. “It’s pretty cool with Brad. Brad’s an inside utility player where he can play right or left guard, he can play center, he gets all the reps at every position.”
Boehm said his ankle his feeling much better.
“It has its days and its moments, but I got taken out of the boot (Monday), which is a great thing,” Boehm said. “I’m happy because when Russell got taken out of his boot I was a little jealous. … I’m still doing treatment three, four times a day and trying to get myself back to where I was at the beginning of the season before the injury.”
The Tigers will also have to replace production at tight end, where Culkin has the second-most catches of any player on the team. Senior Clayton Echard and sophomore Jason Reese are listed as co-starters. Pinkel said Monday the team was still figuring out its gameplan at tight end, but Reese has the potential to be more of a downfield threat.
“I think potential, running-wise, athletically, yes,” Pinkel said of Reese. “Now it’s just mastering the position and doing all the little things right and being at the right spot that the quarterbacks want you to be and so forth. Yeah, there’s no question about it. Hopefully he’ll work hard, and he is working hard to get there. But he’s, potentially, a very talented athlete, and this would be a good time for him to step it up and help our football team.”
Steward’s injury marks the second time in two years he has been effectively shut down for the season. Pinkel said Missouri will attempt to get Steward a sixth year through medical redshirt once his eligibility expires. There is a four-week grace period to get a season back, hence the decision to shut him down now.
“He was really, really frustrated, because he just (couldn’t) make that final move,” Pinkel said. “… Plant, change direction, quickness that he had, he wasn’t there yet. I was hoping he would be. I was hoping we’d have him back this year. I thought maybe by the middle of October, we’d get him back, but I think it’s a very good move for him. And he’s worked so hard to get back that I think he’s accepted it, and I think he’s excited about it.”
Steward injured his hip last preseason and was questionable for most of the season until arthroscopic surgery in November ended his season. Pinkel called it a “severe hip injury that you don’t really see in football.” Steward ran 10 times for 18 yards this year.
The good news for Missouri is free safety Ian Simon avoided the injury report after he slammed his head to the turf Saturday trying to intercept a pass. Simon said he lost consciousness on the play and but has since gone through concussion protocol.
“I woke up with a slight headache yesterday and today,” Simon said Monday, “but other than that, I’ve been feeling pretty good all day. … I’m pretty sure that I’m going to practice tomorrow, so we’re back on track.”