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ASU Surprises Mizzou
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badgerwolf Offline
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From the online Columbia Daily Tribune (http://www.showmenews.com):

Tigers keep ASU at arm’s length
Missouri claims opener despite defensive woes.

By RUS BAER of the Tribune’s staff
Published Sunday, September 5, 2004

In the high-stakes and high-dollar world of college athletics, major Division I-A football programs gladly pay a small fortune to have less distinguished nonconference foes enter their stadiums and take a beating.

For a reported $300,000, Arkansas State signed on to play the 18th-ranked Missouri Tigers in their season opener last night on Faurot Field. In front of a Memorial Stadium crowd of 57,012, the Indians left town with the loot and their dignity. Not a bad haul in either respect for the Sun Belt Conference opponent, but in the end the Tigers got what they wanted in the first place - a 52-20 victory.

Although an impressive passing performance by quarterback Nick Noce kept Arkansas State in the game for three quarters, Missouri quarterback Brad Smith led an unstoppable offense that produced the highest-scoring MU home opener since 1928.

Smith matched a career high with three touchdown passes, completing 14 of 22 passes for 233 yards. Smith also added 63 yards rushing, including a 34-yard touchdown run with 5:10 left in the second quarter.

"Anybody that was there saw a different caliber athlete on the field for both teams in Brad Smith," Arkansas State Coach Steve Roberts said.

Smith wasn’t the only quarterback making plays, either.

Noce, who entered the game with nearly as many career interceptions (seven) as completions (eight), completed 19 of 26 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns before leaving the game cramping because of dehydration midway through the third quarter.

"If they were concerned about him being a quality quarterback, he certainly made some great throws," Missouri Coach Gary Pinkel said of Noce.

In all, Noce and backup Devin Hollins accumulated 350 yards passing. It was an unexpected performance from a team that ranked 109th in the nation in passing offense last year.

Trailing 35-17 at halftime, Arkansas State was in the middle of an 18-play, 89-yard drive to open the third quarter when Noce had to come out of the game. Hollins completed the drive that ended with a 21-yard field goal by Eric Niehouse to cut the margin to 35-20 at the 6:27 mark, but Noce was unable to return to the game and ASU did not score again.

"We made a lot of mistakes on defense in this game - I mean a lot of mistakes" Pinkel said. "First you give them credit, but I have to believe we’re better than that."

Although Noce’s passing performance kept things interesting, Missouri’s lead was never seriously threatened because - except for a few uncharacteristic turnovers - the Tigers offense was unstoppable.

Missouri scored with ease on its first two offensive possessions to build a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Smith ended an 80-yard drive to open the game by rolling left and finding tight end Martin Rucker wide open for a 24-yard scoring pass. The 6-5, 240 redshirt freshman dove into the end zone at the 11:46 mark.

After a rare three-and-out possession by ASU, Missouri needed just 1½ minutes to find the end zone the next time it got the ball. Damien Nash ended the five-play, 59-yard drive with a 21-yard run up the middle in which he broke through two tackles.

Nash, who added a 15-yard score in the fourth quarter, topped his previous career high of 91 yards in the third quarter before finishing with 126 yards on 15 carries.

Trailing 14-0, ASU’s offense finally started to click when it strung together three straight first downs. But on a second-and-21, defensive tackle Phil Pitts put a stop to the drive when he sniffed out a screen pass at midfield and rambled 49 yards to give the Tigers a 21-0 lead.

Pinkel said the 6-foot-1, 285-pound senior from Jefferson City causes the offensive coaches fits in practice when it comes to completing screen passes.

"It’s just something I have a feel for," Pitts said. "I’m not the best pass rusher in the world, so when I feel somebody letting me go, I know something funny is up and I find the running back."

It appeared Missouri might run away with the game, but an interception by Smith and a fumble by Marcus Woods on Missouri’s next two possessions offered the Indians a respite.

A 6-yard pass from Noce to Oren O’Neal and a 30-yard field goal cut Missouri’s lead to 21-10 with 11:38 left in the second quarter, but Smith took over after that by throwing a 60-yard bomb to Sean Coffey.

Smith ended his night with a 35-yard scoring pass to Victor Sesay with 1:12 remaining in the third. Brandon Coleman took over for Smith and led the Tigers on a final scoring drive that ended with a 17-yard field goal by Joe Tantarelli with 19 seconds left.

09-06-2004 11:07 AM
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