Gabbert finds his groove
By the time Chase Daniel arrived on Missouri's campus in 2005, the highly-decorated prep star already quarterbacked 32 games in his last two years of high school, including a Texas state championship in 2004.
Blaine Gabbert, to put it mildly, didn't have any such accomplishments. His biggest accolades upon entering Missouri in 2008 were five stars, always placed as a modifier before his name.
After 20 starts in college, however, Gabbert sports a better win-loss record (15-5) than each of Missouri's last two quarterbacks. More importantly, it looks like the junior star is only getting better.
"I think Blaine, yeah, maybe he's stepping his game up a little bit," receiver T.J. Moe said. "I think we're starting to recognize where each other's gonna be all the time and be where we need to be."
Against Texas A&M and Oklahoma, Gabbert produced two of his most well-rounded statistical games this season, completing almost 69% of his passes for 669 yards and four touchdowns, without an interception. Unlike last year, where he was flawless in the non-conference season before stumbling out of the gate in Big 12 play, Gabbert appears to have saved his big games for when they matter most.
Ironically, the truest measure of Gabbert's improvement might be a feeling. That feeling has permeated the local media and message boards: "Doesn't he just look better back there?" Trusting his stellar offensive line, which has allowed a Big 12-low seven sacks this season, Gabbert appears to be more confident in the pocket, and the dividends are obvious.
"I think he's just been patiently waiting," said receiver Wes Kemp. "And I think we've had more opportunities, as far as the passing game, get some better looks and we've just been taking advantage of it."
It's a combination of Gabbert, 20 starts into his college career, finding his sea legs, while at the same leading an offense that's shown a new level of balance and patience.
"Anytime you can start a full season as a sophomore, you get that experience level," Gabbert said. "You know how to prepare week in and week out. You know what to expect from opposing defenses and really it slows down after a while."
Instead of swinging for the fences, Gabbert and the offense are playing station-to-station football. Want proof? Through seven games this season, Gabbert has only eleven touchdown passes. Missouri is undefeated. Go back a few years, and ask yourself if that would have been possible.
"I'd say we better be playing some really good defense and have a really good run game," Moe said, when asked about those numbers. "And I think we've done that."
The attack, no matter how one apporaches it, starts with Gabbert. According to Moe, Gabbert has been more locked in as the season's progressed.
"I think when you have that, 'eye of the tiger' they say, when Blaine gets rolling into that new gear, there's no question you're going to roll into a new confidence level," Moe explained. "He's been there a lot of the season, and he's always had that competitive fire and stuff, but when you go up against teams like Oklahoma and perform like he did, there's no question your confidence is going to be raised."
Gabbert now takes his "Eye of the Tiger" into Nebraska's Memorial Stadium, with plenty of distractions: It'll be his first, and probably last, trip as a starter to the school he spurned for the Tigers. It's the last conference game between two hated rivals. And, Gabbert goes against one of the nation's best secondaries, which has held opponents to 140.7 passing yards a game (third in the nation) and a QB efficiency of 90.13 (second).
It's also Gabbert's last chance to exorcise his demons from a year ago, on that Thursday night in the pouring rain.
"We just have to turn the page," Gabbert said.
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