It is that time of year again in Missouri football. The Tigers are coming off a loss in which their offense struggled at times and turned the ball over. The fans, across the Internet, are clamoring for Brad Smith to move to wide receiver. This year, they're thinking maybe Chase Daniel should take over. Last year it was Brandon Coleman and the year before that Sonny Riccio.
The impetus for this was a three-turnover first half in which Smith buried his team's chances against the second-ranked Texas Longhorns last Saturday. Each turnover came inside the Missouri 35-yard line and every one was turned into a Texas touchdown on the next play from scrimmage.
"I don't ever fault Brad for trying to make any plays because he's carried this team for a long time," said senior safety Jason Simpson. "Brad can do whatever he wants."
Except one of the main topics of discussion this week between the Missouri quarterback and his coaches has been that Smith can't do whatever he wants.
"Brad likes to make plays all the time," said head coach Gary Pinkel. "There's a certain point when you can't make a play and you've got to eat it. He doesn't like to do that. He doesn't like to throw the ball away, he doesn't like to take sacks."
In Missouri's two wins this season, Smith has not turned the ball over a single time. In its two losses, he has given it up six times. In that total are three interceptions and three fumbles.
"They can get on you so quick and you're thinking of throwing it away or trying to make a play with it," Smith said. "There comes times where I have to learn to just tuck it away."
The one play that stands out is still a third-quarter fumble against New Mexico. As he was being thrown to the turf, Smith tried to fling an incomplete pass as he lay nearly parallel to the ground. The officials ruled the play a fumble, the Lobos scooped it up and ran for a touchdown. While it wasn't the game-winning score, it was a critical play in a 45-35 New Mexico upset. Pinkel didn't see quite the same problem against the Longhorns.
"You try to get the ball away, but that wasn't the issue. He tried to get rid of the ball when we played New Mexico. This one, things happen fast. When it happens that fast, you've got to protect the ball," Pinkel said. "There's a certain point, field position, who you're playing, so on and so forth, where you've just got to say, 'Guess what? They got me this time. Let's punt it away and try to get the ball back.'"
It is a lesson that Smith admits he has a tough time learning. He has so often made big plays out of nothing that is comes as a surprise when he's unable to do so.
"I have a lot of confidence in what I can do," the quarterback said. "Sometimes, things are less opportunistic than they really seem. It's just understanding those situations when the play is over."
"It's just kind of instinct a little bit and it's just something that you coach them to do it," Pinkel said. "It's a little more of an emphasis type of thing, just make sure we protect the ball. I think he can do it, I don't think there's any question, he did it for a couple years."
The coach is also quick to point out that the rash of turnovers the Tigers have experienced (they're 99th in the nation in turnover margin) should not all be placed on Smith.
"Sometimes, in appearance I think, you look at Brad and since Brad has the ball in his hands often as a quarterback, you look at him and you think it's his fault all the time, but what we do is we look at everything and we look at what the issues are and the problems are. For example, the one time he threw the ball, he got hit when he threw the football so there's protection issues. Another time, the guy went through the A-gap untouched when the lineman didn't come down," Pinkel explained. "It's a matter of the offense together with the receivers, with protections, with the running backs, with the quarterbacks working together. This isn't just about Brad."
But it is, in large part, about the Tiger quarterback. When he hangs on to the ball, he usually makes enough plays to deliver a Tiger win. When he doesn't, Missouri most often cannot overcome the mistakes.
"He's got to do a better job in trying to deal with other problems that are presented to him," Pinkel said. "We've talked to him about that. Obviously, we've had some critical field position turnovers in our two losses. It's there. I think those can be prevented."
The Tigers know, they will have to be.
PowerMizzou.com will be your most comprehensive source for coverage of the Tigers throughout the 2005 season. Each Monday, we will provide you with a transcript of coach Pinkel's press conference in its entirety. Throughout the week, we will provide audio interviews, feature stories and analysis of the upcoming game. During the game, we will provide Instant Analysis of the contest and will continue with complete post-game coverage throughout the weekend. To talk about it with other Tiger fans, visit our premium forum, The Tigers' Lair.