This week, the Missouri Tigers are facing a rarity. The San Diego State Aztecs rank higher nationally than the Tigers in nearly every offensive statistical category. It is early, but the Tigers know they are facing a team that can move the football.
"The quarterback is exceptional. He's a great pocket passer," Pinkel said. "He can run, he can move, he stays in the pocket a lot, though, and he delivers. They've not had a sack all year. This is a really good football team."
SDSU is averaging 44 points a game, 16th in the country. They throw it for 316 yards and run for 231 yards, placing them sixth in total offense.
"That's definitely what we're hearing that they do have a good offense," senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "That's what we're going to see all through the Big 12 season, so it's definitely a key for us to get better throughout the week."
The Tiger defense has been good so far this season, giving up just 19 points and leading the nation with nine takeaways. But there is some understood skepticism from Tiger fans, given the defensive lapses they have witnessed the last few years. Missouri's two-week improvement has also come against Illinois, which ranks 100th in the country in passing offense, and McNeese State, an FCS squad.
"They definitely like to air the ball out, got a nice running back," safety Jarrell Harrison said. "This is definitely a week for us to come out and prove ourselves and prove what kind of defense we want to be."
"The last couple weeks, you might say these teams weren't well-matched against us," senior captain and cornerback Kevin Rutland said. "I think now we have a test against an excellent quarterback and an excellent offense that our pass defense and the rest of our defense will be just fine."
In the end, though, Pinkel doesn't want his defensive players approaching this game as if they have anything to prove.
"I don't think it's prove it, I think you just want to go out and play well," Pinkel said. "Prove it's for everybody else. What we're trying to do is play good football on both sides of the ball. Those things will get evaluated throughout the entire season. I always tell our players, be concerned about our evaluation and nobody else's."
One defender who has already proven something is redshirt freshman linebacker Andrew Wilson. Injuries to Donovan Bonner and Luke Lambert, coupled with the suspension of Will Ebner, made Wilson the starting middle linebacker last Saturday.
"I thought Andrew Wilson did an exceptional job," Pinkel said. "Here's a guy that goes in there and just gets thrown in there his second game as a redshirt freshman. Talk about thrown into the fires. But he's a great competitor. He's a very tough kid, he's very physical if you watch him play. He's also really mentally tough."
Wilson made seven tackles in the game (four solo) and drew rave reviews from his teammates.
"I thought it was real impressive the way he jumped in," Gachkar said. "We didn't know what we were going to get. You never really know until you see someone play. Obviously, he did a good job stepping in there, getting a lot of tackles, getting in on plays and he did a good job on special teams."
With Ebner's return, Wilson moves from the middle over to the strongside position this week. He is listed second on the depth chart behind Gachkar.
"It was definitely exciting, especially the home opener," Wilson said. "I just tried to stay within the defense and I thought I played all right."
But simply because he is listed in one spot does not mean he will play there. Josh Tatum practiced all week at the strongside position and then played weakside linebacker against McNeese State last week.
"He pretty much cross-trains every position just in case what happened, like Luke got hurt," Wilson said. "There's not a whole lot of difference."
For a few years, Missouri became known as somewhat of a tight end factory. Martin Rucker and Chase Coffman put up monster numbers and gobbled up all-American honors. Last season, the Tiger tight ends were virtually non-existent. Andrew Jones and Michael Egnew combined to catch ten passes for 64 yards.
But Egnew has followed up strong performances in bowl practices and spring ball by making 16 catches for 112 yards in the Tigers' first two games, including the first touchdown of his career.
"He's playing at a really high level right now," Pinkel said. "It's nice to have that position back."
As for comparisons, Pinkel usually shies away from them. But he made a flattering one when talking about Egnew versus Coffman and Rucker.
"That kind of reminds me a little bit of when we had Rucker and Coffman, the same type things we're doing with him right now," Pinkel said. "He's about 235 and he can run a lot faster than both of them."
As mentioned, Ebner returns to the lineup after sitting out the last two games serving a suspension for an August DWI charge. Beau Brinkley, out for the same reason, is also back. Brinkley is listed as the Tigers' starting longsnapper.
On the Television
For the second straight week, Tiger fans that want to watch the game will have to pony up for pay-per-view. Spokesman Chad Moller said details as far as specific channels will not be finalized until later in the week. Fans wanting ordering information in their cities should check mutigers.com this week for updates.
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