7:00 PM ET, September 4, 2004
Faurot Field, COLUMBIA, MO
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri quarterback Brad Smith and his offensive teammates were as good as advertised Saturday night. It's the other side of the ball that has coach Gary Pinkel concerned.
The (No. 17 ESPN/USA Today, No. 18 AP) Tigers gained 506 yards and moved the ball with ease in a 52-20 win over Arkansas State in the season opener for both teams.
Problem was, unheralded Arkansas State, behind a quarterback playing only because the starter quit a month ago, ran over Missouri most of the night, gaining 438 yards and controlling the ball for nearly 39 minutes.
"Overall, we're excited about the victory," Pinkel said. "Obviously, it was very sloppy at times."
Smith completed 14 of 22 passes for 233 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 63 yards on just six carries, one of them a 34-yard second-quarter touchdown run. The junior is on many Heisman Trophy watch lists after running for 1,406 yards and passing for 1,977 last season.
He had plenty of help. Part of the reason the Tigers had the ball for only 21:36 was they scored so quickly, with five scoring drives of 3:14 or less.
Missouri, ranked in the preseason for the first time since a No. 17 ranking in 1980, faced an Arkansas State team starting five freshmen on defense. The Tigers didn't punt until less than eight minutes remained in the game.
"Our young secondary was a little wide-eyed and anxious," Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts said. "We didn't play very good, disciplined football."
Missouri went ahead 21-0 less than 10 minutes into the game. After Rucker's score, Nash changed directions three times and scored on a 21-yard run midway through the quarter.
Five plays later, Arkansas State quarterback Nick Noce's screen pass was intercepted by 285-pound nose tackle Phil Pitts, who plodded 49 yards down the sideline -- even shaking off a tackle -- to make it 21-0 with 5:29 to play in the first quarter.
"I saw a lot of green turf in front of me," Pitts said of his first interception ever, high school included.
Otherwise, the Missouri defense struggled. The Tigers converted from a 4-2-5 alignment last season to a 4-3 to shore up the run defense, and the Indians gained just 88 yards rushing.
But Arkansas State had success passing, led by Noce, a junior who last season was 8-of-31 with seven interceptions and no touchdowns. He became a starter just a month ago when Elliot Jacobs quit to focus on baseball.
Noce was 19-for-26 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and one interception before leaving with a cramp in his right calf early in the third quarter. His replacement, Devin Hollins, was 7-for-11 for 110 yards.
"We didn't think they were going to be able to move it like they did," Missouri cornerback A.J. Kincade said. "It was mostly just mental mistakes. We're going to get that corrected."
St. Louis-area native Chuck Walker caught six passes for 126 yards for the Indians.
Arkansas State's Eric Neihouse made field goals of 30 and 21 yards, and missed a 42-yarder. Missouri's Joe Tantarelli made a 17-yarder with 19 seconds left in the game.
Missouri, which led the nation in fewest turnovers with 13 last season and 12 in 2002, gave up the ball twice on Smith's first-quarter interception and a second-quarter fumble by Marcus Woods.
Things don't get easier for either team. Missouri plays Troy, which upset Marshall 17-15 Saturday. And Arkansas State travels to No. 4 LSU Saturday.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||6-15||8-10|
|4th Down Conversions||1-1||0-0|
|TD||11:46||MARTIN RUCKER 24 YD PASS FROM BRAD SMITH (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||8:11||DAMIEN NASH 21 YD RUN (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 59 yards.
|TD||5:29||PHIL PITTS 49 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)||0||21|
|TD||0:58||OREN O'NEAL 6 YD PASS FROM NICK NOCE (ERIC NEIHOUSE KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 64 yards.
|FG||11:38||ERIC NEIHOUSE 30 YD FG|
Drive info: 7 plays, 17 yards.
|TD||9:20||SEAN COFFEY 60 YD PASS FROM BRAD SMITH (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 75 yards.
|TD||5:10||BRAD SMITH 34 YD RUN (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 80 yards.
|TD||0:39||JASON WOOD 18 YD PASS FROM NICK NOCE (ERIC NEIHOUSE KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 71 yards.
|FG||6:27||ERIC NEIHOUSE 21 YD FG|
Drive info: 18 plays, 89 yards.
|TD||4:24||DAMIEN NASH 15 YD RUN (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 65 yards.
|TD||1:12||VICTOR SESAY 35 YD PASS FROM BRAD SMITH (JOE TANTARELLI KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 65 yards.
|FG||0:19||JOE TANTARELLI 17 YD FG|
Drive info: 11 plays, 58 yards.