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
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.
Damien Nash ran 15 times for a career-high 126 yards and scored
twice, and Sean Coffey caught five passes for 113 yards and a
touchdown, a 60-yard wide-open pass early in the second quarter.
Smith also connected with tight end Martin Rucker for a 24-yard
scoring play in the first quarter and tight end Victor Sesay for a
35-yard score in the third quarter.
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
"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.
Noce threw a 6-yard scoring pass to Oren O'Neal with 58 seconds
to play in the first quarter. Noce and Jason Wood combined on an
18-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds to play in the first half.
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
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.