It’s September 3rd.
The Tigers have gone the first two and a half days of this month with zero off-field infractions.
So, at least for the moment, attention can turn to the football field instead of the police blotter.
And when the Tigers take to the turf Saturday in St. Louis, much of the attention will be focused on junior quaterback Blaine Gabbert. With the permanent suspension of senior running back Derrick Washington, Gabbert will shoulder a majority of the offensive load for the Tigers until replacements Kendial Lawrence and De’Vion Moore prove worthy of carries.
The leadership Gabbert displayed throughout the summer and preseason camp may be more valuable to a team plagued by more police encounters than Lindsay Lohan. Gabbert appears poised and confident in the face of adversity, Being the skill player on offense to return with notable experience, Gabbert’s demeanor is showing the rest of the Tigers how to approach a game that represents much more than the end of the Arch Rivalry.
However, he won’t be alone Saturday.
T.J. Moe, the former Fort Zumwalt West standout, caught everything thrown his way during preseason. He has parlayed that strong camp into a starting position for the Tigers at the H-receiver position. After bouncing around positions, Moe has flourished as a wide receiver and will be a go-to target for Gabbert Saturday as well as the rest of the season.
Danario Alexander largely overshadowed junior Jerrell Jackson’s progress last year when he stepped in for Jared Perry after Perry missed the last two games of the regular season due to injury. Jackson caught 37 balls for 458 yards last year, and he will attempt to top those numbers starting Saturday.
Originally diagnosed to miss the first two games due to a broken bone in his wrist, the current MU depth chart lists Jackson as the first string X receiver. This shift from the slot to the outside made room for Moe at the H, while it pushed sophomore Rolandis Woodland down to third string. Woodland was listed as the starting X receiver heading into preseason.
After Friday’s walk-thru at the Dome, Jackson showed no ill signs of the injury. This performance prompted Gary Pinkel to proclaim that Jackson “will definitely play tomorrow.”
Linebacker Will Ebner and tight end Beau Brinkley did not make the trip to St. Louis due to their legal issues.
Rounding out the starters at receiver is junior Wes Kemp. Although Kemp has not posted eye-popping numbers in preseason scrimmages, his value lies in his 6’4” 220 pound frame. Positioned on the outside, the native St. Louisan helps spring receivers for huge gains after the catch as well as block for MU’s patented bubble screen. Alexander may have caught 113 balls last year, but a good chunk of his 1,781 yards came thanks to Kemp throwing blocks.
And if there was ever a time to lean on the passing attack, it is now against Illinois. Counted on to be their lockdown corner, Illini sophomore Terry Hawthorne will miss the season opener with a stress fracture in his right foot. His replacement, sophomore Justin Green, shifted from running back to cornerback in preseason and has only two weeks experience at his new position.
A day before Hawthorne’s injury, starting safety Supo Sanni ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the entire season. A third defensive back for the Illini, Walter Aikens, will not play for Illinois this season after being kicked out of school for his involvement in a stolen property case.
With a little luck, and Missouri could use some now, the Tigers could go through Saturday without noticing Washington’s absence.
And it’d be a fourth day without disciplinary infractions. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
A win would be just fine.