It's wide open for Missouri's receivers

No Justin Gage? No problem. Thanks to more experience and one player's attitude adjustment, Missouri has one of its best receiving groups in a long time. Now they just have to show it.

There were time last season when Thomson Omboga knew he wasn't going to get the ball.

No matter how wide open he got, he knew that ball was going to Justin Gage. No matter what.

"That's just how it is," Omboga said.

That, though, isn't how the Tigers are doing it anymore. On Saturday against Eastern Illinois, 12 Missouri players caught passes. Although several went to backups in the fourth quarter, it shows the Tigers aren't going the Gage way any more.

And it only makes them better.

"That's our thing, spreading the ball around," receiver Sean Coffey said. "We think that's gonna be the secret to our success this year. Now, we run every route to get open."

The three main receivers come from different places. Darius Outlaw is the converted quarterback that was everybody's comeback success story last season. Coffey is the sophomore with Gage-like size who had hands problems last season. And then there's Omboga, the junior with humongous talent but with a big problem: his mouth.

Omboga missed five games last season after Pinkel indefinitely suspended him after argument with coach Andy Hill. Omboga has never been the shy type (he came into the summer's first interviews screaming, "Rome is Burning with T.O.!"), but last season he was also standoffish with his coaches and teammates.

The suspension gave him some much-needed perspective.

"As far as my attitude, when I was new here, I had a sort-of ‘I don't care' attitude," Omboga said. "Now being out of the program, I realize the coaches really are good people, and they're going to do everything to see me succeed. I just learn how to take the coaches a lot better and I became more of a team player. It's not about me anymore. It's about the team."

Said Coffey: "He's just a totally different guy. I can't do nothing but commend him on that."

Omboga's return to humility gives the Tigers one of the most potent receiving groups in recent memory. To give a little perspective, fourth receiver Marcus James was a starter two years ago. He became a starter in the middle of the season, replacing Tay Jackson, who couldn't even make the team this season. Gage's best second receiver used to be a tight end, Dwayne Blakley.

These Missouri receivers are locked and loaded. Against Eastern Illinois, these guys were consistently open down the field, only to have Brad Smith overthrow them. If they can get that chemistry down, the pressure on Smith and running back Zack Abron will greatly decrease.

The stats might not show it yet, but this group of Tiger wideouts is definitely bigger and better.

"As a unit, we have more experience and we've gotten stronger and faster," Coffey said. "We all played together last year. Age can do nothing but help."

Black & Gold Illustrated Top Stories