Tigers not overlooking Troy

The Tigers have left for southeastern Alabama and will face an upset-minded Troy team Thursday. Check inside for the Tigers' thoughts on the Trojans, including their concerns about a talented athlete on the defensive line.

Overlooking an opponent is an excuse players often offer after being upset. Although the cliché seems unbelievably trite in this day of high-pressure and high-dollar college athletics, the hits keep coming.

Don't expect that out of the Tigers after they face Troy on Thursday, even if they are upset. Missouri is well aware of the Trojans' strengths on both side of the ball, including a talented fifth-year senior at quarterback and an emerging star at defensive end.

"They have a lot of athletes," junior WR Sean Coffey said. "They have a good front four. They'll probably be geeked for this game."

That could be an understatement. Thursday's contest may be the most important game the Trojans have played since moving to Division 1-A in 2001. Missouri is the first BCS conference team to travel to Movie Gallery Stadium and, even more, the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

Sure, Missouri's game is scheduled against the NFL season opener, but many eyes will be on southeastern Alabama on Thursday night.

"We already know that, we know how it is, to be on that side, the underdog," Coffey said. "You just gotta be mature and expect them to be emotional. You have to prepare at a championship level and be ready to play."

The Troy offense is led by Aaron Leak, a fifth-year senior that took over a muddled quarterback situation this season. Leak is a dual threat, able to drop down at any time, but he does not present the big-play potential that makes Missouri junior QB Brad Smith so dangerous.

Even more, Leak turned his left ankle in Troy's season-opening win at Marshall last Saturday. He will be close to 100 percent at game time.

Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said Leak's experience makes him a threat.

"That experience level is a tremendous plus," Pinkel said. "And that's what they have with Leak."

Missouri senior LB James Kinney hopes to lead the defense to a better outcome than the opener, when the Tigers surrendered 350 passing yards and 20 points to fellow Sun Belt Conference member Arkansas State. He said Leak presents an ability to move around the field that the Tigers did not see against the Indians.

"He gets out of the pocket and can scramble a little bit," Kinney said. "He throws the ball well."

Leak is complemented by a pair of tailbacks, DeWhitt Betterson and Jermaine Richardson, who split the Indians' carries in the season opener. Despite the Trojans' inability to create with the run against the Herd, the Missouri coaching staff expects Troy to attempt to establish the run early.

The Troy defense, specifically senior DeMarcus Ware, has drawn most of the attention this week, and for good reason. Ware recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles against the Herd, the kind of performance that draws the attention of teams that play primarily on Sundays. Ware, although undersized, presents a new challenge to a still-developing Missouri offensive line.

Pinkel called the defensive line exceptional, deeming Ware an impact player. Ware is just one member of a strong defense, which allowed just 177 yards of total offense to a traditionally strong Marshall offense.

"If you want to play good defense, (the line) is where it starts, without question," Pinkel said. "To stifle (Marshall) in that way certainly says an awful lot for how good a defense they have, and certainly the defensive front."

Ware will likely focus on shutting down Smith as much as possible. In his first two seasons with the Tigers, Smith proved that it takes a team effort to slow him down. Still, Smith said he is aware of the impact Ware can make.

"From what I've seen, he's a great player," Smith said. "We'll have to be aware of him and do some things to try to slow him down. We're looking forward to the challenge."

The Trojans will likely present many fronts to the Missouri offense, of which two members made their collegiate debut Saturday. C Adam Spieker and T Tyler Luellen fared well in their opener, as the line allowed Smith to be sacked just once. The pressure will be ratcheted up significantly Thursday.

"They're probably as good as any D-line that we'll face," senior T Scott Paffrath said. "It's gonna be a physical game and we've gotta be ready for that."

Just as Troy perceives Thursday's contest as a chance to prove their worth at the Division 1-A level, Pinkel said the Tigers should use the game as a chance to prove themselves, too.

"That's the way I see it," Pinkel said.

"I don't know if it's a big statement, but you're gonna find out a lot about our football team."


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