A Smith broke onto the scene for Missouri each of the past two years, with junior QB Brad Smith emerging as a freshman in 2002 and sophomore DE Brian Smith controlling the line of scrimmage last season. There is no new Smith to continue that run this season, unless you count the re-emergence of Brian.
Smith struggled through the season's first four games, recording one sack and unable to establish himself. Having slipped to No. 2 on the depth chart behind sophomore Xzavie Jackson after training camp, Smith was playing less and doing little when he reached the field.
A minor move on the depth chart a few weeks ago shook things up. Smith was moved to the strong side behind senior Zach Ville, an adjustment that defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said was made because Smith "feels more at home there." Saturday night at Baylor, at home at his position--and in his home state of Texas--Smith cleaned up, recording three sacks and a forced fumble, moving into a tie for second in the conference in sacks along the way.
Smith said he could only pinpoint one reason that allowed him to play so well against the Bears.
"Looking back, I'd probably say it was my enthusiasm," Smith said Monday. "We practice that and preach that a lot. It really took toll on me this week, because I was going back home and this was gonna be a game I was really pumped for and enthusiastic about, this game and UT (this Saturday)."
Smith, like many of the Texas Tigers, had some supporters in the crowd that he just couldn't let down.
"I'm at home in front of my mom; I don't get to play in front of my mom a lot," he said.
Momma had to be proud after the performance she saw. Smith dominated play and showed flashes of last season, when he led the team with eight sacks. Despite his slight frame (6-foot-3, 275 pounds), Smith is proving to be quite a load for offensive lines to deal with.
"I think he's picking it up a little bit," coach Gary Pinkel said. "For whatever reason, I don't think he was playing quite as well at the beginning of the season. I think he just got going. He's making plays. I'm very pleased with his play the last few games."
Senior LB James Kinney, who saw Smith emerge as a force last season, is glad to have the playmaker back and producing again.
"It's huge," Kinney said. "He's real slippery and real quick off the ball and hard to block. It's good to see him get a lot of time now. I was real proud of his effort this weekend."
Smith hopes a similar effort will produce similar results against the Longhorns on Saturday. The Denton native sees the game as a stepping-stone to success for the rest of the season.
"It would be a big win for me because the last time we beat Texas as a program…I don't even know when that is," Smith said. "It's been a while. Beating a Texas team two weeks in a row would be a good momentum shift for our team."
A win could also be comparable to the Tigers' streak-breaking victory against Nebraska last season, although Smith struggled to connect the two.
"If the outcome of this game is the same of the outcome of that game, it would have to be a tie," he said. "Those are both huge games. I just want to come out with a win."
Depth changes: Senior Howard Brissette replaced freshman Monte Wyrick as senior Tony Palmer's back-up at weak-side guard. Freshman specialist Adam Crossett also officially became the back-up punter, the result of a punt-off in practice last week. Sophomore LBs Marcus Bacon and David Richard continue to be "tied" at the strong position. Bacon started against Baylor after the two were neck and neck last week, but the competition appears to be ongoing.
Texas-sized challenge: After the Tigers shut out Ball State on Sept. 18, Pinkel was pleased with the accomplishment but warned that bigger and better teams were looming. Missouri handily defeated the first two such teams, knocking off Colorado at home and Baylor at Waco on Saturday. Now, as the Tigers enter the most difficult stretch of their schedule, things really get going.
"When you get into the Big 12, you just understand that you're gonna play high-level football teams," Pinkel said. "Texas is certainly a great football team."
For the first time this season, Missouri will play the underdog role. Pinkel said that status does not change how the team prepares, though.
"We approach this game like we approach every game," he said. "It's another game on our schedule. We've had walls in front of us since we've been here; this is just another one."
Wackiness in the North: After a string of surprising outcomes dominated the headlines in the Big 12 on Saturday--the most shocking of which was Nebraska's 70-10 loss at Texas Tech--the North division suddenly is wide open. Missouri is in the driver's seat, holding at least a one-game edge over everybody else.
With the schedule picking up steam, though, Pinkel had little to say about the Tigers' current situation in the standings.
"I don't honestly think about that," he said. "I don't. I just focus on Texas. I don't really get caught up in that stuff too much because it really doesn't mean anything. Every coach and every player in the North or in the South is aware of the standings and where everything is, but anything can happen in this league."
Still, leading is better than trailing, right Coach?
"Yeah, I guess," Pinkel said. "Again, we're playing a great football team. To start thinking about those things with so much ahead of us…I think it's just wise that we focus on and give all our energies on Texas to have an opportunity to win the football game."
Making noise: With a trip to raucous Royal Stadium, which will welcome about 80,000 fans, just days away, the Tigers are using some practice time this week to get accustomed to the atmosphere. Actually, they have practiced in a cone of noise each week since their loss to Troy in September, when the offensive line struggled with the Movie Gallery Stadium crowd.
"We had some issues with a young center and some young offensive linemen," Pinkel said. "(Practicing with crowd noise) has been going on for weeks, to get that experience level playing in front of that…
"With a young center--I think Adam (Spieker) is really getting better--but that's certainly something that you have to do. We probably should have done it before (facing Troy). That's a mistake on my part."