Coach Gary Pinkel often stresses the importance of a mature team. Without that maturity, Pinkel argues, natural talent will only take a player so far. That focused mindset allows a player to perform when it matters the most.
Despite being a redshirt freshman, TE Martin Rucker has the intangible that Pinkel desires. Rucker made a splash when he deposed senior Victor Sesay at the top of the depth chart before the season opener, a move that paid immediate dividends when Rucker caught a touchdown pass in the first quarter.
Rucker has become one of junior QB Brad Smith's favorite red-zone targets. After a two-touchdown performance against Baylor on Saturday, he has caught nine passes for 138 yards. Sesay still tops him with 16 receptions for 189 yards, but Rucker's presence allows the coaching staff to employ a two tight-end set that improves the running game and boasts aerial weapons, too.
InsideMizzou spoke with Rucker on Monday afternoon…
On scoring two touchdowns against the Bears: "Any time you score, it's always a good game for you. If you get two, it just adds on to that. And to be on TV…it's great."
On getting more involved in the passing game: "It's whoever's open. Brad just throws to whoever he wants to throw to. Sometimes we have more big plays in the game plan and sometimes we just hack away at the defense. I just fit in where I fit in."
On becoming one of Smith's favorite targets: "I don't know if I would say that I'm a favorite target or anything. It's just the way I fit in. I'm kind of tall, so when you get down there and there's not a lot of space, you can go up and just create space over other guys."
On if he believes in Pinkel's elusive maturity factor: "Not really. I just go out there and play. I'm prepared just like everybody else to just go out there and play football. I guess it just shows up a little bit more. … It's really just the way I am. I'm nothing special and no different than anybody else. I just go out to play football. If God shines on me that day and brings plays my way, then he does. If he doesn't, then I'll fit in somewhere else."
On the Texas game: "It's gonna be big. It can open a lot of doors and it can also close a lot. We're just gonna have to go down there and execute. We have to find ways to get through the defense. They have a pretty tough one as we saw on Saturday."
On the Texas defense against Oklahoma: "Adrian (Peterson) was ripping off a couple nice runs, but when the going got tough, they got going. Every game, you just want to prepare, prepare, prepare. If you execute, you'll get the win."
On if a win against Texas would top last season's win against Nebraska: "I don't know. Any win against Nebraska to me is a pretty big win, just because if we lose I have to hear it from my brother (former Cornhusker standout and current Carolina Panther Mike Rucker) and things like that. I wanted to go there and decided to come here and things like that. Nebraska's a pretty big win to me, but this one at Texas would be really big also."