No. 24 Missouri shows youth movement in opener
COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri is going young in its drive for a third consecutive SEC East title.
Terry Beckner Jr. tops the surprisingly long list of freshmen high on the depth chart for a school that's won 11 games the last two seasons and didn't have an excessive amount of turnover.
Beckner, a 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle, actually isn't much of a surprise considering he was one of the top recruits in the nation out of East St. Louis, Illinois.
''I don't know how he does half the things he does, but he makes it to the ball like every play,'' senior linebacker Michael Scherer said. ''It almost looks like offensive linemen are trying to block a ghost, he's just not even there.''
Drew Lock won the backup quarterback job, wide receiver Emanuel Hall and defensive end Nate Howard are backups with a bullet and Corey Fatony is the new punter. Several others are third on the depth chart, including defensive tackle Josh Moore, safety Cam Hilton and linebacker Terez Hall.
Coach Gary Pinkel considered maturity as well as ability and doesn't envision redshirting any of them.
''It's a very talented class,'' Pinkel said. ''There are some guys who have great opportunities.''
Beckner steps up for a line minus Harold Brantley, out for the season with multiple injuries from an automobile accident. He's behind junior Josh Augusta heading into Saturday's opener matching the Tigers (11-3) and Southeast Missouri State (5-7).
Missouri has had a first-round NFL draft pick on the defensive line the last two years, Shane Ray and Kony Ealy, plus Michael Sam was SEC defensive player of the year in 2013.
''So we anticipate playing some young players,'' Pinkel said. ''Fortunately, this class has good players. These are high-level guys.''
Things to watch for in Southeast Missouri-Missouri:
MAUK'S CHALLENGE: Pinkel insists naming touted freshman Lock as the backup quarterback is not sending a message to incumbent Maty Mauk. The junior, who enters his second full season as starter, completed just 52 percent of his passes last season. Lock beat out Eddie Printz and Marvin Zanders, who also arrived with recruiting bonafides.
''He's a great quarterback,'' Mauk said of Lock. ''It's kind of just in his blood.''
D-LINE OVERHAUL: Missouri is developing a heritage of sending defensive linemen to the NFL, with Ray, Ealy, Aldon Smith and Sheldon Richardson among the list of recent first-rounders. The Tigers are hoping Charles Harris, entering his first year as a starting end, can join that group.
''I feel like I'm going to make sure every team prepares for Charles Harris,'' Harris said. ''I always had it in my vision so it's not surprising to me to be starting this year.''
And of course, Beckner has drawn wows. The unit needed reinforcements especially after Brantley was sidelined for the season.
WIDE OPEN: Southeast Missouri State averaged 32 points last season, and allowed 30.6 points under new coach Tom Matukewicz. Junior college transfer Tay Bender makes his debut as starting quarterback.
Senior Paul McRoberts is one of the top receivers in the FBS, with 99 receptions for 1,495 yards and 20 touchdowns during his first three years and several NFL teams have paid visits. McRoberts was limited to seven games last year but had three 100-yard games.
DeMichael Jackson averaged 91.8 yards rushing, fourth-best in the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Redhawks' five-win total was the best for the school since 2010.
HARD HITTERS: Missouri linebackers Kentrell Brothers and Michael Scherer combined for 236 tackles, making them the top returning duo in the SEC.
Southeast Missouri returns middle linebacker Roper Garrett, its top tackler from last year. Garrett led the team in tackles for loss (8.5), sacks (3) and forced fumbles (5).