Two days after Missouri's head-scratching 35-14 loss to Kansas on
Sept. 27, coach Gary Pinkel took sophomore quarterback Brad Smith
aside for a pep talk. Pinkel was concerned that his star was
trying too hard not to make any mistakes. "I told Brad just to
turn it loose," says Pinkel. "If you feel like you're on
eggshells, you have to watch yourself on everything you do. Then
you can't use your athleticism."
Consider this Tiger unleashed. Playing with the elusiveness and
ingenuity that highlighted his freshman year and made him a dark
horse for the Heisman Trophy coming into this season, Smith
darted his way to a school-record-tying four touchdowns as
Missouri overcame a 10-point deficit late in the third quarter to
beat previously undefeated Nebraska 41-24. It was the Tigers'
first win over the Cornhuskers since 1978 and their first victory
over a Top 10 opponent since 1981.
Through the first five games Pinkel had noticed that the 6'2",
205-pound Smith was reluctant to throw into coverage downfield,
often choosing instead to dump the ball off safely to his running
backs. While Smith had not thrown an interception in 124
attempts, his tame approach seemed to also affect his running--he
had just 33 yards on 17 carries in the Kansas loss. Against
Nebraska, however, Smith rushed 18 times for 123 yards and three
touchdowns, and he scored another on a 47-yard catch-and-run. His
efforts helped the Tigers (5-1, 1-1 in the Big 12 North) move
back into the Top 25 at No. 24. "I think I'm going to get better
at letting loose," Smith says. "As a quarterback you love to
learn and get better. I think I've taken a step toward that."