Using “Missouri State” football and “laying a brick” in the same sentence is a dangerous thing. This is, after all, a program that has lost two home openers to NCAA D-II schools. But 2010 is a different year, with different Bears and the brick in question is part of MO State quarterback Cody Kirby’s theme for the year.
“If I’m going to build a wall, I don’t set out from Day 1 and say, ‘I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall in the history of man.’ Instead, you say, ‘I’m gonna take this brick and lay it as perfectly as it can be laid,’ every day.”
Kirby and coach Terry Allen’s Bears laid the first brick with aplomb Sept. 3, routing Eastern Kentucky 31-9 to open The Most-Anticipated Season in Missouri State Football History© off in thrilling, if belated, fashion.
This win is legit. Missouri State was 168th in the first Sagarin Ratings of the season, while Eastern Kentucky was 169. The Colonels were picked third in the Ohio Valley Conference and returned 9 starters on defense as well as the 2009 OVC Freshman of the Year in quarterback T.J. Pryor. The Colonels were a formidable foe.
And it showed through the first quarter, as the Bears went 3-and-punt on their first three possessions and fell behind 3-0. MO State was only up 7-6 when junior tailback Chris Douglas took a handoff, rounded the corner and flat exploded through the Eastern Kentucky secondary for an 86-yard touchdown run–the fifth-longest rush in school history.
The momentum from that run – which was a thing of beauty – was enough to help Missouri State outscore EKU 31-6 over the middle two quarters and walk away with a victory that lives up to the pre-season hype. There’s reason for optimism after that win. Here’s why:
1. The Bears showed they have some offensive weapons. Kirby was a known quantity entering the season. But the backfield was depleted, with Jonathan Davis off the team and both Mikael Cooper-Falls and Drew Temple injured. Perhaps a bigger question mark was who’s going to become Kirby’s new favorite target, with Clay Harbour gone to the NFL? While the final offensive numbers weren’t glittering (388 yards of total O), Douglas looked sharp at tailback, Kirby was his usual self and both Jermaine Saffold and redshirt freshman sensation Trevor Wooden made great catches.
2. The defense looks even more improved. MO State limited EKU to just 350 yards of total offense, 35 on the ground, and harassed Pryor into six sacks and a pair of interceptions. They also didn’t allow a touchdown. And this was without junior linebacker Michael Keck, out after suffering a pre-season concussion.
3. This is only the beginning. There were causes for concern, of course, but not necessarily a lot of glaring deficiencies. They appeared to be things that can be corrected in practice.
But I’m aboard the playoff wagon just yet. MO State’s football tradition is not good – to put it nicely – and I’ve been let down before. And the Missouri Valley Conference is an especially long row to hoe for any school with playoff aspirations. Southern Illinois, South Dakota State and Northern Iowa are all ranked in the top 13 in the Coaches Poll, and North Dakota State – picked behind the Bears in the preseason league poll – just went on the road and upset Big XII school Kansas 6-3. So let’s not throw out the baby before the bathwater.
That said, I’m basking in this one for a while. Kansas State will be a challenge to be certain, but as long as no key players get injured, a loss isn’t a big setback. The real fun begins Sept. 25 with the Valley opener at Illinois State.
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