COLUMBIA — Lightning may not strike twice in the same place, but apparently blows to the jaw do.
There was Missouri quarterback Brad Smith once again, staggering to the sideline after a vicious hit with 8 minutes remaining in a Big 12 home game.
The difference Saturday against Nebraska is Tigers coach Gary Pinkel would have flashed the penlight in Smith’s eyes and administered all other medical tests to return his quarterback to action.
“He said, ‘My jaw hurts a little bit,’ and I said, ‘I don’t care if your jaw hurts, are you ready to go?’ ” Pinkel said.
“Yesh, I’mmeady,” Smith said with as much air as he could pass through his clenched teeth.
Missouri clubbed the Cornhuskers 41-24 because Smith had the best day of his career a week after posting the worst.
Smith’s 480 total yards was a school record. He was remarkable at the beginning and the end, and ineffective only in the middle when Pinkel pulled Smith early in the second quarter in a prearranged switch to get Chase Daniel quality playing time.
Daniel deserves the look. Last week, Daniel stayed in the Iowa State game after Smith departed and he rallied the Tigers from a 10-point deficit to an overtime victory. Smith rushed and passed for 84 yards then.
And, naturally, a Tiger Nation spent the week wondering if Pinkel was playing the wrong guy.
All involved parties — Pinkel, Smith and Daniel — called it a non-issue. Daniel repeated Saturday what he’s been asserting all along. “There’s no quarterback controversy at all, and there never was one,” he said.
Besides, the Tigers are now 2-0 when Smith goes out with a jacked jaw with 8 minutes remaining.
Daniel called Smith “a man on a mission” even if Smith said he gave last week’s postgame chatter no thought.
You could have fooled more than 60,000 fans.
First series, second play, Smith finds Brad Ekwerekwu for 50 yards. The play was fortunate for Mizzou. The ball had punt-like hang time and linebacker Corey McKeon got turned around on the coverage.
It provided the first indication that nothing was going to go wrong for the Tigers and Smith early on.
Second series, fourth play, Smith runs a counter keeper for 53 yards that set up the second touchdown.
Third series, first play, Smith takes a shotgun snap, steps back, hesitates, then takes off straight ahead and goes 79 yards untouched.
Fourth series, fourth play, Smith finds Sean Coffey for 37 yards.
End of quarter. At this point Smith has amassed 287 yards of total offense and Mizzou has a 21-10 lead that would go to 14 three plays later.
Sure seemed like an inspired effort.
“No,” said Smith, who actually spoke with no signs of jaw soreness afterward. “That stuff wears off. All I can control is the way I play.”
Nebraska couldn’t. The final numbers for Smith were 246 yards rushing and 234 passing. Only five other times in NCAA history has a player recorded a 200-200 game, the last was Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El in 2000.
The quality of opposition sweetened the deal for Smith. Nebraska entered the game with the nation’s top-ranked rushing defense, having surrendered an average of 65 yards per game and two touchdowns. These aren’t vintage Cornhuskers — witness the minus-2 yards rushing, the second-lowest total in school history.
But it’s a tough defense that Smith shredded. The quarterback shuffle to Daniel slowed Missouri’s momentum and by halftime the Huskers had caught up at 24-24. They were ready to jump ahead in the third quarter when a fumble set up the Tigers at their 3.
This was Smith at his best. With a mix of draws, counters and short passes, he got Mizzou to midfield, then covered the final 45 yards for his third touchdown.
Smith had given the Tigers its early life, and then he wouldn’t let them lose a critical game.
Smith’s has been a career of great moments without enough great victories. For a player who will hold all of Missouri’s significant quarterback records and some NCAA marks, you might have expected more triumphs like Saturday’s.
Perhaps there will be. The handful of games remaining in Smith’s career may be his best, and whether he says so or not a little competitive push can’t hurt. Not as much as a jacked jaw.
To reach Blair Kerkhoff, college sports reporter for The Star, call (816) 234-4730 or send e-mail to email@example.com