Story by Mike Anderson
Photos by Sherman Fabes
Faced with the challenge of being led by a quarterback making his first NCAA start, senior defensive lineman Dominique Hamilton knew the defense would have to put in some extra work.
“We just said we had to go out there and play a Raven defense,” Hamilton said, in reference to the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. “The offense wasn’t scoring as much, so we felt we had to go out there and win the game.”
The defense did just that, holding Miami (Ohio) scoreless in the first half and only surrendering a lone touchdown in the second—then blocked the extra point attempt—to win the season opener 17-6 at Memorial Stadium. Aided by Hamilton’s return after sitting out the second half of last season due to injury, the defense held the Redhawks to a miniscule average of 2.1 yards per carry to go along with three sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery.
Another player making an impact on the defensive line was junior defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who, after two years of signing controversy and eligibility dilemmas, was finally able to play his first game as a Missouri Tiger.
“I was more anxious than anything. I couldn’t wait to get out there and it went kind of fast. The first play was real quick, but after that I found the flow to the game,” Richardson said.
Richardson and sophomore defensive end Michael Sam may see increased playing time next week because senior defensive end Jacquies Smith exited the game with a dislocated elbow. Also suffering a game-ending injury was senior middle linebacker Will Ebner, who suffered a high ankle sprain that could force fellow senior linebacker Luke Lambert into the starter’s role for a month.
“We got a lot of depth. We got depth for days, we just have to keep going,” Hamilton said.
Fortunately for the Tigers, the offense walked away from the game injury-free. Unfortunately, the offense only scored 17 points in sophomore quarterback James Franklin’s debut.
“A lot of times on offense we looked very inconsistent. A mistake here, a mistake there, missed block, bad route, poor throw here,” Coach Gary Pinkel said. “Generally we play better first games.”
Franklin threw for 129 yards, suffered his first NCAA interception and only four of his 17 completions were for first downs.
“I thought he did a lot of good things, and I thought he made some mistakes,” Pinkel said.
The good things were typically the result of Franklin’s legs, which he used to rush for 78 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries.
“After going out there and running it a bit and getting a feel for it, it felt really comfortable,” Franklin said. This comfort enabled him to connect with sophomore wide receiver Marcus Lucas in the opening minute of the fourth quarter for the game’s only passing touchdown.
As for the less-comfortable aspects of the offensive performance, Pinkel knows it is too early to even think about panicking.
“You just have to play. The teams that improve every week are the ones that compete for championships,” Pinkel said.
Franklin, too, knows that he must improve and is already taking note of the most important lessons he learns from each game.
“I think the biggest thing today was hit it when it’s open and react to the defense more,” Franklin said. It will be interesting to see how those lessons carry into Friday night’s game against Arizona State.
As for the defense’s mindset going into the clash with the Sun Devils, Hamilton points out that strong performances like today will not hurt their “Raven Defense.”
“We have no big heads at all. We know we have to keep getting better,” Hamilton said.