QB Gabbert holds the reins at Missouri

Missouri quarterback Blaine Gabbert made a grand debut in last
year’s 37-9 victory over Illinois. It’s a stronger, more
experienced Gabbert that has teammates heavily anticipating an
encore in Saturday’s season-opener against the Illini in St.
Louis.

A year ago, Gabbert made his first start since taking over from
the departed Chase Daniel and went 25 for 33 for 319 yards and
three touchdowns. He also carried the ball 10 times for 39 yards
and a score.

That performance paved the way for a solid sophomore campaign in
which Gabbert finished second in the Big 12 in passing yards
(3,593) and passer rating (140.5). He put up those numbers despite
a high ankle sprain suffered on Oct. 8 against Nebraska that
limited his mobility for the remainder of the season.

”Blaine has progressed to be one of the best quarterbacks in
the country,” receiver T.J. Moe said. ”You aren’t going to find a
guy who can make the types of throws that he can.”

Missouri needs more from Gabbert these days than his skill on
the field. The program has been hit by three arrests related to
driving while intoxicated charges and suspended tailback Derrick
Washington was charged Monday with sexually assaulting a woman over
the summer.

”From a leadership standpoint, he is doing an awful lot right
now, and that’s good,” head coach Gary Pinkel said of his junior
quarterback. ”We need that from him.”

Gabbert’s biggest challenge may be finding someone to throw to.
Missouri lost standout receiver Danario Alexander, who set school
records in receptions (113), yards (1,781) and touchdowns (14) a
year ago.

”Every one of our receivers are pumped up,” top returning pass
catcher Jerrell Jackson said. ”We know it’s our year to step up,
everyone is excited to get out there and play.”

The 6-foot-5 Gabbert has been putting in extra work this summer
in preparation for his second collegiate start at the Edward Jones
Dome. He hit the practice field all summer, building chemistry with
his young receivers, and spent hours in the film room learning from
mistakes he made last season.

”The game has really slowed down for him,” Pinkel said. ”His
knowledge base is so much larger. He’s worked tremendously hard to
up his game to the next level.”

Gabbert attributes his extensive knowledge of the spread offense
to those film sessions. His hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed by his
teammates.

”He is like a 10-year veteran out there,” backup quarterback
James Franklin said. ”He knows exactly what he’s doing.”

As for who is in charge on the field, there is no dispute among
the Tiger offense. They understand how instrumental Gabbert will be
in whatever success they have in 2010.

”You never argue with the quarterback, you do what he wants,”
Moe said. ”You can give him your input, but he runs the
show.”